Interesting 1950s sci-fi B-movie plot; some interesting puzzles; unique cast of characters.
Occasional reliance on pixel hunting; no voice acting and minimal, barely audible sound effects; some frustrating obstacles.
3.0 stars: "A qualified success; the positive aspects still outnumber the negative, but the weaknesses noticeably hinder the experience."
It’s not without its rough edges, but Doc Apocalypse is an intriguing, original title that’s well worth your time if you’re looking for a budget sci-fi indie adventure.
Visually, Doc Apocalypse uses a minimalist art style reminiscent of adventures produced in the late '90s, its pre-rendered graphics lacking fluidity in animations and effects. However, it's enhanced by a visual overlay that gives the impression that you are watching an old television with patchy reception, which helps smooth over some graphical weaknesses. The artwork is well designed and complemented by an appropriate colour scheme throughout, as dark greens and grey tones highlight the wasteland environment, with considerable use of diffused golden yellow and velvet blue where appropriate.
Not everything works quite as well: the dimensions of certain characters seem off (Elzebeth's arms are a little long, with rather large hands), fonts have a thin, square electronic look which is not ideal for reading, and occasionally some of the character portraits during conversations look like a single model merely replicated and altered slightly. Occasionally there are background elements that look out of place as well, with skylines and certain objects that appear jarring compared to the rest of the environment. Such flaws are minor though, and the overall look, though simple, is generally consistent, clean and stylish (in a post-apocalyptic sort of way), marking a significant improvement over the developer's previous titles. There are also several cinematic cutscenes which are just as nicely executed, though displayed in a lower resolution than the main game.
Sound-wise the news is worse. Doc Apocalypse offers little in the way of effects and no voice acting. The background music plays on rotation, using piano, flute, synth and a number of other samples to produce an array of ambient and eerie tunes throughout. This soundtrack is solid in its own right, but it seems a little forced and generic rather than subtle or inspired, feeling detached from the action and drowning out what sound effects do exist. It’s hardly a surprise that there are no voiceovers (with the exception of a radio broadcast early in the game) in an indie budget title such as this, but the omission will nevertheless be an issue for some players.
The interface is a little different from previous Midian games, and is now very intuitive. Everything is located at the bottom of screen, with instant access to player commands and inventory. The main functions of walk, talk, use and examine are also available by clicking the right mouse button to scroll through them. All command icons and inventory are portrayed in a futuristic blue fluorescent light, giving the interface an electronic look. Two features missing from the game, however, are an autosave and hotspot locator. The autosave function isn’t particularly essential, as you can’t die in this game. A hotspot highlighter, on the other hand, would have proved useful at times, as there are at least a couple of puzzles that require some pixel hunting which are painful to say the least. Fortunately, these occasions are few and far between.
Speaking of puzzles, the obstacles in this game are a mixed bag. In contrast to the frustrating pixel hunts, there are some clever puzzles that require code breaking and lateral thinking to solve, while the rest lay somewhere in between in terms of quality. Most puzzles are inventory-based, and you progress largely by talking to the many characters, who usually reveal your next location, an item to find or objective to complete. The vast majority of solutions are relatively intuitive, but a few are frustrating due to a lack of necessary clues, solved only by stumbling over the answer. The many puzzles that do make logical sense offer a degree of satisfaction once completed, the last few puzzles before leaving Serenity in particular. Unfortunately, there are some roadblocks that will halt your progress until you complete certain dialogues or inquire about particular people or situations.
What helps offset some of the more frustrating puzzles is a very good storyline filled with interesting, complex ideas and decent pacing throughout. There’s about 6-8 hours of game time here, with plenty to keep you busy as you play. What really stand out are the detailed backgrounds of the characters and the portrayal of what might be considered a 1950s sci-fi B-movie-era story, synthesized here into a new and unique formula. There are a few nods and winks towards Doc Brown from Back to the Future, both in terms of the main character's looks and his ability to traverse through time, plus numerous other sci-fi references such as Area 51, historical landmarks such as Ziggurat of Ur and the Chichen Itza, and even an Alien Mothership. But despite the obvious pop culture influences, there is more than enough originality here to deliver a tale that is unique in its own right.
In many ways, this is a difficult game to sum up. There are flaws here and moments of frustration there, and its simple production values surely don't stand out, but there is definitely some diamond to be found in the rough. It shines brightest by bringing together many interesting sci-fi story threads, a variety of memorable characters, and enough decent puzzles to overshadow the bad ones. Though it lacks both eye candy and voiceovers, on balance I feel happy to recommend the game, especially as a budget title available from the developer's website. It won't dazzle you with style, but if you’re looking for a quality indie adventure, purchasing Doc Apocalypse is a decision you don't have to worry will blow up in your face.
|Download||February 2012||Midian Design|
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