by Matt Dorville
There’s a much-used saying by Anton Chekhov that, when writing a story with a gun in it, you must, at some point, fire it. I thought of this quote as I first stared at Cara Delevingne holding a sleek gun on the start screen for the Android game: Valerian: City of Alpha. Unfortunately, you never get to fire this gun, or any gun for that matter, as this is a mobile strategy game where the purpose is to build spaceships, add crew members and gather digital rewards in a somewhat long, laborious and overly complex manner, which ultimately anchors an otherwise delightful game.
The story revolves around Alpha, a space station that floated through the galaxy 600 years before the time of Luc Besson's upcoming sci-fi film, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. The purpose of the game is to grow and expand Alpha through diplomacy and collaboration with alien races, and the game gives you mini-challenges to push you in the right direction to explore other parts of the map. This, of course, provides you with rewards, which include the ability to purchase new spacecraft, increase your reputation with alien races and hire crew members that can be leveled up in a variety of attributes to assist in missions.
These missions, along with some beautifully done cutscenes, were my favorite part of this game, and soon I found myself ignoring other, repetitive, time-consuming tasks just to play more of the missions. They consisted of a choose-your-own-adventure story with three questions, each providing three possible choices. While it’s not difficult to choose a correct path, the stories themselves were pretty funny, my favorite being one where you find a kitten in an airlock and you have to decide what to do (with an option being to kill the kitten). I couldn’t shake the image of a group of astronauts in space that run to an airlock, only to find a random kitten floating there. If that ends up being in the film, it easily might make my best-of-2017 list.
It’s frustrating, though, that there’s not more of this amusing storytelling, as the game’s complexity and long-winded tasks weigh it down from fully blasting off. Instead, Valerian: City of Alpha doesn’t contain the style of the movie’s trailer, and while there are a lot of clever little gems in this game, it ultimately, and disappointingly, becomes an amusing way to kill time for fans of the movie.