The developers, Strange Scaffold, have been on my radar since their weird and wonderful Can Androids Pray: Blue was released a couple of years ago. There was a strong narrative voice in that title, even though the game was limited to a few screens and a few branching dialogue paths. An Airport for Aliens Currently Run by Dogs has gone bigger than its predecessor and is a first person semi-open world game. The giddily deranged conversations remain intact though, and it’s all the better for it.
The start of the Airport for Aliens has the player awakening in a cage, after having been hit in the head with a piano. From there, it is down to them to get out and explore an airport and get a boarding pass for a flight out of there. The airport is, unsurprisingly, run by dogs.
The first level is fairly straightforward. The player needs a boarding pass and a red passport, but this means meeting the requirements of certain dogs in charge. It also means deciphering the unfamiliar symbols everywhere and learning how to use the time warp booth. The game runs on an internal clock with flights scheduled at specific times and the booth means that the player doesn’t have to wait around. Once that is over the player will be brought to a larger airport where the requirements for proceeding become far more complex, with further steps needed to be taken in the “X needs Y, so go to Z” puzzle system.
The visual style is stripped down with most of the items in the game being pleasant-looking, flat polygonal shapes, and the dogs that the player talks to are represented by photos on 2-D squares resembling polaroids.
The slightly abstract approach serves the story well because the characters that inhabit the airport are eccentric-bordering-on-unhinged. There is the Willy Wonka Dog that stalks you on flights, a briefcase sales-dog that hates briefcases (but will give you one anyway), alcoholic pilot dogs that have seen some stuff, among many, many others. The game understands the core tenet of a good comedy game, not every line needs to be a punchline for gut laughs, but the tone needs to remain light and breezy. The cast of characters is tied together by the relationship between the player and their partner Krista. The dialogue that the two share, in contrast to the rest, feels grounded and very sweet. This feels necessary for the game to encourage further exploration.
There is plenty to explore too, with multiple destinations ranging from the fictional ‘Patsville’ to Uranus. Nestled in these locations are a lot of things to mess around with: a cat-run speakeasy, a David Bowie dog with illegal products, and overzealous safety dog…
The problem is that to find all of these moments and instances there is likely to be a lot of aimless walking around and backtracking. When I decided to find an explosive device for a suspiciously feline-looking artist dog, it was fun to figure out the link and pat a few dogs on the way. But when I then had to do it repeatedly throughout the game; the fact that the game is open world and not a few point-and-click screens grated somewhat.
This wasn’t a deal breaker for me. The game took on the basic premise of JG Ballard’s “Report on an Unidentified Space Station” – a sprawling world that I never fully grasped the size of. There will be others that may not be as kind on the spread.
For those willing to stick with the story it is well worth continuing due to the superb writing. Also remember to pet those very good boys.
Great writing, with a perfect accompanying visual style, helps alleviate some of the slow pacing and retracing of steps that will occur to solve some puzzles. Airport for Aliens will reward those that stick with it.Become a Patron!
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.