App Reviewed on: iPhone XR
User Interface Rating:
Replay Value Rating:
Accidental Queens made one of my favorite “found phone”-style adventure games, so I was excited when they announced they were trying something new. Instead of making a game about plinking around on someone’s lost phone, Alt-Frequencies is a game about surfing the airwaves using a radio dial to uncover a mystery. It’s a really intriguing concept, but often the game doesn’t feel quite as tuned-in as it should be.
Touch that dial
The entirety of Alt-Frequencies takes place in front of a radio. The game starts with you moving between a variety of stations (news, college, pop) just to get a feel for the world being set up. You quickly learn that there is something not quite right in this world. Lucky for you, you aren't just a captive listener absorbing this information. You can actually act on the information being broadcast over the air.
At any point in a radio segment, you can swipe down on your screen to record bits of dialogue from the current station you're tuned to. These clips can then be broadcast to other stations by swiping up on the screen. Across the five chapters in Alt-Frequencies, you make progress by solving puzzles around this clip recording/broadcasting mechanic, which also ends up influencing the game world and the direction of the overall story.
Play it again, Sam
Alt-Frequencies relies on your ability to pick out specific segments of dialogue in a broadcast, record them, and then play them back to another station at the appropriate time. This would be incredibly difficult (if not impossible) to do if the game and its broadcasts moved in a strictly linear fashion. To solve this issue, each chapter in Alt-Frequencies loops and restarts automatically, giving you ample opportunity to keep scouring the airwaves for the things you’re looking for.
To make things even more convenient, Alt-Frequencies remembers the parts of each puzzle you’ve already completed on a previous loop. So, on any given sequence of play, you only have to focus on moving things forward. There’s even narrative justification built into Alt-Frequencies for this looping mechanics, although this is where the game really starts to falter.
Conceptually and mechanically, Alt-Frequencies is pretty brilliant, but the game struggles to execute on its ideas. The radio chatter is stilted and awkward, sometimes radio hosts repeat themselves within a loop for no apparent reason, the story feels extremely rushed, and the game’s primary conflict has such a paper-thin explanation that it’s hard to actually care about.
In their attempt to provide a story reason for the looping nature of chapters, Accidental Queens actually end up centering the entire narrative of Alt-Frequencies around this explanation. Much like Netflix’s painstaking and boring Bandersnatch experiment, it makes for an ouroboros-like plot that’s too obsessed with justifying its own structure that everything else suffers for it.
The bottom line
The ideas that Alt-Frequencies puts forth are novel, but the game also demonstrates they’re really hard to pull off. There’s something admirable about the ambition of projects like these, but the chances Alt-Frequencies takes don’t allow it to rise above the issues they spawn.