Inhabited Island: The Earthling

Posted by Mervyn Graham.
First posted on 04 July 2008. Last updated on 05 June 2011.
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Inhabited Island: The Earthling
After crash landing on an alien planet, Maxim discovers a civilization in decay.
Inhabited Island: The Earthling
At Downtown, Maxim learns of a society under an oppressive regime.
Inhabited Island: The Earthling
Maxim joins the military guards after meeting Chachu.
Inhabited Island: The Earthling
Prince is the leader of the desert people.
Inhabited Island: The Earthling
Maxim speaks to the lab assistant about the bacteria.

Inhabited Island: The Earthling is a PC adventure game based on the popular science fiction novel Prisoners of Power, first published in 1969 by the renowned Soviet authors, Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. There had been 2 other PC games released previously related to the same novel -- Galactic Assault: Prisoner of Power and Inhabited Island: Prisoner of Power. Neither of these earlier adaptations were adventure games, and they bore no real resemblance to the original novel, consequently doing the novel little justice.

Creative Step Group and Akella, both based in Moscow, finally partnered to create a definitive adaptation of the novel by translating the complex story script to an interactive adventure game. The original game was developed in Russian by Creative Step Group and was already published by Akella in 2007. The non-English release was an instant commercial hit. As the game gained popularity in Russia and the neighbouring CIS, Akella set themselves the task of localizing the game into English to be released at a later date.

Recently, I have been privileged to be granted access to play and preview a full-length pre-release build of Inhabited Island: The Earthling. Having completed the game to its entirety and also obtained privileged insight about the game from its developer and the publisher, I feel qualified to pass my initial judgment on this sensational and admittedly ambitious title.

With Inhabited Island: The Earthling, Step Creative Group had chosen to tackle another game project based closely on well-known literary material. Led by Yury Matveyev and Pavel Luzyanov, the developer assembled a team of around 25 talented and dedicated game designers, programmers, script writers, artists, 3D modellers, and musicians for the title. Project manager Konstantin Vladimirov and game designer Ilya Chudakov ensured that the script and the artwork would be faithful to the vision of the Strugatsky brothers. In Prisoners of Power, the Strugatsky brothers detailed living conditions, buildings, forests, and even clothing worn by the characters as well as general scenery of the alien world in vivid detail. Chudakov carefully perused the novel from cover to cover, highlighted specific locations and descriptions, and finally gave each of the modelers and artists the task of recreating those descriptions. The 9 3D modellers and 5 artists then worked together to produce almost photo quality renderings to all the sceneries that are in the game.

Not surprisingly, the detail of the renderings in Inhabited Island: The Earthling is amazing. Intricate detail of army tanks, machinery, wiring, forests, and the buildings used in the Downtown scenes give the player a sense of reality of this strange world. In the novel, the Strugatsky brothers describe lots of scenes in grey and sepia colors, depicting poverty as well as the inhospitable conditions and aftermath of a nuclear war. For the game, some colors have been added by the design team under poetic license. However, all the sequences in the automated cut scenes are rendered using only grey and sepia as depicted in the novel, giving them a sense of authenticity when compared to the canon.

Originally, the developer had planned on implementing 10 chapters and some 100 separate scenes for the game. Due to time and financial constraints, 1 chapter and about 10 scenes were deleted from the final production. The lost material was replaced by dialog and extended cut scenes, so not to detract in any major way of the storytelling and gameplay of the game.

As in Prisoners of War, the story of Inhabited Island: The Earthling sets in early 22nd century, marked as the Golden Age of civilization, where the exploration of endless space expanses by humans has been made possible through modern technology. These humans are members of the so-called Free Search Group or FSG. Maxim Kammerer, the protagonist in this game, is a member of FSG. In his twenties and full of romantic ideas, Maxim long dreams of discovering new civilizations. This dream becomes a reality when his space craft is hit by meteorites and crash landed onto an unknown planet.

Known initially as planet KR 2021 (but later identified as Sarraksh) of the yellow dwarf type, with gravity similar to that of Earth and atmosphere suitable for breathing, Maxim sets foot on the alien planet while his space craft is set for self repair. The planet shows a high level of atmospheric pollution and radiation. During the activated 27 hour self repairing period, his space craft explodes, leaving Maxim alone and stranded on the desolated planet.

Setting off to find any signs of civilization, he finds rusted shells of military vehicles, destroyed bridges and railway lines, and a barren wasteland -- traces of a past nuclear war. As Maxim explores the war torn world, he finds a building with some food left cooking on a pot. He approaches and is captured by a guy named Allu Zef. Maxim is then taken to a military base, where he is interrogated and finally sent to a research center for evaluation. After escaping from his cell, he joins up with the military guards and discovers the grim secrets about the society of this planet. The planet is ruled by deceit and lies by a higher class known only as the Unknown Fathers. They control the military, who in turn, control everyone else, including the rebels, also known as degenerates or degens.

