A small but worthwhile RPG with a stellar atmosphere, but flawed gameplay.
Genres: RPG, Simulation
Developer: A. Hagen,
Publisher: A. Hagen
Release date: 1 October, 2019
Alien Squatter brings us a wacky future of humanity packed with both a depressive, yet vibrant setting and atmosphere that works its way into your head. Nostalgic pink hues and a soundtrack that brings us a sense of wanting are two of the things in particular that really complete the tone of Alien Squatter. The gameplay, while flawed, also somewhat aids it in the unique feeling that the game brings.
Setting and Characters
The setting of Alien Squatter is not particularly pleasant. As an alien stuck in the slums, the goal of the game is to get into the wealthy and luxurious city of Privilege. In the slums outside of the great city, every day is a fight to obtain just enough cash, food, and resources to survive and go to sleep, and then fend off the same challenges the very next day in a soulless cycle. The premise that Alien Squatter throws at the player really sells the idea that you are just another unfortunate soul trying to live among people without purpose in a world that is already long dead.
Alien Squatter excels at good world description. There are many objects to look at, almost all of them with unique descriptions that greatly immerse you in the game. Alien Squatter, in general, has good writing, but the descriptions of things are some of the best that it has to offer, being both interesting to read and often telling a small story. It fleshes out the world effectively, and it works extremely well.
The people, in particular, are an interesting bunch, and there are many that you will encounter throughout that are entertaining, intriguing, and more. The characters you meet all come alive the best they can with only text, and for the most part, it works quite well. If by chance you are able to get into Privilege, you have the option to take anyone you want with you for some extra stuff in the epilogue at the end. Even when they are contemptible, they are, in one way or another, relatable at the end of the day. The characters do suffer a little when they remain in only one place throughout a playthrough and nothing more, and they could’ve definitely had more overall dynamism and initiative to make them really come to fruition. In fact, Alien Squatter, on the whole, could use a little more dynamics, but I’ll get to that later on.
Alien Squatter’s gameplay is reminiscent of the earliest cRPGs. I’m talking mechanics like energy dictating the exact amount of steps you take before you collapse of exhaustion, those kinds of things that encourage you to think and plan your actions. The objective of Alien Squatter is simple: the player must obtain enough money to get into the city of Privilege. How exactly you obtain the means to do that though is mostly up to the player, and there are a number of ways to earn wealth in the slums, from working jobs, robbing people, scavenging, etc.
The game also has pets/companions that help you gain extra items and resources to use. Each pet is more than just a helper, and they each have their own little personality that you can interact with. Interacting with them doesn’t have much value, but they give us cute, short scenes that are worth reading through. They’re not as fleshed out as I would have hoped, but they’re good enough for the most part.
However, after playing through the game with all three playable alien races, it might occur to the player that the game is a little too simplistic. While a simplistic goal is perfectly acceptable, a complex way to get to that goal is the most appealing, and Alien Squatter doesn’t really bring anything too incredibly thought-out or new to the table in regards to this aspect of itself. The gameplay throughout Alien Squatter remains static, and for that reason it can tire the player out.
You could argue that the gameplay in Alien Squatter is supposed to be a little overly simple and/or boring to fit the idea of actually being in this situation and setting, but at some point for me a line should be drawn to where the gameplay of a game can be both enjoyable and a compliment to its themes and where gameplay is a compliment to the tone of a game but fails to be truly engaging. Alien Squatter, for me at least, is mostly the latter, and I can see a little too many areas of potential improvement when I play.
As per usual in an RPG, stats are a thing, but there isn’t anything too complicated about Alien Squatters’ stats. You have Physical, Mental, and Social stats that dictate how good you are at pulling off certain tasks. Physical determines your ability in fights and general application of the body, Mental determines things that would normally require concentration or discipline, and Social determines how charming you are when you talk to others. Again, it’s pretty self-explanatory and it’s not anything new within the genre. There are some extra things about your character that the game keeps track of like Karma, Peace, etc, but those three core stats are the important ones. All are useful, and the game does a nice job of keeping it all fairly balanced so that one stat doesn’t trump another.
