I should probably be clear from the start that I haven’t played Limbo – which has come up a lot in discussions about Albert & Otto (and obviously for good reason). As a result, you won’t find much commentary here about that connection.
Albert & Otto starts off with the titular character, Albert, setting out to search for his sister, Anna, who has disappeared (or, more accurately, been taken). Luckily, Anna has left behind a few things on the way. The first is a cryptic set of drawings – some of these are just hints as to where she’s gone, while others are hints about traps or enemies ahead. The second is her stuffed rabbit, Otto, which Albert must pick up to receive some special powers, and take with him to solve future puzzles. Otto must be protected – if he’s dropped into a chasm or hit by something while placed somewhere, it counts as a death.
Along the way, there are a number of obstacles. From falling rocks to seemingly impassible fields of spikes, the player will have to keep all of their abilities in mind and figure out how to best use their surroundings to forge ahead safely. On occasion, Anna’s drawings will give valuable clues. You’ll also find yourself doing…. a lot of questionable things with sheep.
To start on a high note, Albert & Otto is stylistically stunning. The entire game is on a monochromatic grayscale, with the occasional pop of red for an accent. The result is a visually interesting, clean game that easily pulls your attention when it needs to. The black and white visuals help to create a surreal environment where nothing looks safe or friendly, but they’re also polished enough that (for the most part) everything is easily visible and comprehensible.
I was especially in love with subdued, subtle tutorials included – there’s no dialogue to push through, and no voices. Instead, when there’s a new move to learn, the player will come across a red sign (reminiscent of a classic propaganda poster, even) that tells them what to press.
I played the PS4 version and was mostly happy with the controls. For the most part, everything moved smoothly and easily, and the game had no lag whatsoever. The one control set I could have done without is aiming to shoot – holding the joystick in one place leaves a wildly wavering line of aim that’s difficult to get still. Most of the time that’s not a big deal, but when you need to hit something small it can be a little bit of a pain.
Albert & Otto has a fairly small set of move options, and also very few enemies. For the most part, the player doesn’t need to actively attack things (the primary exception here is a series of birds that will try to carry Albert away). Instead, it’s about dodging and figuring out alternative methods – dropping objects, electrifying sheep, etc. Players will spend most of their time figuring out the puzzle of how to move forward.
But really… can we talk about the sheep tho?
Not only does this make for a bit of a slow trudge, but the trade-off is that it’s rather… unforgiving. One hit will kill you, and some of the puzzles require so much accuracy. There will be 3 switches you have to jump to in quick succession to keep a boulder from killing you, dropping Otto on the way. Or a point where it’s necessary to drop Otto through a tunnel, drop off the edge to grab him, and quickly double-jump in just the right spot to avoid dying. Every stage has numerous maneuvers that are in no way impossible, but require perfect timing – the type of perfection I expect to develop in a second or third runthrough of a game, moreso than the first. Fortunately, the game saves at checkpoints periodically, so you’re able to try as many times as need-be without losing too much progress, and the puzzles are usually straightforward enough to figure out. However, that didn’t lessen the frustration of being set back due to one botched double-jump into nothingness.
The other thing that I’m not sure how to feel about is the story. I’m a sucker for a bit of a mystery, especially with just a little touch of creepy and dark. But the story in Albert & Otto feels like such an afterthought to everything else. I was never really compelled by the mystery of what happened to Anna – which is odd, considering that it could easily be a compelling story. The focus of the game is almost completely on the gameplay, with only an occasional reminder that we’re on a larger adventure with a bigger mystery to it. That seems to be a strategic move, inspiring the player to come to their own conclusions – and I honestly think there are a lot of people out there who enjoy this approach. For me, it felt like a piece was missing. However, this is also the first episode in what is planned to be a 4-episode set, meaning there’s more to come, hopefully.
Players will definitely need to be up for a bit of a challenge with this one, but I will admit it’s lovely to look at and that I enjoyed figuring out the interactivity of the world. I think gamers looking for platformer with some challenge to it, and who like something just a little different might find Albert & Otto enjoyable. For me, I’m not sure when I’ll pick it back up again, but it was an enjoyable world to visit for the night.
Albert & Otto is already available on Steam, but releases XBoxOne on January 10th and PS4 on January 16th.
Albert & Otto: The Adventure Begins
- Visually beautiful
- Interactive world
- Challenging boss fights
- A small set of smooth controls that handle well
- Variety of puzzles and ways to use powers/objects
- Requires a high level of perfection just to pass regular obstacles
- Room for more story
- Short length