Jordan Mechner, Steve Meretzky, Roberta Williams...Eric Chahi.
If you don't know who Eric Chahi is, or why I breathe his name with a palpable aura of reverence, buy this game immediately. This is an enduring piece of computer game history that remains as beautiful, stark, striking and unique today as it was when it burst onto the scene in 1991. This is a landmark computer game.
So what, you say? So was Doom, and very few of us are still playing it today. So was DONKEY.BAS, the famous early IBM game with the racecar switching lanes to avoid burros in the road. So was the Crowther and Woods Adventure. The history of computer games is littered with significant milestones, making for a very cluttered highway to the past. Right. I understand. But when you find one that's still fresh and avant-garde exactly as it is, today? You could drop Another World into the indie game market anew, and it'd still turn heads and inspire conversations. The adjective "timeless" is overused, but this game is truly timeless.
It's an action adventure game. There are no instructions. You're meant to jump in, blind, and interact with the world around you as a mystery. There's no inventory, and precious few 'save points.' You used to be a scientist working with a particle accelerator, driving a Ferrari, then...well, something happened, and you ended up Somewhere Else. Somewhere bleak, hostile, cold and inhospitable to its denizens, let alone to an outsider. What does it all mean? You will never be told. You'll never receive an explanation, never encounter a single creature who speaks or understands your language. You will interact with many objects, and figure out what they are and how they work on your own. Good luck! You'll need it.
This is Eric Chahi. This, right here, is what this man does so very, very well. The immersive simple-controls action adventure game, set in a bleakly alien other world. Chahi is Bill Watterson's noir doppelganger -- the stylized clifftops and mesas of Spaceman Spiff cartoons become bleak obelisks in a desolate and hostile natural wasteland. His ecosystems are shadowy and predatory, but tantalizing. Exploration into a very nasty and hostile Mother Nature's parlor has never been so deliciously tempting.
When we played the original Broderbund Karateka, Mechner's freshman masterpiece, there was always a bit of dread wonder as to what would come down the pike, what would be waiting to meet us and attack us. He was the inventor, as far as I know, of the video game cutscene, and Karateka was one of the first games to introduce us to enemies "down the way," seen before they were encountered directly. But while Mechner foreshadowed, Chahi *teased*. His natural "other world" was silent, grinning, waiting for you to get stuck in its deadly web, and it offered you few if any clues as to how to survive it.
If you made it to the second scene of Another World, you felt quite accomplished.
There are few rest points to breathe. The action is breakneck and maddening. You will feel the protagonist Lester's heart pound and his lungs ache from exertion. You will savor the first quiet moment and rest, because you'll need it! This game is short not only because it's an older game, but because the player couldn't endure hours and hours of it on end. If trial and error in realtime isn't your thing, if repeating the same scenes over and over to get them just right frustrates you, if you want the game to work with you as opposed to standing over you silently and smirking...this may not be your action-adventure game. If you want the game to end with all questions answered and all mysteries put to rest, this is definitely not your game. What you learn about this amazing and very thoroughly developed alien world, you will have to infer from your breakneck trip through it, unguided. You will be left with many, many questions.
The game "Limbo" could never have happened without Chahi's work in its cultural DNA.
It really doesn't matter if this game is "for you" or not -- it's a legend, and a work of art that every gamer ought to engage, at least once in his or her life. Love or hate the White Album, you have to have listened to it to call yourself a fan of rock music. This is the Mona Lisa of action-survival games of the 16-bit Renaissance, and the fact that it stands as a great game twenty years later, with only minor updates to address the huge resolution jump in modern displays, is telling. Check this out. Even if it's not your thing, it's a game you should know about, and that everyone should own.