They’re Watching You
Just like any other time-worn genre, adventure games – even those with the benefit of having an air of creepiness interspersed throughout – are not immune to the pitfalls frequently found from one title to the next: recycling of old tenets, lack of innovation, and dull play mechanics. It’s always encouraging when something new and interesting comes along. When French developers Lexis Numérique concocted The Experiment, aptly named as it is, they threw the rulebook out completely. The result is a seriously deep adventure title with a presentation and gameplay that’s refreshingly original. It’s best to set aside a few solid afternoons for this one; once you get sucked into The Experiment, you’ll want to see it through to the end.
The mysterious adventure begins aboard a large run-down science vessel that’s long been beached on a tropical island in the Pacific. The jungle has overrun the seemingly deserted ship. Players find themselves in the operations room of the steel beast in front of an array of electronic panels and computer terminals. From the helm of one of the main computers, players discover Lea Nichols – a survivor of the EDEHN science team – on the ship’s surveillance system. As Nichols wakes up in confusion, she notices the security camera watching her and addresses you directly to ask for help. She sets off to discover what happened to the remainder of her science team and escape the confines of the dilapidated ship. Players will follow Nichols closely throughout her mission, providing guidance and assistance as they learn more about the eerie nature of experiments previously going on in the ship. Without giving any of the story away (since that’s typically main force behind such titles), let’s just say science has run amok following some surprising discoveries.
What’s unique about The Experiment is the way players interact with Nichols. Though she can’t be controlled directly, she can be guided by using the ship’s computer system to turn lights on and off, activate computer terminals, and use speakers to generate sound to get her attention and draw her towards an area of interest. The ship is also littered with surveillance cameras which are the only way players can view Nichols and her surroundings directly. A window (which can be opened and closed at whim) with a 2D schematic of the ship shows you where she’s located at any given time, and it serves as the main form of navigation in the game. The small map also highlights the location of lights, computers, and crucial surveillance cameras which can be clicked on to bring up a live feed of the area.
Up to three different surveillance cameras can be accessed at a single time to provide different angles and views of what’s happening on the ship. The view windows for each of the three cameras can be stacked, scaled to three different sizes, and arranged on the screen in any manner the player chooses. At any time players can click on a camera screen and then move the mouse to pan the camera in different directions. Eventually Nichols will locate camera upgrades, which allow you to zoom in and out, fine-tune for details, detect heat signatures, and enhance available lighting. When combined with the area map, the surveillance system provides a truly out of the ordinary experience while navigating the bowels and dark corridors of the ship. This slightly unusual presentation isn’t entirely perfect, but it’s definitely a fresh design that’s a welcome addition.
The entire screen is essentially setup as a PC desktop, and the actions you’ll take in the game itself are directly related to what you’re doing on your own computer. This makes it easier to become more closely absorbed in the plot, since it really involves players in the events happening in the story. You, the player, are not really controlling Nichols; you’re helping her out by interacting with her constantly to find out what objectives must be completed next, unlocking and manipulating different computers systems on the ship to give her access to move forward, and gaining information to piece together the puzzle of what happened. Though your efforts to lend a hand are noble, there’s still a thick veil of mystery about the entire situation that is only revealed in small bits and pieces. Even the exact role you play, and who you really are, is not immediately known – it ties into the story later on in the game. Aside from an excellent sci-fi story sprinkled with minor elements of horror, this ambiguity instills in players a drive to progress in order to get answers.
The Experiment also goes well beyond appealing to the emotional side of players with its immersive plot by offering an almost meticulous level of challenge for die-hard adventure fans. There are plenty of difficult puzzles to solve, passwords to discover, secret files to access, and logical solutions to piece together. The ship features a fully fledged intranet which players can access by logging on as different EDEHN personnel to read files and access their e-mail accounts (uncovering passwords to their system login and secret files is a major undertaking unto itself). Accessing the intranet provides another immense level of detail and complexity to the story. Tucked away in those files are numerous documents which help explain the nature of the science experiments, the strange new life force they uncovered, and provide important clues to follow. On the other hand, the information-heavy nature of the intranet comes into play so frequently throughout the game that it tends to occasionally bog down the gameplay and temporarily impede progress while you frantically try to decode encrypted messages, dig through voluminous personnel files for passwords, and uncover other important information to continue progress.
The graphics are pretty good, but they’re not quite as fully detailed or as impressive as some of the current-gen titles coming out these days. The level of graphical detail just doesn’t pack a lot of oomph when you lean in for a closer look. This could be due to the fact the screen is often cluttered with the map and numerous surveillance camera windows scattered everywhere since so much of the actual action is seen through a series of small windows. Also, having all three camera windows open causes some minor lag with mouse movement that can be a nuisance at times. Thematically, the environmental visuals are spot-on and well-timed background music adds to oppressive atmosphere. Traveling through the decimated and aging corridors of a veritable ghost ship from the perspective of the many security cameras littering its interior is a great, and frankly pretty creepy, way to experience the game.
It’s hard not to get fully engrossed in a game like The Experiment since it deftly presents a substantive adventure game with a completely different style and format from the norm. The game manages to hit every one of the requisite bases to satisfy the core audience that eats, breathes, and sleeps this stuff, yet it does so in a way that’s creative and enticing. It’s nice to see some developers going out on a limb to try something new with the adventure genre that has unfortunately become stale in recent years. This one is definitely worth the time.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.5 Graphics
An interesting presentation and excellent visual style make up for a few minor deficiencies in the graphical department. 4.5 Control
The innovative control scheme isn’t for everyone, but it does breathe new life into a tired genre and is a blast to play with. 3.7 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
A few well-timed audio tracks and creepy sound effects round out solid voice acting. 4.0 Play Value
A few challenging hurdles make progress difficult at times, but you’ll find The Experiment to be a lengthy, immersive, and deep adventure worth sticking with. 4.2 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.