Intruder in Antiquonia review – Charming small-town mystery too rushed to feel fully broken in
Intruder in Antiquonia is a curious experience: part rural small-town mystery, part cyber-espionage thriller, and part climate change call to arms. That's a lot to tackle for the Spanish indie developer Aruma Studios, especially for their first PC game. There's definite potential here, too, with an intriguing plot, picturesque graphics and a soothing soundtrack, so it’s a shame that the ride is over all too soon, before the ideas and characters really get a chance to shine. More of a gaming snack than a three-course meal, its abundant charm sadly can't quite hide the lack of substance.
On the outskirts of the remote town of Antiquonia, a young woman lies stunned by the side of the road. Who is she? Even she doesn't know: she can't remember anything about who she is or how she got there. The ID in her pocket names her as Sarah Campillo, so that's what we'll call her too, though it's soon clear that's entirely fake. Even so, it might still mean something; it can't be a coincidence that young Eva Campillo was mysteriously abducted from this same town 30 years ago. Not only that, but the ID lists her address as Ancora Street in Madrid, when the town's only police officer is Julia Ancora. Even more curiously, a room has already been booked at the local guest house in her name, and no sooner has she checked in than an envelope arrives for her, full of maps and mysterious symbols. Something's clearly going on, and you (as probably-not Sarah) will have to get to the bottom of it.
The tragic abduction of Eva Campillo changed the town in a very unusual way. As the story broke and the police began to search, hordes of journalists descended on the previously quiet refuge, eager for any scraps of information they could build into stories. So sick did the residents become of this intrusion that they turned their backs on the modern world and new technology. Who needs computers anyway? And what's the point of mobile phones when landlines work just fine? They're all just part of an evil masterplan by huge corporations to exploit regular people, enslave them, and generally make their lives a misery. Even paramedic Karim, one of the few local rebels to own a computer and connect to the Internet, feels the need to keep a literal tinfoil hat on hand. With all their talk of global conspiracies, it's easy to laugh at them, particularly at the "Three Crazies" who spend all their time sitting in the town square discussing pétanque. However, when the conversation turns to the environmental damage caused by international energy conglomerates, their views suddenly don't seem quite so funny anymore.
Antiquonia is small but delightful: rendered in a simple and painterly style, it's filled with intricate details and gentle shading. Unlike the popular image of Spain as sun-drenched and popping with colour, here the world is all muted tones and overcast skies. In fact, if it wasn't for the lack of Tudor wood panelling, I could easily have mistaken it for an English village in early autumn. That sets a serious and somewhat melancholy mood, but the town square in particular is still quite lovely, with its trailing flowers, red-tiled rooves and shuttered windows. The place is small and compact, with most events taking place in a handful of locations just off that main square, such as the police station, a cafe, and the hospital. A handy (and hand-drawn) map can help you get around even quicker, but it rarely feels necessary.
The soundtrack fits the mood nicely, starting out with gentle, flowing melodies played on piano, flute and violin. As the tension mounts, so does the tempo, until the beating drums and thumping bassline make for a suitably pulse-pounding finale. That's just as well, as there's no voice acting (with characters conversing via speech bubbles at the top of the screen) and little in the way of environmental sounds.
The interface is pretty standard, with an inventory bar at the bottom of the screen just inviting you to drag objects around to use or combine them. You can click on people to talk to them, or objects to pick up or look at, and there's a handy hotspot highlighter so you don’t overlook anything. You won't find a hint system, but the areas are confined enough that you will rarely be frustrated for long.
The puzzles are mostly inventory-based, with a couple of standalone logic challenges thrown in for good measure, such as rewiring a fuse box. These are all (at least by adventure standards) straightforward and intuitive; if anything too much so as you attempt to distract a shopkeeper, turn metal detectorist, and sneak into the bad guys' lair. Frustratingly, this ordinary fare isn't because there are no opportunities for high jinks. Quite the reverse, in fact, as my 3-4 hours with the game were rife with puzzle opportunities that were just begging for wacky escapades to ensue. More than once, characters with an item you need and every excuse to insist you get them something first, instead cheerfully just hand it over. A couple of times they even disappear offscreen to exciting-sounding locations to get them for you! Take Officer Ancora, for example: when you want to "borrow" her laptop for some highly illegal hacking activities, she just raises an eyebrow and leaves you to it. Or when you need to get the guest house's receptionist out of the way so you can indulge in a little illicit searching, all you have to do is ask her to step out for a while. No elaborate scheme required. And no matter how suspicious your actions or how dubious your background, nobody calls you on it.
This theme of missed opportunities runs through Intruder in Antiquonia like a constant refrain. The initial setup, built around an amnesiac stranger who's clearly more than she appears, seems like a well-worn trope, but this is rapidly peeled back to reveal unexpected layers beneath that hint at something far more interesting. Except then the story hurtles towards a conclusion so fast that it all blurs into a briefly sketched "evil megacorp schemes to take over the world" plot with few distinguishing details. We're told just enough to know that whatever they're doing, it's a Bad Thing that Needs to be Stopped. Sarah and her allies turn out to have some ethical questions to answer themselves, but again that's glossed over rather than delved into.
Likewise, the people you meet appear to be an interesting and diverse lot that never get a chance to develop into rounded characters. Even Karim, who tags along with you for much of the game, never divulges much about himself. He has a computer, a monkey's paw, and a mild obsession with George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, but we never really find out why. And after Sarah's erotica-obsessed landlady hints at him having a crush on Sarah, it's never mentioned again. Then, despite learning that, in his grief, Eva's father sold a popular local bar to quietly tend the church grounds, we don't really look any deeper into his family or what happened that day.
In the end, Intruder in Antiquonia leaves you wanting more, just not always in the best way. The story intriguingly blends traditional attitudes and modern concerns, while the characters hint at engaging and eccentric backstories. The artwork looks good, and the orchestral soundtrack fits the mood, whether gentle and contemplative or heart-poundingly urgent. The bones of a good game are clearly here but they're never fleshed out into something great, and the end result is briefly diverting rather than memorable. It ultimately feels like an abbreviated first draft of a much longer and more involving tale, and left me wondering what else the studio could create with more time and perhaps money, given the chance.
Intruder in Antiquonia's pleasing aesthetic and rural charm with flashes of something deeper aren't quite enough to compensate for the hurried storytelling and pedestrian puzzles.
- Small-town Spanish setting is refreshingly different
- Lovely artwork and soothing soundtrack
- Hints at some interesting ideas and characters
- Rushed presentation makes the story feel generic
- Little character development
- Logical but often dull puzzles
Peter played Intruder in Antiquonia on PC using a review code provided by the game's publisher.
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