PREVIEW: Ariel

Jul
23

PREVIEW: Ariel

Ariel is apparently an “intense survival experience based on a Sci-Fi, space terror script.” Hmmm. I wonder if I’ve been playing the wrong game.

Steam: Early Access
Type: Single-player
Genre: Action, Adventure,Simulation
Developer: Nuclear Fiction
Publisher: Nuclear Fiction
Release Date: 12 Jul, 2017

Introduction

Ariel is a first-person science fiction walking simulator / survival horror game from indie developers, Nuclear Fiction.

You play Professor Ferdinand Ludec, a physics researcher and expert in electro-monopole theory who has been abducted and forced to fly to Ariel, one of the moons of the planet Uranus. Though the game’s introduction doesn’t immediately give you any indication that anything is amiss on Ariel when you land, you receive a radio message from someone sending a rescue party out to collect you. All you have to do is survive until it reaches you.

The game’s introduction explains that the mission to Ariel was a secret, and certainly one would think that kidnapping physics professors is unusual, but Professor Ludec seems to be fairly unfazed by the idea that he’s been flown across the solar system to find himself on an inhabited moon of Uranus.

Exploring the moon, you soon find evidence of life — both flora and fauna — and evidence of foul play, with increasing numbers of Earth’s intrepid scientists having met their grisly end.

Gameplay Video

Graphics

The graphics seem to be the main draw for the game at the moment. The game is ostensibly set on Ariel, a moon of Uranus, and that planet hangs large and impressive in the sky. There’s a good feeling of desolation as you explore the scientists’ camps, but everything starts to look very similar rather quickly. It’s easy to get lost when everything looks the same, especially when you don’t have access to any navigation equipment.

The graphics overall are quite detailed, impressive, and colourful, and look great as screenshots. However the game moves painfully slowly, even when Ferdinand is sprinting. And everything is WAY too dark during the night-time hours, turning much of the game into a headache-inducing squint-fest. With technology to fly to Ariel and live there for a time, I have to wonder why the scientists didn’t bring brighter lights with them.

There are a few graphics options, but the game seems to pick an overall level and set them for you. Other than that you can adjust a slider through a number of categories: low through ultra. This adjusts the various settings automatically.

Sound

The music in Ariel is another of its strong points. There’s a great mix of classical music, such as the mournful violin-heavy music during the introduction, and electronic ambient-style tunes during the game. It’s eerie and fits the setting well.

Sound effects are pretty terrible, with your plasma weapon sounding very weak and your footsteps sounding like you’re walking on amplified seashells inside a metal auditorium. The default volume levels need adjustment, too, as they’re all over the place; the music will often as not drown out the voices, while the footsteps wake up your neighbour’s sleeping children.

I like speech in games; generally I think it can enhance the immersion and suspension of disbelief. But there is a point at which voice acting becomes bad enough to make it detract from the experience, and the speech in Ariel is very close to that point. The voice actors have strong accents, which is fine, but they’re also often stilted and mumbling, and don’t seem to know what they’re supposed to be saying. They don’t sound professional at all.

Gameplay

Ariel plays like a slow-moving first-person walking simulator, but I don’t think it’s really supposed to. The game basically involves walking around very slowly, collecting as many food and drink items as you can carry before reaching your even-slower ‘overweight’ speed, looting chests, pressurising and depressurising habitats so that you can eat and drink, and occasionally reading or listening to logs that you find lying around. Oh, and sleeping when you find a bed and it’s become too dark to bother trying to make out what’s going on.

This sort of game needs more than fancy graphics and nice music to carry it, and in Ariel’s case it’s presumably supposed to be the story. The overall situation is deposited on you in a great wad at the beginning, when you sit through a painfully slow-moving introduction, and then the rest of the story is revealed to you as you progress, through written documents (on paper — why would anyone cart paper documents with them on such a journey?) and computer and audio logs.

This would be fine and it’s been done before many times — I think the original System Shock was the first game I remember playing that did this exceptionally well — but Ariel does it so poorly that most of the messages are painful to read. The writing is of awful quality, with basic grammatical errors littered throughout, but even if you’re able to ignore that and try to take it seriously, the plot is so hackneyed that it’s simply uninteresting. It’s not surprising the voice actors sound so bored.

Ariel features three difficulty levels, with the hardest featuring perma-death. The levels apparently adjust the number and difficulty of enemies, as well as the rate at which your basic statistics — oxygen, hunger, hydration, and fatigue — change over time. Regardless of your chosen difficulty, you can only save and restore your game at a save point, which you’ll find in some of the habitats. I don’t know why the developers chose this instead of allowing saving anywhere; it just makes the game more of a chore.

The base statistics all drop way too quickly to make the game enjoyable. Ferdinand will die of thirst and hunger within a day or so, and doesn’t seem to be able to stay awake for that long either. Thankfully the scientists must have also suffered from the same metabolic disorder, as there are countless bottles of water and snacks to eat scattered around everywhere, and you can always harvest meat by killing the native creatures. In order to eat or drink you’ll have to find a habitat to pressurise (so you can remove your helmet), which is sort of cool, but after having to wait for the pressurisation/depressurisation sequence once or twice, you’ll want to do it as rarely as possible.

Speaking of the natives, they’re rather boring, too. I’ve encountered a weird bipedal thing with pointy, blade-like arms, which I killed before it got anywhere near me, and have seen a number of flying squid-like things that just ignored me. The moon also has a number of weird weather events that can affect you in different ways, and you can adjust these by playing with various machines you find. I’d recommend that you don’t; they’re nice for a change.

I did die from climbing a hill, though, so that was, um, interesting.

As with many Early Access titles, Ariel also has a number of bugs that I assume will be fixed while it goes through the EA process. The developers have been releasing updates regularly.

Pros and Cons

Pros:
+ Nice music
+ Nice graphics, though half the time you can’t see them
+ Steam Achievements.

Cons:
– A silly script with terrible grammar
– Bad voice acting
– Time passes too quickly, statistics decrease too quickly
– Long load times
– Far too slow

Conclusion

Ariel tries hard, but, so far at least, falls far short of the mark. The action is sporadic and lifeless, which would be absolutely fine if the story carried the game, but it doesn’t. The script and story-related messages are silly and littered with poor grammar, which carries over to the in-game interface; the voice acting is robotic and mediocre; and the game is boring. It’s billed as an “intense survival experience,” but it’s just not, or at least not yet.

If you’re interested in the game then I’d recommend that you wait a while and see how it progresses through Early Access. Even better, go and play the original System Shock while you wait; it’s a much better game.

Response From Developer

I’m Elias Kuri by the way, creator of the story. Indeed I agree with some of the things you said. I wish you could have considered that the game was made by 3 people. For instance, I´m the musician, as well as all the voice actors, as well as the sound designer, as well as the 3D modeller and texturer, as well as the project manager, as well as the producer. I also clean the office, answer lot’s of mails.

I wrote the story as well. I’m from Mexico, and english is not my naitive language, which is no excuse indeed. The typos will be definitely corrected, as well as the rest of the things you mention. We’ve had so much work, with so many task to accomplish, of course the game is lacking in some aspects, but they will be fixed with time.

Anyways, What I wanted to share with you is the fact that Ariel is still in its most Early Access version. We are constantly updating the game, and we are working hard towards a more solid version, which would include many of your suggestions. I know the game is as low budget as it can get, so I hope you can also mention in your review the fact that the game is planning on fixing all things mantioned from your behalf. Anyways, thank you for your time, I hope at least some of the aspects of the game were appealing to you.

About Genkipro

I've been playing computer games for over 30 years. I like most game genres and I'm happy to give anything a chance.

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