I mentioned earlier that characters are caught between both feeling alive and completely static, now that we’re in the gameplay section, I can elaborate on that. While I like the fact that Alien Squatter has no quests, and thereby aiding its themes, I feel that Alien Squatter could’ve had NPCs that had their own agendas and ambitions to even further promote the concepts of loneliness and competition that it gleefully mentions and incorporates. I’m not talking about mere random enemy encounters, I’m thinking of more real and tangible threats that you might see who are as physical as the player is in the game world. The game lacks a certain extra challenge to it that could totally complete the experience that the game is trying to achieve.
The slums in which the player resides in are actually quite small when taken into account. There are only 4 main areas that are traversed via loading screen, and they’re not all particularly big as you would expect them to be. For the way the setting is described, it doesn’t feel too intimidating once you get to know the basic layout of the world, and it kinda kills the idea of an unknowable world that yields something new every time you explore it. I once again feel as if the gameplay doesn’t match the atmosphere the game is going for as well as it could be, and it causes a certain noticeable dissonance in the long run of things.
I mentioned the word depressive earlier, so what do I mean by that? Well for one, the game is not a happy one. Alien Squatter revels in its grim and near-hopeless setting. While it is entirely possible to achieve a happy ending, it requires time. Endings can range from getting into Privilege with a wealthy sum of money generated by a personal business, or even to the lowest of the low by being forced into human trafficking. Even for the happiest endings, the game manages to make you feel as if it was, even on the smallest level, futile.
Many of the characters themselves struggle with issues regarding their own existence, and some perhaps hit a little too close to home. The game makes good use of these characters to comment on how humans generally behave and act, especially within the harsh environment and context of Alien Squatter’s setting. It is more of a shame then that these characters don’t really feel like they’re truly apart of their environment as discussed earlier in terms of gameplay, as they are rooted to their position, not really being able to do much of their own. I digress, however, and say that while the characters and the way you interact with them could’ve been improved, the writing that is put into them is able to save them and do the job of carrying the game’s primary intentions.
Even small details like the phrasing of certain sentences, by the way, certain characters talk, and even the status messages the game shows you reinforces the ideas that the game loves to bring up at every point it can. I rambled earlier about how great the game’s ability to describe things is, but it really is that well done that I have to show it once more.
The soundtrack especially is embedded with a feeling of jadedness and wandering, as if you were walking through a city late at night, silently observing the minimal signs of life and the bright neon lights that still remained. It’s very lonely in tone, and that is where its success stems from. The soundtrack could’ve been better if it was bigger, but unfortunately, since the game world isn’t too large, the soundtrack doesn’t have many opportunities to expand the way you would want it to.
You might notice the varying degrees of pink and purple that Alien Squatter’s world is coated with. These colors greatly add to the game’s tone and feel, and they are nearly everywhere. While I think the game could’ve had better lighting, the shading and use of the colors work well enough, and they provide a nice touch to the game that gives it an untouchable identity.
Overall, Alien Squatter is a study in a successful atmosphere and how powerful it can be used to make a game really stand up on its own. The game’s use of descriptive writing and character writing is well done, and without it, Alien Squatter could easily be completely mediocre.
With that being said, however, Alien Squatter’s execution in terms of gameplay could definitely stand to be improved and further developed, as at the core, it needs to be more complex. When I play Alien Squatter, I get a great feeling of a wealth of potential that is ultimately unused. Alien Squatter feels half-complete, and with more time dedicated to it, I could easily see it becoming more than mostly average, great even. There simply isn’t enough dynamic in Alien Squatter, and while it’s a perfectly acceptable and playable title, it fails to truly stand out, even with its great writing, which is tragic, as I know that there was a lot of passion put into it. I do think the game is worth a try though, because the atmosphere is unique enough to warrant a purchase when you perhaps have nothing else to spend your money on at the moment.