In George Orwell’s 1984, you’re swept along in a revolution you don’t really know anything about. It’s so secretive because the stakes are so high. One wrong move and, kachunk, you’re disappeared, and it’s frightening.
It feels the same in Alt-Frequencies. From the moment it begins, you know you have a role in something bigger. There’s something very wrong going on at a state level and you know the truth is out there somewhere. You know that because a pirate radio station told you. You heard an illicit truth and now you want more. But who are you, who are they, and what is the truth?
You will have barely scratched the surface of the answer before time will loop on you. The five-to-10 minutes of radio you’ve been listening to will, after the screen fades to white, repeat on you. This time-loop is central to everything. It is the story you’re chasing and how you chase it.
The other central conceit is radio. It’s all you have. You are a bodiless character in a room with a radio and everything you do – all your interactions, all of your resistance – goes through the radio. You flick between stations, record clips and send them in. That’s it, nothing else.
Maybe you send in a clip of a pirate radio broadcast to another station; maybe you send a clip of one presenter to another; maybe you crack a garbled code and hear something you shouldn’t. Whatever the jackpot, when you hit it, time moves on, and in this way the story unfolds.
It’s a simple game and well put together, with a clean look and believable set of radio stations, although some of the actors’ performances are irritating. But just as things really get going, and the story grips you, and the time-loop radio mechanic starts to work in complex ways, it ends. I went back through to see if I’d missed something and could somehow push deeper, but I couldn’t, that really was it.
It doesn’t make sense to spend three hours slowly growing a conspiracy and pulling people in, only to end it as abruptly as it does, and I wonder why developer Accidental Queens did it, unless it simply ran out of time. It also adds to the feeling the game never really gave you much choice all along, although perhaps, as with 1984, that’s ultimately the point.
It’s a shame, because in the moments leading up to the finish, I was hooked. I’d gotten to know the characters and I cared about the story. Alt Frequencies just doesn’t quite fulfil its own promise.