For some time now we've been hearing occasional tidbits about Inhabited Island: The Earthling, which will be released by Russian publisher Akella, and I for one have been very curious as to whether it is an adventure game. Nickie has played deeply into a very early preview version in order to find out more about the game for us.

Some science fiction writings are veiled social commentary, allowed by the particular author’s country because it takes the guise of fiction through the so-called fantastical. The Strugatsky brothers were prolific Soviet writers who made use of this vehicle to illustrate a biting social satire of their native country. Their novel “Prisoners of Power” is an example of this, where their main character space travels from a peaceful Earth to a previously unexplored planet populated by humanoids that are in the midst of conflict and class war.

The game “Inhabited Island: The Earthling” is based on the aforementioned novel. Our main character Maxim Kammerer is a happy-go-lucky space explorer who crash lands on an uncharted planet. The society here is in a dismal state where the populace is kept in line by a ruthless military acting for a faceless authority called The Unknown Fathers. The majority of the people don’t question their way of life, although it is obvious to Maxim that they are living in poverty and deprivation and following ideologies that don’t make sense.

There are rebels in this world that somehow have grasped the fact that there is a better way of life, but not following the status quo is risky business. The rebels are constantly pursued and are bombarded with radiation to incapacitate them. When they are captured by the military they are further tortured and executed. Determined to befriend and assist this backwards planet while he sorts out a way to leave, Maxim is met with hostility and suspicion by both sides of society.

“A discovery is said to be an accident meeting a prepared mind.” Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

Sometimes there is difficulty in playing a preview build and then commenting on it for a “first look” like this one. Are the technical problems with the game something that will be sorted out prior to its full release? Some, if not most, hopefully will be. The problems are exacerbated when the game is in a foreign language with scant and incorrect translations to English. Am I not grasping the use of irony, or is the method used in the game something that would be clear or customary to players that are native speakers?

This is a first person, point and click adventure game. The screens have 360 degree panning with a fixed cursor. A right click makes a screen pop up which includes inventory, with an “eye” icon that can be utilized to look more closely at objects both in inventory and on the game screen. There’s also a book that I couldn’t get to work that might be a journal.

When game play begins, the player is forced to locate items within a small area to progress further in the game. This is probably a good feature, because even when you are limited like this you must engage in a pixel hunt to find the necessary objects. The objects are then usually used shortly afterward as a means to expand your game world (get to the next area), and you will find an additional direction to move in the game. When you are in an appropriate area to locate or interact with an object, there are flashing signals to indicate the required action. When you pick up an inventory item you are rewarded with a tone, a feature that I like very much as it reminds me of the old Sierra games.

These flashing indicators do not appear around characters that you meet, and instead you need to click on them if the game doesn’t begin a dialogue automatically.

Along the way you will have to solve inventory and logic puzzles, such as circumventing an electrical alarm system or opening a door with a coded lock. I was usually able to easily solve them by random clicking. Thanks to Carla’s friend Marina for her help on a puzzle where neither my logic nor random clicking did the trick!

A big problem with the preview build is the long loading times between scenes, which sometimes took between ten and fifteen seconds of staring at a blank screen to load. The game would even have to load going across a room from two sides of a table. I very much hope that this is corrected in the released version.

A nice feature of the game is a map, where you can move to different areas at a click after you progress into the game. Unfortunately on occasion shortly after using the map, the game would crash. Fortunately, one can save at will outside of the puzzles, and there appear to be ample slots.

“All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.” Galileo Galilei

It was curious in this build that there were English translations here and there in the subtitles, but when they were present; many of them were flashed on the screen at breakneck speed. The awkwardly phrased sentences remained to be read at leisure, while on occasion a sentence would come up speaking of such topics as sidereal time in precisely correct English, but whoosh, it was removed from the viewer before it could be fully appreciated.

I don’t know if it’s because the game hasn’t been completed, or if it’s the developer’s choice, but the player gets to the point where an action should occur on the scene, and instead of viewing the action, you’re told in a sentence that the action has occurred. This certainly makes the game less immersive. The occasional movement in the game is a shock after falling into lethargy from the still screens.

“There is a theory which states that if ever anybody discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened.” Douglas Adams

The landscape is photo-realistic, and appears as occurring within the present day world, perhaps in a rural setting of an underprivileged country. The background graphics are rather nice, with objects added here and there to enhance viewing.

There are no sliders, mazes; color or sound puzzles in the game preview. There aren’t any quick reflex actions required, and your character does not die.

At least in the beginning, there appears to be a promisingly powerful musical score and a good use of ambient sound, such as wind whistling, waves crashing, and fire burning. However, there also is a background voice that kept intoning the same sentence in Russian over and over again, and I took my headphones off. Maybe it is better that I don’t know what the voice was saying.

With a lot of work, this could be an interesting game because the story behind it is a good one. Hopefully much will be done to make the game stable and less disjointed in an effort to obtain a North American publisher.