First things first – Influent will not teach you to speak a foreign language. But it never claims that it will – merely that it can get you started on learning a new vocabulary or level up your language skills, in the form of an ‘interactive 3D Language Learning Game’. So how effective is it in doing so? Well as a life-long gamer who always struggled with languages (my abilities are limited to basic French and German) I find myself in an ideal position to assess it.
Early impressions were very positive as I quickly revised my German skills and realised I was able to recall words far more effectively than I had before. I then switched to Spanish and found I was able to master nearly all the available words after about 8 hours thanks to my determination to complete all the tests. I had less luck with the Chinese (Mandarin) selection, mainly due to the fact the characters are completely alien so I was mostly relying on the sound of the words with no assistance from seeing the spelling on the screen. Beyond the languages mentioned there are also the expected options of French, Japanese, Korean and Latin – although the inclusion of Swedish and Bulgarian as options is a bit surprising, especially considering the absence of Italian, Portuguese, Russian etc. although they are apparently due to be added in the future.
Beginning life as a Kickstarter project with the less catchy name name of SanJiten (luckily they decided to change that), I couldn’t help but be impressed with the finished product now available. The game environment consists of a well-realised 3-D apartment which you can explore, fully stocked with a hundreds of objects. By clicking on an object you are presented with the translation in a language of your choice, both written and spoken, and by completing numerous tests you’ll unlock verbs and adjectives related to that particular noun. And it’s here that the game engages very well with the user by utilising traditional game challenges and rewards – there are over 200 nouns to find around the apartment, stars and achievements can be earned by mastering words in various tests while a whole host of extra nouns and adjectives can be unlocked takes that up to a total of 420 words. Striving towards completing the game to 100% certainly kept me engaged in a way I never felt while learning languages at school.
However comparing Influent to a traditional game does mean noticing several unfavourable elements. Some parts of the game could do with further information – I’m still not sure what the different options for certain langauges actually mean as those descriptions are in the native language. The brief attempt at introducing a storyline is unnecessary and quickly ignored, and there is a noticable lack of interactivity in the environment beyond opening doors, pushing buttons and turning dials. Once you’ve explored the small apartment and mastered the words there isn’t a lot more that can be done beyond practicing your language skills, a toy plane is unlocked early on but only offers a few minutes of diversion. Finally a hint/help option is sorely needed (I spent nearly an hour trying to find the final word before giving up with only 419 out of 420 words found).
Aesthetically the game does more than enough and is quite impressive considering its humble origins. The 3D apartment is pleasing to look at as well as explore with bright, distinct objects and a number of in-jokes if you look closely at the posters, games and books that are scattered around while the camera handles well in the cramped environment – only struggling slightly when the rotating ceiling fan gets in the way. On the audio side the various voice-over personnel (a mixture of male and female – although only one gender available per language) do an excellent job with clear pronunciation and the background music maintains a relaxed atmosphere, without becoming obtrusive.
There are a number of issues that I have with the game however, and they can’t all be attributed to the limitations of a small development team. The apartment you explore is very much a typical man’s living area with the clothes and belongings of an average man (a slightly geeky man with comics, dice and retro games consoles). I understand it may have been too much work to incorporate a female option and a separate environment, but they could quite easily have made it a shared apartment, or at least have some female items in the apartment – various photos on the shelves indicate the main character has a girlfriend so it doesn’t seem like it would been too much of a stretch. The apartment itself is also a bit limited, but I’m hopeful that might be expanded upon in future updates to include public areas.
But to accurately assess Influent the main aspect to consider is how well it has helped with my language skills, and in that respect the results are mixed. I’ve effectively learnt a few hundred words in a couple of different languages in just under a week – which is quite remarkable considering how mediocre I was at learning French at school (and that’s not even mentioning my D in GCSE German). I haven’t picked up any sense of the grammar of the languages I worked through so any actual sentences or conversations are out of the question, although that was never the aim of Influent. The content does become a bit limited after you’ve spent several hours on a single language, but any gamers out there looking to get started in a language would do well to give Influent a go.
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