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A Vague Impression: Alum Demo Available Now

In from the cold

Alum is a posterchild for how not to do post-Kickstarter. Having squeaked past its $10,000 target, suddenly everything went silent. Everything. For three months there were no updates to the Kickstarter page, the game's Facebook page, the Twitter account... It looked pretty concerning. It turned out developer Micah Orsie was just being a twit, rather than anything malicious. Despite ignoring our enquiry as to what was going on, spookily moments after we sent it he suddenly reappeared to assure backers that the game was still in development. And now there's proof of that too, with a demo. Oh, and it's pretty good.

It is, as is so often the case, the future. The city of Cosmos is heated through a vast steam network, and policed by robots known as E-bots, both the creation of the revered mayor, Mr. Glym. Outside is freezing tundra, but the city appears safe. Except, of course, it's not.

People in the city are getting a disease known as The Vague. It's adventure gaming's most translucent metaphor since Ragnar Tørnquist called a dying girl "Faith". It leaves them despondent, dull, and eventually unresponsive. It has happened to central character Alum's wife, Esther, and he's desperately sad. (Apart from when he forgets to be.) Alum is a delivery man, who during his work stumbles upon a note suggesting that someone has a cure for The Vague, and becomes determined to discover it.

What's on offer here is the first chapter of the game, and it's a very faithful point and click adventure of the early 90s style. Made using AGS, it opts for a rotating cursor, and includes potential deaths. It's Sierra in 1993. However, perilous scenes are well flagged, with checkpoints before danger, and suggestions to save before they begin. It rather takes away the surprise, but still.

However, and probably a big reason why I find myself endorsing the game despite a few foibles, it did surprise me. In one moment, it made me jump. I don't tend to jump at anything, so love it when it happens, and being a point-n-clicker, it caught me completely off guard. Kudos there. The rest of the story is very nicely written, but plagued with typos. ("Alot" is not a word, Crashable Studios.) And as for the puzzles - like I said, Sierra 1993. Getting a parcel from a statue requires a series of silly, improbable actions, all of which felt obvious to me as I played. That's the ticket! The big bummer in here is a dreadful arcade cabinet sequence, in which you're required to stumble through an arbitrary sequence of random deaths over and over until you fluke it. Did I mention? Sierra, 1993.

There's no speech yet, but there's a bunch of music, even a song. Where it goes from here remains to be seen. But to get a good idea of what's happening, you can get the demo now, for free.

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