“Good evening, professor. I see you have driven here in your Ferrari.” With these words, you, the young physicist Lester Knight Chayki, are welcomed by a computer to the underground installations of a particle accelerator during a stormy night. This is how Out of this World starts, in a beautiful cinematic introduction that is still impressive after 20 years of the game debut in 1991, developed almost single-handedly by Eric Chahi. The use of polygon-based rotoscoped animations kept the game fresh for its 15-year anniversary re-release, allowing the original resolution to be increased while maintaining the artistic quality of the original version that pays homage to Prince of Persia and Karateka.
The experiment designed to investigate the world of quantum physics goes wrong when lightning strikes your laboratory, resulting in an explosion that leaves an empty hole where you once stood looking at the flashing computer screen. In a split second you find yourself underwater, only to be immediately attacked by swarming tentacles from beneath. You reach for surface, instantly realizing that something is odd: in the sky there are two moons, and you are surrounded by a landscape like you have never seen before. Your experiment has taken you to another world — although not the quantum one you originally intended to see — that you will soon discover to be not a friendly one.
The game takes you through a series of puzzles, in order for you to survive in this eerie and dangerous world. There are wild animals and beasts that would rather devour you, and a race of unfriendly aliens makes each step you take into a test for your life, while you try to figure where you are and how to get out of this world. Following the common mentality of the games of the 90’s, you will get punished for every little mistake you commit. And you will die. A lot. But while most of the time you will be struggling alone for survival in this strange world, there is also unexpected help to be found.
Gameplay unfolds gradually in simple way, allowing for a variety of actions. You can walk and jump, and there is only one action button. Initially you use the action button for running and kicking venomous worms, but as soon as you grab a gun from one of the aliens fun starts. Press the action bar quickly to shoot the weapon. Hold it for a while and you will create a force field in front of you, a shield able to block shots from enemy aliens. Hold it even longer and you will shoot a blasting laser able to destroy walls, doors and other force fields, and turning enemies into crumbling skeletons. Simple but ingenious, presenting so much potential for different strategies and solutions to the game puzzles.
In the end, the game reads more like a story about loneliness and being lost than an action genre. The storyline is linear, and the ending is open (although there was an unapproved sequel, Heart of the Alien). But even though there is no closure on the story of Lester, Out of this World remains as a charming game, showing that great gameplay can arise from simple mechanics and passionate development. Even after 20 years it is still my favorite game, perhaps because it left me wanting to know more about that strange world, and wondering to where that giant pterodactyl would have taken me.