In my youth, I was an avid viewer of The X-Files and UFO shows. It was only when I saw a found footage tape called Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County that my fear of aliens was firmly cemented. It's a primal fear of the unknown and something that is still with me, irrational as it may be. Unfortunately for me, Once Upon A Time In Roswell is a psychological horror/mystery game that involves extraterrestrials.
I spent a very short amount of time in a demo that was previously made available at PAX — less than 30 minutes according to a stopwatch I had running. That was about 20 minutes too long for my ability to deal with horror stories involving aliens. Suffice it to say, I was thoroughly spooked. And that was just the demo.
A Grizzled Detective Uncovers A Mystery
My time with the demo began in an eerily-empty police station. I quickly discovered that you can pick up items and examine them; this can cause floating words to pop up on the screen.
This collection of floating words is used in puzzles. One such puzzle in the demo — the only one that I discovered after two thorough playthroughs — was a Colt 1911. I had to complete a sentence by finding the words for the gun's name ("Maria", which was etched into the bottom of the magazine) and its make ("Colt", which is unsurprising as it was a WW2-era 1911 pistol).
I never did find a use for all of the other words I had collected in my short playthrough, although I imagine these clues will be used to cover other mysteries in the finished game. It's an interesting mechanic in concept, although I'd have to see more examples of the execution to truly be able to judge it.
Once Upon A Time In Roswell Steps Into Memories
One of the key mechanics in Once Upon A Time In Roswell is the ability to step into memories. I encountered a few of these scenes where a few people and objects would be standing in a pool of water, surrounded by darkness.
It seems that these memories are also a way to gather clues; I was only able to exit them after interacting with a specific object. I gleaned no other in-game clues from these experiences, but it did help establish the background.
I can, however, anticipate how this mechanic is used based on my experience with examining items. Items have to be turned around in all directions to look for relevant clues that uncover the floating words. I imagine these interactive memories will work much the same in that players will have to explore the scene to find clues that will help them discover the elements of the mystery.
Let the Spooking Begin
I don't have a problem with horror games per se. I fondly recall playing through Silent Hill with one of my best friends in a freezing cool room in the dead of night while his cat scratched at the door. It was spooky, but I was able to endure it.
However, Once Upon A Time In Roswell struck a nerve with me. Throw terrifying demons or vampires or some kind of other monsters at me any day of the week and I'm fine. Put some aliens into the mix, though? I'll probably need to turn on all the lights and keep several weapons nearby just in case they come for me. I ain't going out like Mulder's sister, I'll tell you that.
The moment where I knew things were getting bad was when I explored the final memory in the police station. The police detective I was playing walked towards a creepy house in the memory view (seen in our header), ending the scene by saying that he was going to explore the night he was taken. And by "taken", he meant "abducted by aliens.
My Actual Nightmare
I soon found myself in some kind of crazily-large basement. I opened a door and saw what was easily a seven-foot-tall alien walk past a doorway. Oh hell no.
As I explored this murder dungeon of a basement, I soon figured out that I had to find a film reel for a projector, presumably to get more clues. I went through several rooms, finding a revolver (yes!) with no ammunition anywhere in sight (no!).
I soon discovered a film reel laying in a drawer and made it back to the projector, putting in the film and standing with my back to the wall so nothing can get the drop on me. I saw a few images, presumably of the missing family I'm trying to find. One of the pictures was of a UFO in the sky, but there wasn't anything particularly strange about the photographs on the screen.
Once the film ended, one of the previously-locked doors opened on its own. I cautiously walked through it, only to have the camera whip around and see a screaming alien right in my face.
It took me less than a half-hour to play through Once Upon A Time In Roswell's preview build. By the time I was finished, I was shaking like a Chihuahua in a blizzard. (It probably wasn't a good idea to play it at 3:00 AM.)
The graphics were gorgeous, the sound was immersive, and the developers have done a fantastic job of building up a frightening atmosphere. The pacing and build-up of suspense in this short 30-minute demo were pitch-perfect. I was genuinely frightened, and I now harbor some level of malice at my reviews editor for suggesting I take on this game.
If you're looking for something that will scare the pants off of you, I think that the finished product of Once Upon A Time In Roswell will probably do a good job. As for me, I'm going to be avoiding it entirely and sleeping with the lights on for the next week or so.
TechRaptor conducted our Once Upon A Time In Roswell Coverage Club using a press build provided by the publisher. You can add this game to your wishlist on Steam.