Not knowing who to trust, Maxim fights for survival as he discovers more truths about the regime and the Unknown Fathers. Upon leaving the military, he is shot by Commander Chachu and left for dead, dumped in a forest. He is brought back to health by a group of rebels. He joins the band of rebels and agrees to complete several tasks to prove his alliance to them, including a mission to destroy several ABD (Anti Ballistic Defence) control towers which the Unknown Fathers describe as a sophisticated security system meant to keep out the degenerates and mutants from the south. However, Maxim discovers later the true purpose of these control towers and how they are used to control the people of the planet.

Working with 2 fellow rebels named Guy and Rada, Maxim learns much about the planet and the system they live under. Apparently, most of the population living on the planet suffers from severe headaches on a daily basis and are somehow kept under control because of them. Maxim agrees to help to find a cure to the strange aliment. Just then, Chachu reappears, taking Rada at gunpoint and Maxim finishing up with the Chief Prosecutor. Eventually, Maxim finds himself in a hostile forest in the mountains with Allu and Wild Boar.

After capturing a military tank, Maxim drives it south to the Freak's Settlement in the desert where he meets up with Prince who is the leader of the group. Their infinite wisdom comes from their doyen or mentor, the Wizard. After offering his assistance to these people, Maxim is transported by plane to meet with the Island People. The plane crashes, and he finds himself back in the main town center or Downtown.

After joining a research group at the Research Institute, Maxim uses his skills to perfect the art of growing bacteria that is needed to produce a cure for the headaches suffered by the people. Helped by the Chief Prosecutor who dislikes the Unknown Fathers, Maxim is given plans to overthrow the brutal regime and become the Head of the Country. Maxim, however, has other plans of his own, leading to a complete surprise in the end.

Despite the sci-fi premise, Inhabited Island: The Earthling is strictly an adventure game. You play as Maxim and interact with the game world from a first-person perspective. Navigation throughout the game is kept simple within each of the set locations. There is no walking as such, and movement between locations is via a gateway icon which you can click on. Located within each frame is a camera that can be rotated using your mouse for a 360 degree panoramic view. Each scene has an observation eye on the controls where you can use to view an object and the inventory. Objects from the inventory can be readily activated or used by just clicking on them. In some cases, multiple objects can be used together to make a new object in solving a puzzle. Objects and locations of interest are denoted by triggered hotspots, where a flashing area attracts your attention to investigate further. For each location, the controls include an observation eye, a book (quite possibly a diary), and an inventory to store objects. For now, at least, I cannot get the book to function. I also find the game to be very slow in loading between locations. As the game I have played is only a pre-release build and not the final release, I believe that Akella will have solved the problems of the book and slow loading by the time this game is finally released.

All the scripts in the game have been properly translated from Russian to English that are displayed in the form of dropdown text dialog box. Within each dialog box, a list of questions appears from which you can choose to speak to other characters in the game. As they answer back to you, other new questions will be presented to you. This system presents an easy way to communicate and find out information for later use in the game.

The background and 3D graphics are simply superb. All are rendered in very high detail. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the graphics for the game characters. They look more like puppets, without any facial expression or lip movement. The musical score is pleasant, with each chapter having its own distinctive music. The sound effects are also extremely well done and are very realistic in each application.

The game has many puzzles to be encountered and solved. Some are relatively easy, some are difficult, and some are most perplexing. The 2 hardest puzzles, without a doubt, are those involved in the disabling of the tank in the Hostile Forest and the growing of the bacteria in the Chemical Laboratory. The good news is that all of the puzzles are logical and none are so contrived as to escape any reasonable deduction. Another aspect of the design that makes this game easier to play is the fact that all objects obtained in the inventory from a particular chapter are actually used in the same chapter. You will not have to pick up an object and carry it throughout the game, not knowing when to use it.

Looking back at the game in relation to the original novel, it is not hard to see the similarities between the societal state on Sarraksh and the original Soviet Union. As the Strugatsky brothers are political satirists, some of the same views have been rightfully permeated into the game. The political story of the game involving the Unknown Fathers, the guards, the military are all consistent with the oppressive rule of yesteryear of the former communist country. The conditions that the people live in during the game are also consistent with conditions under Soviet rule, with poverty, poor ecology, spread of violence, racism, stratification of the societal class, and dissolution of morals widely prevalent among its citizens.

In summing up, the English adaptation of Inhabited Island: The Earthling appears to be an excellent translation of the Russian original game and a faithful adaptation of the Strugatsky brothers' novel. Creative Step Group and Akella have already made their mark in Russia and the CIS countries with the original release of the game, and they will undoubtedly make their mark now worldwide with this new release. Inhabited Island: The Earthling is a relatively long game to play, taking some 20 hours to complete. Leaving politics alone, I am sure that adventure game fans will see this game as a great, unique, and exciting adventure worthy of a play.

Inhabited Island: The Earthling is scheduled for an English language release in 2008.

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