Euphoria Games and EpiXR Games have a new entry in the first person survival horror genre – a game that goes by the name of Antarctica 88. Now, this is a genre that is not noticeably under represented on Xbox, especially with big beasts like Resident Evil making a move to this viewpoint, so any new game needs to have a unique selling point in order to make an impact. Antarctica 88 has one and that is the fact that you are basically playing through the plot of The Thing, one of the greatest films of all time. Does it live up to the lofty ideals of the source material?
The story of Antarctica 88 is pretty good, in a completely non-original kind of way. Your father works at an Antarctica research station, and they have made a surprising discovery under the ice. Soon, all contact is lost, and so a rescue mission is launched, one that we, as a dutiful son, join. Arriving at the base, we are met with deserted rooms and strange creatures roaming around, and so the hunt is on, both to find our dear Papa and to put a stop to the creatures.
What this translates into is a surprisingly atmospheric title. The graphics are never going to win any awards, to be brutally honest, as they are blocky and rubbish, with everything having a kind of squared off look to it; whether that be the snowmobile you drive or the buildings you explore. The creatures you battle are also a rough looking bunch. Sound is also minimal, be it the screeching of the little bug type monsters as they wander about or the sound of a door opening. In fact, apart from the sound of gunfire, all is peaceful. Despite the limitations of the visuals, the atmosphere that is created by Antarctica 88 is quite spooky, and opening a door only to find a monster standing there will ensure you jump a good few times.
Now, as always in these types of games, the gameplay is split into two, with exploration sections and combat bits. Taking the combat first and there is definitely strange sense of deja vu in place, as staring down the barrel of a shotgun and blasting monsters in the face is not an uncommon experience in gaming these days. In an attempt to spice things up a bit, ammunition is very limited for the firearms, so an axe makes for a serviceable melee weapon, although the combat with these is a bit more hit and miss than aiming with a firearm.
There are a few other weapons to find though, ranging from a weedy pistol that seems like it would do more damage if you threw it at the enemies, right up a grenade launcher, via a flamethrower and a shotgun; using these is pretty satisfying. As you go through the game, the enemies get stronger too, until you meet the guys who look like they have flowers for faces – they take a few bullets to persuade them to leave you alone.
Exploration of the deserted base is the other leg that Antarctica 88 stands on; that and a little light puzzling. The puzzles are very basic, with there usually being something that requires a key, be it a snowmobile or a door, and so off you pop to find said key. Once the key is located, it’s a case of backtracking to where you need to use it. The levels are small enough that there is never any danger of getting lost, so you’ll soon be exploring without a care. Helpfully, all the items you can interact with and pick up have that strange kind of video game gleam, so there’s no doubt about what to grab.
The rest of the exploration is alright too, but there is a certain clunkiness to the jumping especially and that makes things harder than they need to be. For example, right at the start of the game, you have to jump on a box, then onto another box and thus exit a room. Not only are there no explanations as to which button does what (it’s Y to jump, by the way) the actual moving of the box is very silly indeed. There is no button to interact with said box; you merely have to walk into it to get to where you need it to be. And instead of sliding (you know, since the floor is made of ice and everything) the box will tumble end over end when you move it. It just looks a bit rubbish, to be frank.
Another thing I don’t like is the way that Antarctica 88 clearly came from PC-land and absolutely no changes have been made to the game code now that it has arrived on Xbox. To skip a cutscene, you are requested to press ‘Space’. I’ve not found that button on my Xbox Series X controller yet.
Antarctica 88 does a lot of things right, then shoots itself in the foot with some dodgy control decisions and design choices. The snowmobile controls are hilariously bad, the combat is lumpy and the jumping is broken, but weighing against that is the story and the atmosphere that the game creates. It’s by no means the best game you’ll play this year, but it has a certain charm, if you can look past the shortcomings. There are multiple endings to see too, and the game is very generous with its achievements, so that’s something to look forward to.
Antarctica 88 is available on Xbox One and Series X|S from the Xbox Store