In a market dominated by never-ending variations of the Endless Runner, match 3 games or locked-room mysteries, it’s refreshing to come across something once in a while that has the ambition to try and match the scale of big-budget titles on other platforms.
Refreshing as that can be, however, more often than not such ambitions come with their own host of caveats. Abducted is a perfect example; an attractive, graphically rich game – but one without the budget or production values to do justice to its lofty aspirations.
The debut offering from Sunside Games, Abducted certainly looks good but unfortunately a host of flaws holds it back from being a worthwhile purchase right now. Being an episodic game – part point-and-click, part survival horror –there is certainly room for improvement as things go on, but this initial episode comes across as though the developer was uncertain how to marry those two genres successfully. An interesting world without an interesting gameplay hook, the end result is something that bores when its subject matter alone should inspire wonder.
Things begin promisingly enough. You play as Eve, a space traveller that awakes in a giant space-bound vessel with no memory of who she is or where she’s from. So far, so clichéd; but Abducted at least tries to alleviate the familiar premise with an interesting choice of environment. The ship in which you find yourself is highly organic; Instead of clean, metallic edges, walls are made of an unidentified living material that instantly evokes memories of David Cameron’s Aliens. There’s a good sense of isolation too, with interactive hot-spots filling in the lore and heightening the sense that things aren’t quite as they seem.
Your guide throughout your journey is a computer, bonded to your arm, which you can interact with at any point in time. Simple dialogue trees allow you to ask questions and learn more about the plot and the world around you, and it’s clear that Sunside Games has put a lot of effort and imagination into creating a rich universe with plenty of background history; though at times much of it feels unnecessary. In reality, the computer acts as little more than a glorified database menu, storing lore entries for easy reference, acting as a how-to guide for the game’s mechanics, and allowing you to save, load or quit. It doesn’t quite live up to its potential and unfortunately a script leaden with spelling and grammar errors doesn’t exactly help to engender the epic feeling that the developer was obviously hoping to convey.
The game itself continues a simple pattern – you can see that the developer had the kernel of an interesting idea, but not quite the imagination to follow it through to a satisfying or original conclusion. Minute-to-minute gameplay boils down to this: You’ll see a glowing white spot that indicates a terminal, and some other spots that reveal glyphs once zapped with your Pulse ability (effectively just a laser with a cooldown). The glyphs are basically just bits of a password; once you’ve found them all, you’ll interact with the terminal and enter the password to reveal the way forward. Then you’ll go into the next room, and do exactly the same thing.
If you’re too lazy to find all the glyphs (and you really do need to be lazy, as for the most part they’re impossible to miss), you can hack into the terminal via taking part in possibly the worst rendition of Snake that I have ever had the misfortune of playing. Honestly, spare yourself the tedium and just find the glyphs. You’ll thank me for it.
A short while into the game, you gain the ability to manipulate certain objects in the environment. Unfortunately, this is never as exciting as it might sound and never leads to any interesting moments, aside from a slightly clever moment towards the end. For the most part, manipulating an object merely entails swiping a direction on the screen in order to raise or lower a platform, door or other obstacle.
Occasionally, the game decides it would like to try its hand at being a mediocre clone of Resident Evil and places you in a situation where you need to escape from a hostile creature through a series of corridors until you reach safety. What should have been tense moments to break up the monotony of the rest of the game are instead marred by a combination of frustrating, pixel-perfect controls and fixed camera angles which never feel ideally placed for the purpose that they are meant for. As a result you can find yourself running down a corridor one moment, only for the camera angle to suddenly change and see Eve staring at a wall as a giant monstrosity bears down on her. One swipe of a giant red claw later, and it’s back to the start of the sequence you go.
And when you do finally succeed at these sequences and escape? Well, it’s back to scouring the environment for glyphs and accessing terminals. Unfortunately, the game never manages to break out of this endless cycle; it wouldn’t be an issue if the basic mechanics were interesting enough to hold the player’s attention, but they’re not. Dull, uninspired and repetitive, it’s hard to accept that the developer wasn’t aware of just how tedious the moment-to-moment gameplay actually is.
Elsewhere, there’s a rudimentary RPG levelling system in place. Tapping on certain hotspots, choosing certain dialogue options or passing certain checkpoints will inexplicably grant you Skill Points, which can be spent on upgrading your abilities. Unfortunately, these skills are uninspired and mostly involve reducing the cooldowns on your Pulse or Manipulate skills. Abducted must be the only game in existence where looking out of a window grants enough experience to allow you to upgrade your character’s abilities.
As the first episode in a series, it’s entirely possible that Abducted could improve over time and grow to be an interesting diversion. Plenty of games take time to grow into something original and diverting; that said, the goal of any series offering a first helping should be to grab the player and leave them wanting more. Sadly, Abducted doesn’t manage that. While the universe clearly shows that the developer has put a lot of thought into it and while the story hints that events will become more interesting over time, the gameplay itself is uninspiring, repetitive and borderline tedious. While the series has promise, Episode 1 has to be scored based on its standalone experience, and not the potential that may or may not be fulfilled in future.
Abducted may look pretty, but it’s also evidence that beauty is only skin-deep. Based on this first episode, players would be best served by looking elsewhere for the time being.