If being stranded on a moon, surrounded by remnants of ominous scientific experimentation, and escaping adverse weather conditions and alien lifeforms while maintaining a healthy diet of grape soda and candy coated peanuts seems like an exciting adventure, Ariel would beg to differ.
What I Liked
Ambient Music: With ominous, atmospheric synths and classic, orchestral elements, the background music to Ariel is fantastic at setting a tone for the game. Each locale in the game had different songs to go with it, reminding the player that yes, despite the slow pace of Professor Ludec’s walking speed, progress is being made.
Stellar Graphics: The world of Ariel is extremely colorful and beautiful, and could be fully appreciated if the frame rate was not so poor. With landscapes and rolling hills of colored fauna and a marvelous star-filled sky, the backdrop to this otherwise boring game is great to look at. Graphics and music, however, cannot carry a game.
What I Didn’t Like
Gameplay is Slow: Ariel is ridiculously slow paced. Players do a ton of walking around. Walking is most of what the game is, but the walking speed makes the experience arduous. Ludec has to walk to find information about where he is and what he has to do to survive and escape Ariel, he has to walk to find resources, and he has to walk to cabins to sleep and consume said resources. The best part about Ludec’s travelling problem is that, by carrying more items (a natural part of the game), he becomes overweight and EVEN SLOWER. The other half of the game that isn’t walking from place to place, is interacting with crates and equipment. It takes time to open crates and to pressurize cabins and to decontaminate resources.
Chore-Like Tasks: Oxygen, hunger, thirst, and fatigue gauges had to be maintained in order to stay healthy. These meters would often deplete, causing the player to retire to a pressurized cabin to recharge, often resulting in a long trek back to a previously explored camp. The physical demands of Professor Ludec on Ariel, however, are really of no concern, as players need not budget their supplies. Food, oxygen, and water were able to be reached all over the moon, making the “survival” experience much more trivial and like a chore. To escape the moon, players must complete mundane tasks of finding tools and repair parts to fix machines and remember passcodes to communicate with others beyond. This may cause multiple trips around to camp sites previously visited. Coupled with the speed at which you can move around and perform all these tasks, Ariel is an arduous experience.
A Stale Narrative With (You Guessed It) SLOW Presentation: As the story of the scientists who previously inhabited and experimented on Ariel is only discovered through reading slow scrolling journal entries, listening to audio recordings, and finding documents, the whole experience is slow at the start and slow throughout. If the story was unique, interesting, and captivating then this may not be an issue, however, the narrative of Ariel lacks real depth and personality in it’s characters and their tale. Voice acting and delivery was also extremely poor. The heavily accented voices of the characters was so similar and lazily done that it is hard to even tell the difference between characters and what they are trying to say. Even written dialogue and text sometimes has issue as well, with grammatical and punctuation errors scattered throughout.
Frame Rate Issues: It seems as though there is a bug that severely damages the frame rate of the game. The frame rate is stunted and drops frequently.
A Silver Lining
It’s an Early Access Game: As an early access game, these shortcomings have room to be improved on, but as of now, Ariel has a somewhat loose foundation for what it can become. Gameplay has room to be more interesting and unique and the storytelling should be more immersive, with better voice acting and other forms of world building than sitting through slow progressing text. Ariel, as a whole survival experience, is currently lacking in both narrative and gameplay, the meat and potatoes of what makes a game a worthwhile. Hopefully, the developers can find ways to make Ariel more playable, as to not waste the beautiful atmosphere that the music and graphics provide.
Previewed on: PC; Publisher: Nuclear Fiction; Developer: Nuclear Fiction; Players: Single player; Released: July 11, 2017; ESRB: Teen; MSRP: $9.99; Official Site
Note: A promotional code was provided to Denkiphile for review purposes by the publisher