Review for Intruder in Antiquonia
It seems to me that adventure games are perhaps the one genre where indie developers can flourish most, where even a minimal budget can be balanced out by solid writing, clever puzzles, and engaging characters. Aruma Studios’ Intruder in Antiquonia is a game that falls squarely on the homebrew end of the spectrum. Still, it doesn’t do nearly enough to propel itself above the bar of mediocrity. The idea of an amnesiac having to explore a strange village is decent, but the game’s delivery of its narrative is clumsy at best, and far from satisfying. Even the trope of the small European village stuck in a seemingly bygone era, an idea we’ve seen in classic Sierra and Revolution adventures, to name but a few, has been tackled far more elegantly by iconic protagonists such as Gabriel Knight and George Stobbart.
It doesn’t take long for things to get off to an underwhelming start. Outside of a still image of an unconscious woman lying in the street and a shot of an ambulance rushing down the road, the game’s narrative is set up during a brief dialog exchange. Karim, Antiquonia’s ambulance driver, and Officer Ancora, the town’s police constable, discuss a mysterious stranger with apparent retrograde amnesia who has just been picked up and brought to the local clinic. Immediately thereafter, we’re put in the shoes of Sarah Campillo, said stranger who now feels up to exploring the city on foot. First, however, there’s a brief, ham-fisted attempt at an opening twist, in which we discover that Karim’s surname is also Sarah, and that her last known address was on Ancora Street, matching the police officer’s name. Even though we’re meant to feel a sense of mystique, there’s nothing remotely interesting or even important about it. Buckle up because this is sadly the exact tone the game strikes for the next two hours of your life.
Ostensibly, the thrust of the story focuses on Sarah restoring her memory and figuring out who she is with the help of Karim and Officer Ancora. However, you’ll forget that’s what you’re meant to do within minutes, as there simply isn’t anything worthwhile offered to latch on to. The game’s first half is spent on a seemingly unconnected (though not entirely without merit) scavenger hunt through town, visiting each of the five or six locations and talking to every citizen repeatedly until something moves the plot forward. Since the amnesia angle is severely short-changed, a mysterious letter sent to Sarah’s lodging house becomes the focus instead, tasking her to figure out why specific locations in town are marked with enigmatic symbols. Once sufficient progress has been made, the game suddenly remembers that it still needs an underlying mystery for our protagonists to solve, which still fails to generate any interest in the narrative. By the time it has attempted to incorporate political intrigue and secret government agencies, you’ll care so little about the plot that you’ll just want to click through the sudden late-game exposition dumps as quickly as possible to get to the end credits.
The village of Antiquonia is another way the developers have attempted to add a layer of suspense to the game. It is a town where the internet and any associated benefits for a modern-day sleuth aren’t welcome. The game does provide a reason for this, but it feels flimsy and unconvincing, and it turns out to be nothing more than a contrivance at best to limit the protagonist’s options artificially. (In fact, one character in town does have an online-enabled computer, but it is only available to Sarah whenever the script calls for it.) This, coupled with the pretty vague goals you’re set throughout the game, makes randomly combing through the entire village each time you’re stuck the easiest way to progress. Intruder in Antiquonia is also the type of game in which essential items or characters don’t become available or appear where they’re needed due to the narrative not having progressed past a particular trigger event. This causes further moments of aimlessness that would be even more frustrating if not for the game’s notably short playtime.
When it doesn’t have you try to brute force your way to the next plot point, Intruder in Antiquonia includes a couple of decent, if not terribly difficult, inventory-based puzzles. The size of the inventory itself doesn’t pose much of a challenge -- you’ll never have more than a couple of items available to you. Most of what you’re asked to do follows pretty straightforward common-sense logic, but the presence of a small handful of such puzzles is appreciated. Beyond that, the village’s environments proffer visual clues for solving a few puzzles in the form of posters hung up about town or a hand-painted mural in the hospital’s reception area. Like most of the game, they’re not much to write home about, but their absence would surely have been felt even more keenly.
Intruder in Antiquonia’s presentation, much like other aspects, is somewhat middle-of-the-road, lacking any appreciable bells and whistles. It eschews hand-drawn or pixel-art styles in favor of a more cutout aesthetic; sadly, the animation is a bit limited. This is particularly noticeable when neither the in-game characters nor their dialog portraits feature any facial movements when speaking. The controls function as you’d expect in a point-and-click game, with conveniences like a map for fast travel and skipping to on-screen locations quickly by double-clicking. Odd, however, is the absence of a way to advance the (entirely unvoiced) dialog via mouse-click; it can be either set to advance automatically or must be prompted by pressing full stop on your keyboard. Music works fine for what it is: generally short loops of background instrumentals, with a couple sounding quite pleasant, such as the theme of the local convent.
If you’ve been a fan of adventures for a decent length of time, chances are you’ve fallen in love with a location or two along the way; some of the most enduring titles of the genre feature locales that have been immortalized by their characters or the events taking place in and around them. The quaint village of Antiquonia, sadly, will not become one of these. Neither the characters you’ll meet there nor the mystery you’ll solve do it any favors, and its very existence comes across as forced rather than genuinely intriguing. Even setting aside the issue of its (presumably) limited production budget, Intruder in Antiquonia looks and feels mediocre, with a story that is as uninspired in its concept as in the way it’s told. It may feature an amnesiac protagonist, but it’s the game itself that ultimately suffers from a severe case of an identity crisis.