[SPOILER ALERT: This article contains some spoilers.]
You get off smelling clean, looking prim and proper in your red long-sleeved shirt from the bathroom. When you reach the kitchen, one of the other passengers on your ship apologizes for grabbing that last cup of English tea. A few minutes later, you’re back in your room, wondering what the hell those rumbles were, and, after a few more hours, arguing with your girlfriend who could have perpetrated the murders.
And it all started when she asked for tea on her breakfast. And all that happens right here in The Vacuum, David Proctor’s debut AGS game.
Just like any other mystery game, The Vacuum holds a lot of possibilities, which, as the author happily pointed out on the AGS forums, is one of the main strengths of the game. There is indeed a lot of possible endings to the story, even more as you find other clues that leads to the murderer. Fortunately, there’s no need to hurry. The game provides more than enough locations to scour for possible leads, and there are no raving lunatics in welder masks and aprons roaming the hallways of the ship.
That’s if you can endure going through the same trail again. Though the game has a lot of locations to explore, walking back and forth through numerous “nodes” and doors can easily tire the beginning player, unless there is something to interact with. The game did provide a way to speed up movement by allowing the player to press the spacebar to cut the walkcycle animation, but this is not the most elegant solution. Surely a ship that hauls various cargo and some chance passengers might make some room for, say, a teleportation device that allows travel between more specific places in the ship, or perhaps ways to reduce the number of corridors and doors to go through.
At any rate, other aspects of the game are more than enough reason to play it. The animation is smooth and the graphics are quite decent, each NPC being identified with a particular color, including the text from their speech. Since there was quite a number of NPCs onboard, there wasn’t much character development, but their attitudes made each of the characters distinct enough from the others.
Like some of the physical surroundings in the game, The Vacuum‘s music was minimal through most of the scenes, except when a particular discovery is made, or when something more critical happens. The author appears to have done away with most of the usual sound effects (clip-clopping of shoes when walking, etc.) and settled with more “spacey” ambient sounds – try listening to the game while Leo Wallace (the player character) is in the corrider between two passenger compartments. Hear that “space breeze”?
What I found surprising was the almost total lack of testosterone from most of the characters in the story. Watch how carefully they manipulate the suspect in one of the endings. See how they discuss so…professionally…how to go about looking for the crew and the other passengers. There are some moments of anger, yes, but once the argument has been dealt with, they all scuttle off to their posts like nothing’s happened. At least the women could be angry.
Or maybe it’s just me 😉
All in all, if you’re looking for a good mystery game that contains multiple possible endings that is not meant to scare, The Vacuum is the game you want to play. Here’s hoping the author will produce more games like these in the future.