In Forbidden Secrets: Alien Town (Collector’s Edition), you will be assuming the role of Clarissa Andersen – an intelligent no-nonsense government agent who has been sent to investigate an unexplained phenomenon that took place in Fort Nightingale. The game culls ideas from cult favorites like The X-Files, Village of the Damned, and Stargate that it made me wonder whether the developers realized that such a combination might backfire and wind up feeling like an awful B-movie. It’s not that the game is awful, after all the technical execution and artwork is actually brilliant, but somehow the story winds up feeling just a bit too hokey.
FS:AT literally catapults you into Fort Nightingale after attempting a standard tutorial segment; the kind you would expect from any typical casual game having an adventure and hidden object theme. It seems that the city of Fort Nightingale is plagued with kids who have spooky glowing eyes plus there’s a whole lot of adults who have been caught up in some unexplainable stupor. Yes, you heard that right – “stupor”, as in mass induced catatonia. Imagine walking down the street to see adults frozen in bizarre postures; even though their eyes are open and their hearts are beating, they don’t respond to you at all. Spooky no doubt, but a little absurd in my book. If you can suspend your disbelief, you will also need to prepare yourself to meet some rather colorful characters who somehow remain unaffected. Plus, you will even discover a Stargate kind of device that will take you somewhere far from Earth.
To differentiate itself from the hundreds of other casual games out there. FS:AT has adopted three different styles of gameplay for the hidden object scenes. First, there’s the conventional 15 object list with a couple of these objects further hidden in containers that you can click on to search within. Second, is a 10 item list showing parts of objects; you must place these objects back into the scene where they belong. For example, if there was a baseball glove in your list, the obvious solution would be to place it next to a baseball bat. The final variation involves an interactive search list that features objects you can use in the scene. The search list in this case is constrained to only 4 items at a time which makes for a tight and fun hidden object gameplay experience.
The adventure experience in FS:AT has been simplified with a clickable map that will bring you instantly to places you have already unlocked. At least you won’t have to concern yourself with backtracking. The map even signals out to you locations where you have an action to perform, or where a Beyond object is hidden. These latter objects are one-off items you must collect as you are playing your quest, so if you move past a certain milestone you will not be able to go back to search for them. If you’re ever lost the Strategy Guide included in the Collector’s Edition is always at hand to help you out. You will have to manually flip through the pages to find what you need though.
FS:AT runs the typical range of mini-games and puzzles that require you to either think out of the box, test your memory powers, or challenges you to a game of agility and skill. With a handy supply of easy to hard mini-games and puzzles, you will find yourself constantly challenged along the way. Once again, if you’re ever stuck, you can always hit the Skip button and be on your way.
A sense of general uneasiness constantly encroaches on the player and about one third through the game, a truly creepy moment manifests itself when you finally meet one of the kids from the orphanage. You will also meet other characters, like a Korean vet who’s living out a simple hillbilly life as a farmer, and some others whom I will leave you to discover for yourself. The conclusion to FS:AT was quite satisfying and not totally unexpected for people who adore the science fiction genre. Others will probably groan in dismay at all the clichéd plot devices thrown their way.
The Bonus Chapter you unlock in the Collector’s Edition tells about how the kids from the main story winded up in the orphanage. You won’t get to play as Clarissa a second time, instead you are some government guy who’s sent to investigate the loss of a rather dangerous military asset. Surprisingly, the developers have decided to liven the game by injecting a healthy dose of Red Indian culture into this part of the game, which I feel adds to the overall flakiness of the entire plot. At least the Bonus Chapter turned out to be quite a lengthy one.
The audio design for FS:AT is pretty well done with the mood music doing an admirable job of spooking you when it needs to. The voice acting you hear in the handful of cutscenes is in the most part alright, although I felt that Mr. Hillbilly-Korean-Vet and Mr. Exorcist-Wannabe probably steal the entire show with their B-movie lines.
So, would I recommend Forbidden Secrets: Alien Town (Collector’s Edition). Well, yes. Despite the outrageous story and plot holes that can put a B-movie to shame, I must confess that the game is rather fun. Moreover, all the object artwork and location eye candy you see in the town of Fort Nightingale is lovingly done with the high quality you would come to expect from an Alawar game.