Escape the alien ship, but there’s no rush

Abducted: Episode 1 is the first entry in a six-part, episodic sci-fi adventure that combines puzzle, horror, and RPG elements.  This genre sampler is a mixed bag both literally and in terms of quality: while it presents a mysterious and beautiful world to explore, actually doing so is a slow process.  Episode 1 lays the groundwork for a sprawling adventure across unexplored—and unsettling—reaches of space, but with less than compelling gameplay that often fails to encourage making the journey.

Players take on the role of Eve, an amnesiac who wakes up on an alien ship with no memory of how she got there or anything about her past.  Eve’s only clue to her current status is a computer built into her arm that claims to have been with her “since the beginning” and is able to answer questions about their life together.  Although the arm computer is also unaware of how or why you’ve ended up on this particular ship, it is able to fill in some of Eve’s blanks—like the fact that she is an explorer that catalogues alien life forms—and help her investigate her surroundings.  It will mostly provide information on objects from its extensive database, but the computer also allows Eve to hack into terminals throughout the ship that give her access to new areas and a potential escape.

Abducted: Episode 1

This progression through the ship takes the form of a simplified point-and-click adventure, but without any items to collect or manage.  When Eve walks near an area of interest, it glows faintly and can be viewed for more information.  Most items exist solely to describe the ship’s atmosphere: gazing out a window might describe the asteroids in the distance and comment that you are definitely far from home, while examining a broken piece of machinery may explain its original purpose and ponder “Is it repairable?”  Since Episode 1 is linear and Eve’s goal is always clear, these areas of interest are rarely needed to move forward and serve only to expand the alien environment.

That goal is almost always to find and activate the terminal located in the current room, which will open a door, raise a bridge, or perform some other function to allow access to the next area of the ship.  Terminals are easy-to-spot, glowing white mounds of tentacles that respond to Eve’s computer when she touches them.  Activating a terminal requires solving its glyph puzzle: finding its related glyphs in the same room—usually painted on walls—and inputting them into the terminal twice within a one-minute time limit.  This can be bypassed by “hacking” the computer, which just means solving a different, maze-like mini-game instead.

Abducted: Episode 1

As Eve activates terminals and moves farther into the bowels of the ship, she’ll remember how to use a number of special abilities.  These include “Pulse,” which fires a laser-like shockwave; “Manipulate,” which allows Eve to briefly control objects like doors; and “Shield,” which protects her from damage for a short time.  Each special ability can be employed at any time but comes with a recharge rate that delays consecutive uses.  To reduce this delay and make her abilities stronger, players can level up Eve’s powers via a skill tree and points earned for everything you do, from examining objects to activating terminals.

The problem is that’s the gist of Abducted: Episode 1: there’s really very little to do.  Examinable areas paint a mysterious portrait of what’s happening here—why does Eve feel strangely cozy in parts of this ship?—but there are only a few to discover in each room.  The computer arm provides extensive dialogue and plot details, but acts more as a database than an integral gameplay mechanic.  Eve’s in-game activities are delegated to entering a room, finding glyphs, solving the terminal puzzle, and examining a few points of interest.  These explorations are occasionally broken up by faster-paced sequences where Eve must escape from a creature that’s hunting her, but these are more awkward than invigorating due to fixed and clumsy camera angles.  As Eve’s repertoire of abilities grows, so does the gameplay, but only marginally: until the end of Episode 1, most of her activities fit the above mold. 

Abducted: Episode 1

Added frustration comes from the fact that the limited activities available are often tedious or confusing to implement.  Outside of chase sequences, Eve walks painfully slowly, turning otherwise engaging exploration into a chore.  The glyph puzzles are never fully explained, and strangely combine a time limit with the need to wait for clues to appear—you have to pick out the “correct” version of the glyph, but there’s no way to know which one it is until an intermittent red flash appears.  The aforementioned camera angles make chase sequences and other dangers extra hazardous—Eve can die, but doing so because she was a pixel too close to an enemy will quickly take you out of the fiction.

It’s possible that as an episodic series, Episode 1 is merely the slow-paced introduction to what will become a more engrossing cumulative experience.  A clever use of the “Manipulate” ability near the end of this entry indicates that developer Sunside could have other tricks up their sleeve.  The world they have built—which promises to be much larger than this single alien ship—is one worth exploring, with cinematic environments that are both cavernous and claustrophobic.  Eve’s plight as amnesiac-kidnapped-by-aliens seems to be only the start of a much deeper, disturbing plot.  Hopefully, as the story and setting expand, so will the gameplay and challenges housed within them.