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Review: Analogue: A Hate Story
by Peter Kratz

Usually when we in the gaming press say a game is 'immersive', we mean that it pulls the player into an experience.

When you play Skyrim, you enter a fantasy world and take on the role of the hero. In Mass Effect, you travel to a distant future and become its savior. You forget where you really are, and let yourself be the Dragonborn or Commander Shepard. Analogue: A Hate Story takes an opposite approach to achieve the same effect: its world instead reaches out to you, turning your computer into an interface for spaceship communication. During the course of play, the world you interact with becomes just as real as the mountains of Tamriel or the plains of Eden Prime as you piece together the story of a long-derelict spaceship, but is the effort worth your while?

Analogue: A Hate Story takes place in the far future. Centuries before, a Korean starship called the Mungungwha was launched, intent on founding one of the earliest space colonies. It never reached the planet, and its fate was unknown until it was discovered drifting through deep space. You've been tasked with uncovering the full story. Your objectives are to download the ship's data and solve the mystery of what happened to the crew and passengers, with the help of the ship's AI programs *Hyun-ae and *Mute. They take the form of cute anime girls because why the hell not?

Depending on whom you ask, Analogue's gameplay is either incredibly creative or entirely non-existent. One thing is certain, though: it gets points for originality. The game begins by presenting the player with a DOS-like prompt screen with a few text commands before you activate the AI and get to work. You're given the ship's records mostly through emails and journal entries. However, the job isn't as simple as it first appears. You're only given the records that the AI deem necessary, and it becomes apparent that they have their own agenda.

I know what you're thinking, and there really isn't any fan service in this game

It’s difficult to criticize the gameplay of a game that arguably doesn’t have any, so instead I’m going to focus on critiquing the story. (NOTE: This next bit is all stuff that you figure out in the game’s demo, but if you want to completely avoid spoilers, you may want to skip the next paragraph or two) The plot takes a little while getting started, since it has to ease you into the politics and family feuds that were going on when the ship disappeared. Eventually, it becomes obvious that the ship’s society changed drastically from how it was when it left Earth, regressing to feudal era values for unknown reasons.

Sound pretty interesting, huh? Wanna know what happened? Tough. That element is hardly explored at all, it's really just a set-up to explore the themes of the game. You are seriously asked to just “take it as a given” by the AI, since all of the records before a certain point were destroyed. It’s quite a lot to ask for the audience’s suspension of disbelief about such a radical change. It’s a shame since games like Bioshock have told similar stories in outstanding fashions and I feel the potential was there.

That said, once you accept the idea and get past the initial drag of sorting out family politics, the story goes to some very interesting places. At the center of the story is the 'Pale Bride,' a girl was born on board the ship very early in the expedition. She became ill and was put into cyrostasis, only to be mistakenly awakened centuries later in a completely different society. Her story and those of others on the ship delve into the concepts of gender roles, sex and the clash of cultures extremely well, even exploring big sci-fi ideas like transhumanism. The new society is based on Korea's Joseon dynasty, and the writer obviously took research very seriously, even providing references in the game's bonus content. As for the AI partners, they're both very well-written characters. They may not be as memorable as GLaDOS, but they're well-rounded and interesting enough to really care about. For computer programs, they're surprisingly human.

Even with very little visuals, the game does a good job making you feel like your computer is honest-to-God connected to and interacting with a spaceship’s systems, especially in one sequence about two-thirds of the way in, where the AI guides you in solving a problem with the ship itself from your terminal. It's a surprisingly intense sequence that might just make you realize how much you care for the characters. I really wanted to see more of that kind of thing, but it's the only event like that in the whole game, then it’s back to reading people’s email. My only other problem is that there’s a "point of no return" that isn’t clearly-telegraphed and will cut you out of some of the game's endings. It’s hard to explain without major spoilers, but this is where the game could have offered a gut-wrenching choice, instead forcing the player down a path to either group of endings. Even if it doesn't take that chance though, it still presents choices that can test the player's morality and ideals, as the AIs ask you to take stances on the events that led to the ship's fate.

There's a very good chance that your computer can meet Analogue's system requirements

As you can probably tell by the screenshots above, Analogue isn't too concerned with dazzling presentation. There is no voicework and the only real art is of the two AIs. The game doesn't look bad, it just doesn't give much to look at in the first place. It might not have been necessary to have art depicting the events that went along with some of the emails, but it might have been helpful to have some visuals for the people and events on the ship. It creates the same kind of problem as the faceless protagonists in AAA games back when it was all the rage to give them helmets and hoodies. You may not need to see their face to create an emotional connection, but it definitely helps and that can mean the difference between a good story and a truly remarkable one.

The visuals may be lacking, but the music certainly isn't. This is seriously one of the best ambient sci-fi soundtracks I've heard and is exactly what checking your e-mail in space should sound like. The soundtrack is also for sale on Steam and can be bundled with the game itself for a discounted rate.

Even with all of the text and anime girls, I wouldn’t call Analogue a visual novel. I wouldn't even call it a Choose Your Own Adventure book. The story doesn’t move in one direction; it’s a non-linear assembly of documents which you are free to explore, though they are unlocked in a certain order. Still, it will probably be a big hit with people who like visual novels. But if you prefer to have more action in your games, there are more worthwhile things to spend your money on. If you're not typically into VNs but are still curious, there's a demo to help make up your mind.

As a side note, you might enjoy Analogue if you got a kick out of hacking computers in games like Deus Ex and piecing together side stories in other games, since that’s basically Analogue in its entirety.

Analogue may leave a couple of things to be desired, with minimalist presentation and a creative premise that sometimes begs to be explored more, but these aren't the kind of problems you'll be thinking about once the game has you in its grip. What it attempts it succeeds at, telling a dark and thought-provoking story through non-linear means. Those willing to give it a chance won't regret the purchase.

8/10 [?]

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- Peter Kratz

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