The Terror Aboard the Speedwell is a humble piece of interactive fiction, made in Twine. It has no graphics, no sound, no "presentation" to speak of, outside of a sole image at the outset and its stark sci-fi font. Using only text and presenting the player with increasingly-difficult choices, it presents one of the most tense, action-packed horror stories I've ever played. It's the best playable Alien experience I've ever encountered.
That might sound like a low bar, since so many games based on the franchise have missed the mark. It's safe to say Aliens: Colonial Marines was a disappointment. 2010's Aliens vs. Predator was possibly underrated, but it didn't come close to capturing the terrifying magic of the franchise. Even the Jaguar's pride and joy, Alien vs. Predator, is better remembered for its action than its atmosphere. The upcoming Alien: Isolation has demoed well at events like E3, but we reserve all judgment for the game's final release.
Despite its limitations, The Terror Aboard the Speedwell excels where every other Alien adaptation has failed
Despite, and very possibly because of its limitations as a text-based game, The Terror Aboard the Speedwell excels where every other game adaptation has failed, by building a haunting, oppressive atmosphere, presenting multifaceted characters and forcing the player to make excruciating choices.
You play as either Zoe or Julia (that's your first choice), an officer of the Speedwell, a military ship tasked with exploring a mysterious planet. When signs point towards a bizarre cave system, your team is sent down to investigate. Naturally, they find something terrifying on the expedition.
The set-up — and the themes — are very Alien, with a touch of Aliens' more impressive firepower. There's a small crew of people who don't always get along. There's a horrifying space creature that no one really understands. There's a claustrophobic ship. And there's a strong (though just how strong is up to you, and your choices) woman protagonist.
I was surrounded by people I immediately gave a shit about.
The writing is tense, and it's fantastic. The characters play on archetypes, but each is fleshed out via dialogue and feels well-drawn. From gung-ho soldier Meat to prickly ship's surgeon Strauss, I was surrounded by people I immediately gave a shit about. That's key to good survival drama, and writer/designer Javy Gwaltney has a great ear for action/sci-fi dialogue.
What The Terror Aboard the Speedwell gets right above all things is its emphasis on decision-making. Every choice — from the way the first scene let me decide how to deal with a teammate hitting on me to the inevitable dramatic life-and-death choices later on - had weight and felt like it mattered to the story.
In this, and in its handling of the terror and isolation and blue-collar workaday treatment of an unknown horror, The Terror Aboard the Speedwell does Alien better than any actual Alien game.
The Terror Aboard the Speedwell is available now for $2.50.