PAX West 2019: Once Upon a Time In Roswell is a Promising Mix of Aliens and Noir
Some things in life just go well together. Peanut butter and jelly. Sports and junk food. Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock.
Other things don't immediately jump out as obvious pairings. Extraterrestrials and film noir is one such duo. But even as you'd be right to ponder such a combination, you'd also be quick to realize their pairing potential — especially after you played Once Upon a Time in Roswell.
From the pre-PAX ID@Xbox Open House, I was able try out a 20-minute demo of the upcoming first-person horror game just hours before it was revealed at TinyBuild's PAX press conference. With a plot happy to warp every preconception, I came away excited to see more of this fascinating mix of aliens and noir, sci-fi and style.
At the start of my demo, all the usual hallmarks of a classic noir were present. The private detective's desk was blanketed in miscellaneous documents and soaked in the setting sun. The PI's moody monologue waxed poetic about his recent workload, the Peterson Case, which was also the former project name of Roswell.
Walking the halls of an office building, I solved puzzles and recounted moments from my investigation, chatting up my inner self with musings that felt plucked right out of the golden age of 50's noir. Given the title, I expected aliens, too. Somewhere.
But before I encountered anything from beyond the stars, I saw ghostly flashbacks of a family floating in a black ether, reminiscent of the paranormal visions haunting the game's recent reveal trailer (seen below).
As I continued along, I began to suspect that aliens wouldn't show up after all — until they finally did. Speaking with reps from TinyBuild, I excitedly asked, "Is this an alien game?" Much like the demo they had put in my hands, they were cryptic. Eventually, though, they admitted the title keeps giving it away.
Thankfully, it doesn't seem like Roswell's story hinges on players being ignorant of the significance of Roswell, New Mexico. Even when E.T.s arrived in my demo with an entrance reminiscent of the birthday home video in Signs, I was still left wondering if there was more behind the veil.
The visions I had seen already told me something darker may be stirring in Roswell, and like the detective at the center of the story, I felt like I wasn't going to rest until I solved one of the strangest cases he — I — had ever been faced with.
While my thoughts continued to make little sense of the story, it was partly because this was a demo, and I was lacking context, but I sensed the narrative enjoyed shrouding itself in enigmas regardless.
Is it a noir tale? Yes, it's absolutely that. Is it an alien game? It seems to be — for now. Is it all just a twisted metaphor for a family crippled by tragedy or anger or turmoil? Some early signs pointed to that, too, and the overall confusion I felt when I left my seat is why it's been on my mind for days.
Once Upon a Time in Roswell could go in many different directions, and the thrill of the unknown is leading me down its inevitably dark path. I can't wait to see more.
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