“An Airport for Aliens Currently Run by Dogs” by Strange Scaffold – Review

(Ticket Dogs are forgetful but oh so eager to help you catch a flight.)

Note: All screenshots taken by Morgan L’Fey on the Steam version of the game.

Introduction

Release Trailer from YouTube, courtesy of Strange Scaffold

An Airport for Aliens Currently Run by Dogs (also known as Dog Airport Game), is a first-person comedy adventure game where you play one of the two remaining humans as they travel across the stars, solely existing within airports once servicing an unknown interstellar race and now completely populated by flat images of dogs. Written by one of my favorite game writers, Xalavier Nelson, it’s an exercise in absurdism on a backdrop of an apocalyptic end to everything and everyone you know where you can get an achievement for petting a dog 704 times in one session. It’s marvelous — at least in conception. 

Presentation

Dog Airport Game is a visual mashup of bright-colored, but simple, 3d spaces; appealing, yet old-fashioned skyboxes; and stock photos, mostly of very good boys and girls. Sometimes they have hats or big muscle arms! If you are the kind of person who enjoys scrolling on Twitter or Instagram specifically hoping that your friends and enemies have posted new pictures of their pets, you are the target audience for the visuals of this game. It’s joyful, and each of the airports you visit is quite distinct, though the repeated dogs, particularly in the copy-pasted stores in each airport, do give it a more tired feel towards the end of the playthrough. 

The music is pleasant, but if you, as I did, get lost or stuck looking for a specific doggo or shop, it gets old very fast. In the end, I played most of the game with the sound turned down and external music playing.

Gameplay

The gameplay isn’t anything particularly deep or meaningful. It’s a pretty standard first-person exploration game, controlling very similar to a lot of the other walking simulators, such as Gone Home or What Remains of Edith Finch. That said, there are a lot of parts of the gameplay that are a little more awkward than they should be. The walking speed is a little too slow for the size of the environments, and the ways to go faster either force you to be constantly pressing a button or have cooldowns so that after the boost you move even slower than before. I also spent way too long getting lost because I couldn’t read the signs — hint: the dog’s language is a one to one letter swap with English.  The basic loop is to find a new dog, find out what they want, go to the store or dog that provides it, and then give it to dog you found. Rinse, repeat, go to a new airport, rinse, repeat. It’s repetitive even if the individual interactions along the way are endearing. 

(This dog provides you with cabinets.)

The biggest issue is the mess of an inventory system. Essentially you have just a ring of items that you can scroll through in either direction. There’s no way to sort them or to look at everything and grab just the one you want, or anything like that, which puts you in a situation where if you don’t know where an item is relative to others, you could sit there scrolling for a while trying to find it. Considering that a major part of the gameplay is finding items that various doggos want, that means either you’re doing a lot of running back and forth once you know what you’re looking for, or you’re holding onto extra things in your inventory. It’s kind of a shame. It wasn’t game breakingly frustrating, but it was unfortunate considering that like the vast majority of the raw gameplay during my playthrough was scrolling through inventory.

Narrative

As a comedy game, a lot of what we’re dealing with here is just setups and payoffs of jokes, and luckily some of the jokes are very good. I laughed more playing this game than basically any other game so far this year. And I don’t think that that is something to sneeze at, it’s hard to pull off humor in games, especially when you are trying to do ethical humor, avoiding punching down or falling back on stereotypes. And by and large, Dog Airport Game does avoid that sort of thing. Now, it isn’t flawless in that avoidance: there are instances of jokes that I wouldn’t necessarily have made. For example, there is a running joke, and a sort of world plot point, around the pilots for all these airplanes being young dogs—two or three at the oldest—and all of them being alcoholics. Like, they get drunk, in order to fly planes—which isn’t a safety hazard in terms of the flight because the planes fly themselves and that’s not what the pilots are there for. I’ll leave that to the reader to go find out for themself but it is not a joke I would have expected or appreciated. But, that aside, most of the jokes are fairly innocent. It’s a lot of situational humor, or just the dogs being extremely enthusiastic, and it’s delightful. It’s nice to play a game where basically any joke I read from it I could share with a friend without being like, am I making assumptions about people or am I insulting someone.


(Yes, this dog is on a wheelchair. Yes, they use it to commit OSHA violations.)

But, if the drunk dogs weren’t a giveaway, it’s a game that has darker elements. You can be cursed during gameplay and have some really unfortunate encounters. Horrifying enough that I pressed myself into the back of my computer chair just recoiling from what was happening in front of me, which isn’t the type of horror I would expect from a comedy game about airports run by dogs. Then again, the premise is that humans are gone. The aliens that came before them are gone. And these dogs are just sort of like doing the best they can. Which is good, and as the humans tend to describe it, at least somewhat utopian. But at the same time, it’s a utopia that cost them everything. Why they survived isn’t ever really explained, but they survived, and their otherness is the penance they pay for that survival.

There are also some times where it’s dark in less mature ways. One of the items that you need to get for a character is a human heart, which you get from a dog that hits on you, opens their coat, drops a heart on the ground in front of you. It’s unsettling—but it was funny in a shock humor way. 

All of that said, the emotional core of the game isn’t the dogs, it’s the relationship between the two remaining humans in existence. You’re engaged at the start of the game—the unseen protagonist and their fiance got together after the world ended and seem to have a genuine relationship. It’s sweet to see play out. The player has some input but it’s mostly two people who care about each other, support each other, and are occasionally just corny lovebirds. The core of their conflict is that the fiance is working on some big project for R&D Dog, and she can’t really talk about it. The eventual reveal of the project and its implications for their continued relationship puts strain on her, and thus on that bond.

It’s a conversation that doesn’t have an easy answer, one that can’t be answered without hurt but which must be answered. By having such an approachable, emotional narrative at the core of this silly, sometimes alarming, game about stock photo dogs in fantastical airports, the game manages to be more than its surface would have implied.

Conclusion

An Airport for Aliens Currently Run By Dogs is a joy to play — most of the time. Taking a few extra moments to decode the signs and maybe draw some maps of the airports indicating where certain dogs or departure gates are will likely make your experience just that much better, and there are so many little things to find and delight in that I wouldn’t want to even begin to touch on them all. Despite the gameplay frustrations, the simple but charming presentation and above-average writing and character work cement the game as something worth spending an afternoon in — or at least sharing screenshots of.

And remember: this Pebuffstrian believes in you:

Scores

Presentation: 7/10

Gameplay: 5/10

Narrative: 9/10

Overall: 7/10

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