Version tested: PC
We don't know whether Aurora Watching developer Metropolis Software spent much time peering at the stars during the game's development, but they certainly looked up Metal Gear Solid, because the footprints trodden into the snow by that game are followed in a roundabout way more or less throughout this one.
Unfortunately though, somebody seems to have switched out Solid Snake's sneaking suit stealth-boots, because the result here is a laboured, harshly and poorly-designed facsimile of Snake's path, presumably pattered into the packed ice by giant tennis rackets taped to a pair of Wellington boots operated by an extremely drunken man. Fluffy intros aside, then: it's rubbish. Snow joke [fired! - Ed].
The idea is that you're some sort of grizzled, booze-drenched veteran (see!) pulled out of retirement to go off into the Arctic and sort out a terrorist crisis involving a downed submarine and lots of dodgy-looking chaps in snowsuits. The reality is that you're a badly-voiced, poorly-scripted third-person action game cliché wearily trudging through identikit environments at a slothful pace with a surprisingly crap big gun in your hands.
The other idea, of course, is to avoid detection, but the game's just so random that it's impossible to settle into a believable rhythm. Sneak into a room by loudly opening the door and then clunking your way up behind a computer worker and you can bonk him on the head, leaving you free to hack his console and extract vital emails about the weather. Annoyingly though, the hacking heaps on yet more sitting around waiting for things to happen as a progress bar worms its way toward completion, and for some reason your victim often comes to in that time and then totally ignores the fact you're standing right next to him telepathically extracting information from his terminal.
Fortunately you can just headshot him and no one will notice, despite the open door. And then you can hit Ctrl or Space to switch to an overhead MGS-rip-off view and drag him toward a row of lockers, only one in a thousand of which will open, and none of which seem to be able to house guards in the style of the game being mimicked.
Conversely, however, it's also possible to tiptoe painstakingly across an open area of blizzard-racked snow, with visibility down to just a few metres, and yet be spotted instantly by a distant guard who isn't even within the scope of your MGS-style mini-map radar, ruining the entire plan. Thank goodness for quick-saving and quick-loading, eh?
There's far more wrong with Aurora Watching than this of course, so let's do a few more impressive examples. One of our favourites involved a pathway between sections that was guarded and vid-cammed on the other end. You simply couldn't make it through - not least because being seen and shot at in Aurora Watching more or less guarantees death in a lot of cases. There's a lean-out-from-walls technique, but it's not really practical outside obvious, prescribed scenarios. So anyway, you realise you'll have to go and find a way to kill the camera. This way turns out to be about half a mile away, round the side of a big wall of rock, along another narrow, snowy pathway and inside another prefabricated hut with a computer in it. So you trudge round, kill a couple of guards, hit the button, and trudge back. This pointless obfuscation of the goal eats up about five minutes.
Given that the core mechanics are rarely fun, the slow pace is enough of a problem, and a lot of the conditions under which you're operating are pretty arbitrary, it's hard to work out why anyone would persevere with this kind of thing - even at £19.99. Real Metal Gear Solid costs less than that and is miles more fun even if you absolutely abhor the narrative elements.
So much of the game is like the scenario we just described. Even when it deviates a little it seems to find a way to underwhelm or make you laugh in a bad way. There's a skidoo section midway through the first level, for example, which is hamstrung by awful controls, an unfair time limit, and the bizarre sight of a man being flung from his ride by the impact of a snowball and flying through the air like a string puppet getting snagged on something and flopping ragdoll-style in protest.
Bad games are often home to lots of unintentional comedy, of course, and this definitely follows that course, with the majority of memorable moments centring around some accidental absurdity that prompts a laugh of disbelief and then lingers in the mind on that basis. The voice acting and script behind it certainly manages that. When your man rifles through a dead guard's pockets (having stuttered his way into this animation because he was caught on furniture, as often as not), his one-liner isn't even direct-to-TV. "You won't need these bullets any more," he chuckles. Well, no, presumably not. Funnier still are the little translation issues, like the sentry complaining, "They said this was a job with perspective."
Is it unfair to mock a game because the developer/publisher couldn't afford to get it translated properly? Perhaps. Is it unfair to demand £19.99 for something that's as unfinished, badly designed and devoid of deliberate entertainment value as Aurora Watching? Definitely. By all means sympathise with small developers, but that still means don't buy this at all.
3 / 10