Version tested: iPhone
Another World was one of the first truly cinematic games, and that wasn't just because of the stylish cut-scenes, the neo-noir lighting, and the obvious ambition to tell a story visually. It was cinematic because it turned you into an actor rather than a mere player, and tasked you with working your way through what amounts to a rigorous script.
It was an action adventure that left almost nothing to chance, one where the real challenge, much of the time, lay with simply working out what the designer wanted you to do next in order to unlock another chunk of carefully controlled exploration. Even if you've never trod the boards in real life, switching on Eric Chahi's classic after all these years is less like picking up an aging game again, and more like returning to an old role.
Now that it's out on iOS, the home of instant gratifiers like Fruit Ninja and Angry Birds, it makes for a jarring proposition. Games tend not to work this way anymore - and they rarely did so before, really. Hunting for a modern equivalent, in fact, the closest I can come to is Limbo. There's another game that hinges on hindsight rather than foresight: another game that tasks you with unravelling the design team's intentions - often by throwing yourself onto spikes - and sort of shuffling through the adventure backwards.
But Limbo at least keeps things fairly simple. Another World frequently has you reverse-engineering complex and counter-intuitive multi-screen puzzles, or taking on challenges that require split-second timing and plenty of backtracking. If you're coming to it for the first time, in other words, you're in for a shock.
Thankfully, it's not all so complicated. Another World's arrived on the iPhone and the iPad in the form of the 15th Anniversary Edition, which means the game's distinctive flat polygonal look has sharper lines and moves with a smoother frame-rate. The graphical style has aged fairly well if you ask me - not least, I suspect, because subsequent games were more likely to ignore Chahi's approach entirely than improve upon it incrementally.
There's a minimalist elegance to the way a couple of strips of colour can convey everything from the awkward, gangly form of the game's protagonist to the barely-controlled energy bubble of a laser pistol charging up, and the animation's still vivid and surprisingly human.
It's full of great incidental moments that simply haven't aged at all - that soda can being popped open at the start, the way your hair flaps around in a recharging chamber - and the higher resolution really hasn't hurt things either. Sliding two fingers down the screen allows you to switch between original and reworked visuals so you can check the tweaks out for yourself: the Anniversary Edition's plastic surgery is chic and understated.
The story's not taken too much of a hit since the 1990s, either. You're a scientist, smart enough to be working on anti-matter, yet not smart enough to knock the experiments on the head until a lightning storm has passed. Zapped with 1.21 gigawatts of electricity - or thereabouts - you and your lab desk are briskly transported to an alien planet.
It's a dangerous place, filled with poisonous slugs, gooey pits lined with teeth, and a selection of potato-headed locals intent on blasting you to pieces. Before you can say "Higgs boson", you've thrown yourself in with a helpful prison chum - the relationship is both wordless and beautifully handled - and are fighting for your life.
Touchscreen controls are elegant in design and largely satisfactory in implementation (to be fair, lag and a certain degree of imprecision were always part of Another World's DNA anyway). There are two options to mess around with. First up, there's a virtual d-pad and action button, both of which work well but are curiously un-entertaining to use, possibly because of an absence of haptic feedback. Then there's a much smarter set of gestural inputs that have you tapping each side of the playing area to move, swiping to run or jump, and jabbing at a bottom corner to fire a weapon or interact with scenery.
This isn't a bad set-up - I'd call it nifty, if I was a 1950s ad man with a pipe and an unhappy marriage - and it even manages to cope with the game's hectic fire fights, which, in one of Another World's smarter moves, allow you to summon shields and shield-destroying mega-blasts as well as just straight-up shoot people.
The only times that control ever becomes an issue are when you're dealing with sudden stops or turns on tight ledges - there are around two or three such moments in the game - and towards the middle of the adventure, where Chahi's plot leads you underground and the whole thing takes a sudden lurch into precision platforming territory. Even then, mind, you'll get through the tough stuff before things become truly frustrating.
And, looking back, frustration does seem to be an inevitable by-product of Another World's template anyway. This is a short but extremely taxing adventure, and you pay for its cinematic ambitions - a gunfight on a battlement while your buddy crawls to your rescue behind you, an execution puzzle involving an enemy's reflection in a glass orb - with a handful of sequences where the game's ability to point you in the right direction fails, and you're left wandering around trying to work out what the ancient design demands of you.
So how does it fit into today's gaming landscape? That largely boils down to a question of how much audiences have really changed in the last twenty years or so. Are they less willing to flail around in confusion for a few minutes to enjoy something stylish and strange, and less likely to tackle a platforming gauntlet for the tenth, eleventh, twelfth time just to see what's beyond it?
The evidence, I guess, is contradictory at best. On one hand, the likes of Jetpack Joyride suggests a very good way for designers to make money is to release games that you can't really lose, where even death sees you earning a couple of coins and working towards a few achievements. On the other hand, the palpable excitement building up for Dark Souls - a proposition that sells itself brilliantly on the promise that it will kick your teeth in every few minutes - argues that quite a lot of people still want a challenge, and don't even care if it's a fair one.
In truth, it's probably safest to simply agree that there are now far more easily recognised audiences for games - a state of affairs that is probably good for everybody. It's definitely true of Another World. If you're from the crowd that remembers it the first time around, you'll get the chance to revisit an artful and wonderfully atmospheric gaming oddity filled with sudden deaths and clever set-pieces. If you're new to it, you're probably in for an hour or so of intrigued confusion, followed by a quick trip to a FAQ.
Either way, Eric Chahi's classic is still worth checking out. After all, they really don't make them like this anymore.
7 / 10