Antenna Review (Rant Edition)

Oh great, another review of a game I didn’t actually finish…and this time, technically didn’t even start because I couldn’t get past the first screen. In my defence, the problem isn’t that the game is unplayable (it booted up fine), but that it didn’t explain to me what I had to do and I couldn’t get past the first screen because everything I did resulted in nothing happening.

So, rather than having this as a traditional review, let’s make this a retelling of my experience with Antenna instead.

When I booted up the game, I found myself at the opening, which showed some fairly decent filming in black and white and then brought up the title screen using a wi-fi logo on top of the Earth. Which was rather creative, I have to say!

Then the first actual game screen came up, showing some fairly good graphics, and I was told to press the x button. So I did and nothing happened. Impatiently, I pressed it again and again, but it was only when I held it down that something finally happened…and, because I released the button and didn’t realise I had supposed to hold it down until what it was doing was completely finished, I had it get midway through something several times before I finally was about to move to something else…which was pressing the s button to do the same thing again and then the o button to do the same thing again. Absolutely nowhere was I told that I had to hold the button down: literally the closest I had to a hint was that the button on screen turned white when I pressed it, which isn’t much of a hint when having “hold x” on screen would have done the job far easier!

So, already a bit annoyed, I had the next part of the screen come up: an old fashioned radio tuning thing. I was told that scrolling with the centre mouse wheel was required, which meant that I had to drag my electronic mouse from my desk because I hadn’t thought I’d need it (although I will admit that this one IS my fault: it does say on the game’s Steam store page that you need a mouse with a mouse wheel, I just didn’t see it!) and proceeded to spend many minutes scrolling along the tuner with no idea what I was supposed to be doing. The only thing I had was the z button and the ? button on screen, but pressing them didn’t seem to do anything. So I scrolled along the tuner very slowly and…nothing happened. No progress from that screen.

So I finally gave up, closed the game and got on with other things.

The point of all of this? Well, a few things actually: first of all, if you are a games developer, don’t assume your audience will magically know what they have to do if you don’t tell them anything. I should not be sitting on the first screen of a game wondering what I’m supposed to be doing: I should have at least some instructions, even if it’s just telling me to hold down a button rather than just pressing it. Even if you don’t have them in game, have a manual of some sort alongside the game saying this sort of stuff or even put them in the options menu (which this game didn’t even have, by the way…)!

Secondly, don’t use methods of handling things which most people nowadays aren’t going to be familiar with. I know how to tune a radio and even I felt confused as to what I was meant to be doing, so imagine how someone who has never even seen a radio would react! This could have been salvageable by having it automatically work if you find the right frequency or saying an on screen thing noting what the frequency you need to find is and, when you find it, have a prompt on screen saying “press [button]” (keep the rest of the work in the game, though: it can be a fun little Easter egg for people willing to check it all out!).

Thirdly, if you want to have something like tuning a radio as part of your game, don’t make it obligatory to have to complete it if you aren’t going to make it easy to understand to people and not explain how to do it. Nothing is more frustrating to players than being unable to progress because of something they can’t skip when they don’t understand how to progress with.

From what I did play, though, I will say that the graphics are not bad. I liked the black and white aesthetic and the style of the game was pretty good. The audio design is also fairly good, with some admittedly kind of cool work to make the whole thing sound like a legitimate radio being tuned and some good music. But I can’t say that I like the execution of this game because, well, I couldn’t even get past the first screen! I get the feeling there’s a potentially really interesting game here, but, frankly, if you can’t be bothered to inform me of what I’m supposed to be doing and start off with a puzzle which isn’t even clear on a potential solution, then you’ve lost me before you’ve even started.

So yeah, games developers, you are certainly free to make games like Antenna, but please, for the love of god, make sure you actually tell people what they’re supposed to do in them somewhere! Otherwise, you’ve only yourselves to blame should people get frustrated with being unable to progress, quit the game and pan it publicly because they had no idea what they were meant to do due to you not telling them a single thing! You don’t necessarily need to hold everyone’s hand, but not providing a single hint over something that people might legitimately find confusing is just not good design!