An adventure game that doesn't make me want to pluck out my own lungs is always a rare treat, so the demo for Alpha Polaris from Turmoil Games offered a pleasant surprise. Despite an apparent low budget (this is a team of five in Finland, entirely self-funded), the usual hateful elements don't immediately appear. The voice acting, while nothing outstanding, is inoffensive and does its job. The inventory puzzles (in the demo at least) are logical. And the setting isn't about a 23 year old girl with a mobile phone trying to find her missing father/solve a brutal murder. It's much more interesting - a Greenland research centre, where you play a 27 year old Norwegian guy who's tagging polar bears. Which will apparently find its way toward horror.
But in a nice touch, this is a sop from an oil company, an attempt to give themselves green credentials, and your character is aware of that. And in the half hour or so of game here, you really do nothing more than tranquillise a bear and get it in a cage. It's low-key, with the hunt of a twist appearing calmly near the end.
It's also a touch clichéd. Your company is a snarky hot girl, a brash, lewd 20-something guy, and an older, more serious gentleman. None of them say anything surprising, nor introduce a character idea that hasn't appeared in every game ever. But yet there's something about the calm that I enjoyed. Atmosphere counts for so much in such games, and it was there for me.
Its inventory is handled well, and lets itself remain open on the bottom of the screen throughout. Plus the cursor is smart - the left and right click options are case sensitive, and display neatly in small icons either side of the arrow. It's an elegant solution that I'm amazed isn't more common.
As for the full game? I'm aiming to play it through soon - to see if it survives the inevitable shift into its horror themes. Meanwhile you can play the demo for yourself, and judge whether you want to spend the £17 on the rest of it.