Albedo: Eyes From Outer Space (Xbox One Review)
I’ve never been a huge fan of the old B-movie Sci-fi flicks with their cheesy visual effects and piss poor makeup, some have over-exaggerated titles like “The Strange Creatures of Nebula 9!” as a not so obvious fake example. Many would consider these films great pieces of cinema while others see them as a humorous catastrophe. Albedo: Eyes from Outer Space pays homage to these long forgotten entries of early cinema and opts for a War of the World’s vibe to keep things slightly more familiar for today’s audience. Z4G0 and Ivan Venturi Productions have recently brought Albedo to home consoles after its early release on Steam back in 2015. My initial thought was that a hybrid Puzzle and First Person Shooter mixed with early 50’s B-movie Sci-fi ought to be an interesting idea to delve into and experience first hand. Boy was I wrong.
Our hero of the day, John T. Longy, is a night watchman at a secret government research facility known as “JUPITER” spelled all in capitals so you know they mean business. John’s easy and relaxing night of sitting around, eating pizza, and drinking beers gets abruptly interrupted as something comes crashing through the ceiling above him, sending John falling to the depths of the JUPITER compound. From here we find that, once John has awakened, the entire facility has been taken over by an unknown biological entity, taking the form of long green tentacles and giant eyeballs. It’s certainly a premise that you’d imagine coming straight out of a crude low budget film of the early 1950’s with some added narrative twists such as time travel, paradoxes and other science fiction mumbo jumbo. The story is explained via John’s own narrative dialogue as you proceed from one overly ravaged room to another solving all manner of logic based puzzles to fighting the nasty new inhabitants of your once docile workplace.
Albedo throws itself out there as an Action Adventure game with puzzle elements, but it feels like the puzzles are really the headline act. All, or at least the majority, of puzzles are logic based. Completing these puzzles through physics based puzzles and the assumption you are able to complete simple arithmetic leads to very little challenge. Some of the more inventive puzzles involve you thinking outside the box of normal videogame constraints. There aren’t many instances where you can say an object seems worthless or has no specific function since everything has its purpose. A simple cement brick can act as a physical weight or a trigger mechanism for a trap, a wrench can double up as a repair tool or act as an impromptu lever. The sheer brilliance that comes with some of Albedo’s puzzles will make you think “how come I never thought of this sooner” once you’ve solved it because they are usually straightforward enough that you tend to overthink the limitations that other puzzle games come bundle with like specific one-to-one object interaction. There are however drawbacks to having physics based objects in a game world were said objects are required to progress in the game. At one point I spent several hours confused as to how I was to proceed, inadvertently looking for other options out of my predicament when in reality, all I really needed was an item that had accidentally been nudged down the back of a container. It was infuriating time to say the least.
Do you remember the times when combat mechanics in FPS games would have you cycle through a menu of options until you found the correct one that said attack, no? Neither do I. I’m not entirely sure what the thought process was behind implementing an attack function that has to be manually selected. An attack option works well when combat is turn based -take final fantasy for example- but most encounters in Albedo have you thrust in to the fray unaware, and has you clumsily scurrying about your controller to find the right button to move the menu then select the item then find the correct option to attack, all of which could easily see you accidentally drop the weapon disarming you in the process. It’s all very poorly done. To double down on the problems that Albedo has, the UI is atrocious. The translucent green background mixed with the green tinted visuals the game presents makes it hard to see, manage, and understand. When picking up an object you have to look at it and again select the function you wish to perform be it picking it up, examining it, lobbing it, combining it with another item or opening it. You can also place it in your backpack for later use which comes with its own issues. Your backpack doesn’t have any sorting function and is just a list of items. This would not be as bad if it were in a “collected” order but every time you use an item it changes the order of your inventory, his can be especially troublesome in sections that require you to be quick and precise. One such area has you underwater solving a puzzle whilst you rapidly drown and to prevent yourself from drowning you have an item filled with Oxygen that you need to periodically take breaths from. Having to fumble about in the menus, use the item (while still drowning), fumble your way back out of the menu and finally remember where you were in the puzzle before you had to stop. I feel all of this could have been implemented much better and more smoothly than the current state.
Albedo’s graphical fidelity isn’t exactly a high point either. With its high contrast in colours and low brightness levels it almost impossible at times to see objects within the environment since the areas that you’d expect to be bright are now dark and areas that you’d expect to be dark are now as dark as that edgy kids eyeliner next door. Although that said the over contrasted greens and reds help sell the alien creatures that inhabit Albedo’s twenty rooms as more lifelike creatures. The high contrast even helps vibrance of colours brings out the goo and slime that drip off them and the walls of the subterranean areas as well as added blood laden about the facility from your recently deceased co-workers.
I can’t say with all certainty that Albedo’s puzzle mechanics puts it at the top of, or even in, my “all time favourite puzzle games of all time list” but it does raise the bar slightly for games still to come. I can’t say the same for the combat though. Albedo’s sub par combat mechanics, having to mess around with menus, and prompts before you can attack an enemy is a definite off-put for me but thankfully the combat sections are few and far between. For those of you who are fans of early Sci-fi horrors, such as War of the Worlds, then you may appreciate this particular homage and overlook some of Albedo’s lesser qualities, but nonetheless I would still avoid otherwise unless you are itching for a new game to play.