You're searching for your fortune in the dusty plains with only a few dollars and a bedraggled horse to your name... things are looking grim, and you're out of options. At least, until a strange tornado sweeps down upon you changes your fortune... but for better or worse? That's the situation you find yourself in in the new creepy adventure game from Pastel Games, Aurora. This moody, perplexing tale isn't your ordinary Western, and this isn't your ordinary town. Who is Aurora, and why is everyone so afraid of her? You probably don't want to be around to find out, even though it seems as though she's very interested in meeting you...
Your ultimate goal is to find your way out of town before something happens... easier said than done since there doesn't appear to be any trains coming any time soon, and the locals are at once both scared themselves and more than a little odd. You'll play with the mouse, clicking on people or places to interact when the cursor changes to indicate a hotspot. The bottom of the screen displays your inventory, where you can mouse over objects to get information on them, or click on one to pick it up to use. If you need to take a break, the game autosaves for you, so you can just select "continue" from the main menu when you come back to pick up where you left off.
Play the whole Aurora series:
Analysis: This goes against all logic; westerns are not creepy. They involve women in sixteen pounds of skirt material being smooched by much older men, colourful town drunkards falling into watering troughs, and men mounting their horses in dramatic fashion from the second story of the saloon. And yet, here we have a fantastically moody adventure set in a wild west that feels a lot less welcoming than any town the Duke ever set foot in. Part of this is because the story feels so much like those unsettling urban legends you hear in every culture the world over; whispered snippets of strangers, curses, things that you know couldn't possibly be true but send a shiver up your spine if you think about them late at night when you should be asleep. I spent the majority of the game wandering around with a sense of dread, and that was due in large part to the spot-on choice of music and art.
It's sort of unfortunate, then, that there is one obstacle in the game that requires a solution that most people probably wouldn't come up with on their own... at least not given how most of us aren't 18th century cowboys with extensive knowledge on the many uses of gunpowder. This is due in part to the "adventure game logic" of only being able to use certain items in certain places, and it can be particularly frustrating in Aurora; you don't need all the items the stores sell, and indeed a good number of them are useless. Which, might I add, can really add to your frustration if you've fallen back on the old "click everywhere, on everything, with every item" school of plot advancement as a last resort.
The other issue is that the game just ends. You get an abrupt "to be continued"-sy sort of ending that answers none of the questions the game has raised. Aurora has a massive amount of potential, and if another installment can deliver on the groundwork laid by this one, then its creators will have something really great on their hands. While it lasts, Aurora is a wonderfully creepy little piece of work and is easily worth experiencing for everything it gets right. I want to know more about the mystery the fine craftsmen at Pastel Games have set up because it's a darn fine one. Hopefully we won't have to wait too long to start following the next trail of clues.