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The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human (PC) artwork

The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human (PC) review

"A bittersweet tribulation."

We all know spaceships capable of interstellar travel can doubly function as submarines, right? No? Civilization from the year 2971 managed such a feat, as demonstrated during the opening sequence from The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human; after resurfacing from a huge wormhole that propels the spacecraft untold millennia into the future, it returns to Earth, piercing its atmosphere, and immediately makes a beeline for the ocean, drilling through the icy surfaces that blanket the planet. And, well, instant sub. Thus begins the trek of homo sapiens' remaining life form, unraveling the enigma of society's final moments underwater through the use of, you guessed it, scattered log entries.

However, that plot point is going to be the last thing on your mind when submerging and traversing the first few areas in this 2D journey, as you marvel at lush environments and the evolution of sea life since your character's absence. While intentionally a pixelated-heavy game, the attention to detail and fluid animation lends beautifully to the ocean's wondrous mutations. Witness giant, harmless fish roam about, towering seaweed flutter all around, normal-sized schools go about their business, and ginormous coral of all shapes and sizes dominate the landscape. Everything sports a wide color palette, albeit mostly with darker tones to accommodate the mysterious setting. In stark contrast is the lifeless, broken cities and structures that used to house bustling civilians.

You're given such a beautifully eerie, bittersweet feeling navigating through these surroundings for the first time.

Then the game becomes disgusting and unsettling.

Suddenly, you experience the true horrors and the possible terrors from beyond when coming across mutated, murky clams stuck to corners, springing to life and making awful "clamping" noises when you pass by. Shortly after, you're trapped in a lair, against a worm behemoth with a huge life bar, who can burrow between your ship and spit out smaller, homing worms in bullet-hell fashion. The serene soundtrack from before has now transformed into a dire, synth nightmare. Your defense? A very frail hull and a weak harpoon you just picked up that can only fire from the waist down. It's surprisingly harsh for a first boss fight, but it is doable, and the first instance that playing this with a controller is highly recommended.

Going forward from there, TAAotLH manages to strike a balance between admiration of the scenery, to anxiety and paranoia at the potential frights that lurk in the unknown. You become a little uneasy traveling places for the first time, getting unnerved when things phase in and out of walls and ceilings, only to realize they're just harmless fish. You will get agitated when entering an obviously huge boss area, at the likely chance of seeing something truly repulsive. Obtain upgrades to your ship that opens more areas, and see if you're bold enough to voyage into the darkest regions without first finding a lamp...

Personally, I haven't had a Metroid-esque adventure make me feel this tense since Metroid 2. Regrettably, that's not the only thing those two have in common.

So, what's the biggest adversary to any Metroidvania-style or exploration game? A shoddy map layout. Whether it'd be fighting through challenging enemies, an obstacle course, or an interesting puzzle, there has to be something going on in an adventure game that requires repeat ventures through multiple locations. TAAotLH falters greatly in this regard, as it creates more questionable detours than genuine opposition. I can't even begin to count how many times I reached a spot blocked off by leaking pipes or thorns, took a brief alternative route, and found out the closed section was just a minor shortcut.

Granted, the game has some instances of resistance, such as the gang of plants that shoot projectiles in three simultaneous direction in Seaweed Forest. However, they're situated in a location that you really only travel to once or twice, so it's just a wasteful placement. Outside boss battles, the only other time I felt legitimately challenged was when I dove into the dark reaches of Seabed without a lamp on my ship, trying my best to avoid one-hit kill mines while squinting. You see what I'm saying? I had to create a problem to get something going. TAAotLH may be atmospheric and has plenty of awes to go around on first glance, but that can only carry an action-adventure title so far with mandatory backtracking.

That really just leaves the boss fights as the one remaining highlight, I guess?

They have unique presentations and some likely to make you feel squeamish, such as The Forgotten One, a beastly, decayed fish that emits poisonous gas, or The Parasite, which looks like a giant, floating chicken nugget with creepy teeth. Sadly, the quality of these fights fluctuates, with only the last two bosses being enjoyably challenging. Some simply require performing circle strafing to avoid attacks as you mash the attack button, while others have unremarkable gimmicks, like being chased, that doesn't feel all too satisfying. The dumbest, harshest fight goes to The Chain Gang, simultaneously pitting you against a large shark chained to mines and a literal legion of smaller, ramming sharks that can phase through solid matter... And both have separate, huge life bars.

By the time I arrived at the final area, that sense of wonderment from the beginning had vanquished; it didn't help that I had to soldier through constant game crashes and bizarre bugs, such as being stuck in place or phasing through walls, that hindered progress on more than one occasion. Some of this was fixed (emphasis on some), but I was mostly finished by then. At this point, I just wanted to see how the basic story of humanity's extinction, themes of climate change, and so forth wrapped up in the end. I was actually concerned the plot, told through log entries, might get too preachy, but they conducted themselves diligently. While clearly pro-ecological, the devs also cautioned being too radical, as well. But then... that ending cutscene occurred, and it felt like the most sanctimonious, forceful moment in the entire game.

Maybe if it were a bit more tighter and linear with the layouts by forsaking exploration, and tinkered with the boss fights, the game possibly could've had a more impressionable, consistent impact. However, as is, The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human is too grandiose for its own good, with ideas collapsing in on itself with weak map design, polarizing bosses, and a story conclusion that leaves a bitter taste in one's mouth.

Note: this review is based on versions 1.0.1 and 1.0.2 of the game.


pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (February 01, 2016)

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