The Experiment is released in the US today, having come out in French late last year. And I'm rather excited about it. Developers, Lexis Numérique, have just started shipping copies of their new game (called Experience 112 in Europe), to US stores, and there's a demo available (at 43.4 Peggles). But first, an anecdote.
Every now and then, this job affords you an opportunity to do something nice. Too often we games critics are responsible for letting people know the game they were looking forward to, or worse, pre-ordered, is going to be a pile of stinky poo. But occasionally, it works the other way around. One of my favourite examples was In Memoriam. A French adventure game published by Ubisoft, who were too ashamed to send out review copies. PC Gamer's Ross Atherton had to walk to the shops and buy it himself, and it was given to me to review in half a page, because, well, they gave me all the crappy French adventures.
It, of course, blew away all expectations, by being something stunningly original, and completely fascinating. ARG's were pretty much unknown at the time (2003), and the concept was bewildering. Inside the box was a black, unmarked disc, and details explaining that the police had been unable to figure it out, so they were turning to you. Two reporters had gone missing, and a potential murderer had released this disc of clues as to their whereabouts. But in order to solve the puzzles in the game, you had to use the real world. Or was it real? The developers had created very many websites, scattered across the internet, which contained information necessary for puzzle solving. But to blur things brilliantly, those sites linked to genuine websites that were also vital. For instance, when trying to find out about another missing girl who attended Oxford University, you have to work out which Oxford college she was at, by using data from inside the game and the official Oxford Uni website. Then by searching her full name and the college details, you found a mocked up Oxford site, including a forum where students were discussing her disappearance, and then, a link to her blog, with three months of entries. Remarkable detail.
Unfortunately this wonderful idea rather disintegrated into some crappy Flash puzzles by the end. But it was a fantastic experience along the way.
So of course I had to let everyone know. Gamer increased the review size to give it some decent coverage, and I pestered other mags to make sure they featured it to. So, Ubi, you owe me some PR fees there I think.
Which is all to say, I'm enormously looking forward to Lexis Numérique's new game, The Experiment.
The trailer is in French, but should give you an impression:
The concept is, again, intriguing. It deliberately separates you from the action, only allowing you to influence what happens indirectly. You're at the controls of a broken ship, in front of a computer showing various surveillance images and menus. From there you guide Professor Lea Nichols through the complex ship structure, hopefully safety. But things are more interesting, as you aren't aware if you can trust her, nor she you, and indeed you have no idea how you found yourself trapped in this situation. As you go along, you piece together the information.
The sense of detachment is superb. You not only can't control the on-screen character, but you can't directly interact with the environment around her either. Instead you have a series of windows open on your desktop (the developers once again applying a reality of place for approaching the game - you are very much sat at a computer with a number of windows open), showing camera images, maps, and file management tools for accessing personel data files. You can open doors, and operate machinery, from the map, but beyond this you're relying on Lea. Who is, in turn, relying on you.
If only they had spent more time translating the text, as the demo's vocals are pretty dreadful, and very often make no sense at all. The actor chosen isn't particularly enigmatic, which is probably going to be a worrying failing. But the concept remains utterly enticing.
The demo lets you play a significant opening chunk of the game, to get an idea of how it all works. As for a UK release? We've no idea at all. Time to start doing the PR again, methinks.