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Aquila Station Reviews
What does AIF stand for? Adult Interactive Fiction. If you likely to be offended by games with sexual content, you are advised not to open these files.
Reviewed by Exlibris (Inside
Erin, Volume 6 Number 2 - February 2010)
Despite being a piece of science fiction, in terms of its tone Aquila Station is probably the most realistic piece of AIF to appear for quite some time. For a full-length game it's at the shorter end of the spectrum,
with only three NPCs and two encounters. But the author makes effective use of the smaller canvas, telling a complete self-contained story (the ending leaves the possibility of a sequel open, but I don't think the
story necessarily requires one).
The story is split cleanly into two halves by an event that also halves the number of living characters. In the first half the PC takes the role of a lowly technician aboard a space station (shades of Roger Wilco), whose
immediate goals include retrieving objects lost down toilets and trying to make the acquaintance of the female characters. That's not an atypical setup for AIF, but the writing and the portrayal of the characters
keeps the game more anchored in reality than is usual. In the second half of the game, the PC gets to play the hero, rescuing the damsel in distress.
It's a strong story, and one that's refreshingly different from the flights of fantasy that are more common to AIF. The one point that I think could have been improved on is the number of people killed by the attack.
The station is described as understaffed, but it's implied that there are more crew members than are seen onstage. Having a few more dead bodies turn up would have given the attack a greater impact and
emphasised how alone the surviving two characters now are (or perhaps I'm just bloodthirsty).
I think Aquila Station shows both the strengths and the weaknesses of using a 'talk to' system for conversing with NPCs. Natural conversation is stronger for characterisation, but there's a limit to how much
general dialogue an author can fit into a game without it seeming forced, which in turn limits the amount of characterisation possible. Ask/tell is obviously less naturalistic than conversation, but it has the advantage
of being focused on particular topics and therefore easier to write more of. It's also more interactive for the player than simply typing 'talk to x' over and over.
Lisa gets the most 'talks', with the result that she is the best drawn of the three characters. Her personality comes across well in her dialogue, which made her seem 'alive' to me (and consequently sad when she
died). The Commander gets only a couple of talks, but he's more of a 'type' than a character and his dialogue just reinforces that basic personality. Last is Alyse, who I think is the weakest of the three
characters. She gets a handful of conversations, but the majority of them are plot oriented (e.g. I've lost my necklace, thank you for finding my necklace). With that limited dialogue and the lack of any ask/tell
options to provide some rounding for her character, she remains something of a cipher throughout the game. That impression is reinforced by her necklace, which is described as common to a certain 'type' of
person rather than being individual.
Aquila Station runs very smoothly, which reflects well on the author and his testers. The closest thing to a bug that I could find was the fact that it's possible for the PC to perform tender acts of love while wearing a
space suit with a drill attachment on the arm. There aren't any examples of impressive or complex technical implementation, but the game gets along perfectly fine without them.
For the most part the puzzles are quite straightforward. There's seldom any question of what the PC should do, but there's sometimes some uncertainty about how it should be done. Disabling the security system at
the end of the game is probably the best example. It was fairly obvious that the Commander's palmscan would be required, but I didn't find the verb needed or the location of the scanner to be sufficiently well
Aquila Station includes two sex scenes. The scenes themselves are well written, but overall lack the 'X' factor that would have made them truly memorable.
I also felt that the scenes could have been set up better. In Lisa's scene all the PC has to do is talk to her a couple of times and she's ready. I find that I enjoy sex scenes in AIF more when I've done something to
'earn' them, so the lack of build-up hurt the scene for me. There is also the fact that the scene takes place in what is effectively a public area, and given the brevity of their courtship it seemed a little unbelievable that
Lisa would take a 'right here, right now' attitude to sex.
The problems I had with Alyse's scene stemmed more from the characterisation she was given. The PC doesn't really have any meaningful interactions with her during the first half of the game, and during the
second half she's in shock. That doesn't make her an object of desire in the same way that the more vivacious Lisa was. The setup for the actual scene (i.e. the PC rescuing her and taking them both to safety)
isn't too bad, but it's undercut by Alyse's extreme passivity. That, added to the fact that it's explicitly noted that she looks unusually young, makes her seem like a helpless child. Even though she makes the first
move once the shuttle is in flight, I still felt like the PC was taking advantage of her.
The writing of Aquila Station is definitely above average, though it occasionally stumbles or tries too hard. The room descriptions are detailed enough to give the locations a sense of uniqueness and believability
without becoming mini-epics. This is carried through to the descriptions of any items in the rooms, whether they are relevant to the story or not. Unlike many games, Aquila Station presents a close relationship between narrator and protagonist. There are a number of asides which seem to come direct from the protagonist and go a long way to fleshing out his character, as well as providing some humour in what is otherwise a realistic and ultimately downbeat
Aquila Station is without doubt a strong first game, hovering somewhere between a B and a B+. It's well-written, with a plot that's original and manages to rise above some of the clichés of AIF. Killing off Lisa
midway through the game was certainly a gutsy move. It also means that her sex scene serves a purpose in dramatic terms, heightening the player's attachment to her in order to increase the reaction when she's
snatched away. I actually felt a moment of sadness when I came across her dead body, which isn't something that most AIF manages, and that pushes my final grade over the top to a B+.
Reviews should be considered copyrighted by their respective authors.
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