Accidental Queens is a developer that's proven their preference for unorthodox storytelling already via their game A Normal Lost Phone, which tasked you with unraveling a story using just a phone interface, and now they're back with another effort in a similar vein. Alt Frequencies is the name of this latest project, and this time radios and frequencies are the technologies in focus, leading to an experience that's more reliant on the audio side of things than the visual.
Of course, you'll still need to keep your device handy (we played on an Android phone) and look at the screen, because it's not just about listening to a story unravel. By swiping left and right you move between different radio stations, with the words spoken available on screen at the same time via a speech bubble. On top of that, you can double tap on the speech bubble to fast forward what's being said, but don't worry if you miss something, because each section of the radio broadcast gets played in a loop.
This has a narrative significance as well, because the plot revolves around a vote being put forward by the government regarding a time loop, something that has divided people and encouraged a mysterious figure called Winston to contact you via an unknown frequency and plead with you to find out "the truth", whatever that might be. This is an effective way to justify this simple mechanic, and the whole story echoes other political tensions in the real world, as well as themes like the mistrust of government and conspiracies.
With regards to how you interact with this plot, this is done by taking snippets of the broadcasts you hear with a downwards swipe of your thumb, before sending this snippet elsewhere with a swipe upwards. This might come in the form of a question posed from one individual to another, or evidence that can be used to dish out some hard truths to those who need to hear it. It's an interesting mechanic, and you need to really pay attention to each of these broadcasts to find out what's noteworthy.
The trouble is that progressing the story is easier said than done, and this is where Alt Frequencies trips up the most. A lot of the time it's unclear which part of the story you're meant to cut out and send somewhere else since a lot of what people are saying can be construed as interesting and relevant. There was one particular chapter (Part 2 of Chapter 4) that really left us stumped, even when we looked at the hints which pointed us to some key areas.
Even if you do get stuck it's quite easy to complete the game in an hour, which is another sticking point for us. At the beginning, the sinister and mysterious tone of Winston's communication left us very intrigued as to what was going on, but this grand plot doesn't get the time to breathe and have any weight in such a short span of time. Things escalate and reach a climax at breakneck speed, and we're left with a lot of questions at the end.
This also means that none of these characters are left to breathe very much either, with the villains only appearing in brief moments and the heroes coming and going just as quickly. We found the acting and the writing clichéd at various points as well, with one news presenter proclaiming in such a cringe-worthy fashion that it was his journalistic duty to investigate the truth live on air.
Other than the news channel you also have campus radio, hosted by young and socially-conscious students; a talk show hosted by a cynical and sceptical older gentleman; and the music channel, which mostly stays away from politics unless otherwise convinced. Then there are other more secretive frequencies, which may hide some extra information that needs exposing to the public.
Overall we thought that Alt Frequencies could have done with a bit more time to breathe, as we were initially intrigued by the ideas laid out in terms of the technique for deploying narrative and the time loop policies, but the story was over before it even started. It was a good idea but we didn't see the potential come to fruition, unfortunately, especially when it came to the gameplay mechanics to progressing the story.