Release Date: December 2006
Note: Originally published 22 March 2007
If there ever was a contest for a theme that has been run into the ground in the adventure genre, Atlantis would win first prize hands down. From Indy’s escapades, to the heroic acts in QFG51all the way to Cryo’s well-known series, Atlantis is the only theme in recorded history that not only has been regurgitated to death, but has even managed to spawn a development team solely dedicated to sink originality deeper than the deepest depths Atlantis could have ever reached. That fact, along with the very annoying practice of a certain publishing company of not leaving an original game title untouched had, over the years, caused an overwhelming sensation that had led me, and possibly others, to not bother with this particular series.
It was only a couple of months ago that, with a little nudge from my lovely wife, I managed to emerge from this smothering Atlantis daze, sort out the games of the series and give them a play. To my surprise I discovered that, although not groundbreaking, they are actually more than worth playing – especially Atlantis 2/Beyond Atlantis. And what great timing for the fifth installment of the series to be released - just as I had completed Evolution and was riding an Atlantis high.
Secrets of Atlantis does not take place in Atlantis. Not a surprising fact, considering that only two of the previous games of the series actually did (The Lost Tales and Evolution). In fact, the game starts as far away from Atlantis as possible – up in the sky! The time is just a couple of years before World War II, and you assume the role of Howard Brooks, an engineer who participated in the construction of the notorious Hindenburg. During a leisurely trip from Germany to America, something happens to the Hindenburg engines and it comes to a bumpy halt. Before you know it, two thugs are all over you and knock you out. After regaining consciousness you realize that nothing has been stolen from you. So, why did they attack you? Who were they anyway? And what happened to the engines? Did those thugs have something to do with it, and for what purpose? The answer to those questions not only will leave you astounded, but will also take you around the world, from the glamour of New York to the oriental vibes of China and from the snowy heights of the Himalayas to sunny Mesopotamian villages on an adventure of a lifetime - a quest to find the lost city of Atlantis.
The game is presented in a panning 360-degree, 3rd-person point-of-view. The controls are fully point ‘n’ click and pretty easy to get into. The left mouse button is used to perform the action shown by the cursor, walk, take, use etc, which automatically changes according to the hotspot. The right mouse button opens the inventory. Escape takes you to the main menu where you can save, load or change the options. Unfortunately, only 10 save slots are available, but if you are like me and like to have lots of different saves and not overwrite then there is a way around it. Just Alt-Tab the game when you filled up all the slots, backup the save files, and then start from slot 1 again. I will never understand why some developers insist on limiting the save slots. It serves no purpose and is very frustrating.
On your way to find Atlantis you will encounter several different characters to interact with, but I won’t elaborate further on this in order to avoid spoilers. Dialogue options appear as small, connecting speech bubbles containing icons representing available subjects. That, along with the fact that if subtitles are on, they appear as big speech bubbles next to the character talking, give the game a nice, old comic book feeling. Some of the characters are there to help you out, and a couple of times they will come with you. When this happens they will appear in a small icon at the top left of the screen. At this stage they cannot be interacted with, but if you reach a place where they can be useful, they will fully appear on screen. Of course there are also characters with not the best intentions in mind and who will need to be taken care of. And, yes, you can die in the game, but when that happens you are always taken back a couple of steps before you made the wrong move. That doesn’t mean you need to forget the golden rule of adventure gaming though, repeat after me: save early, save often!
The puzzles are a mixed bag of inventory and logical. The inventory puzzles are simpler than making chocolate milk (Don’t you just need a chocolate cow? Duh! – Randy), and shouldn’t be a problem to even a newcomer to the genre. Where the game bares its teeth are the logical challenges, some of which will shift your brain into top gear – and as adventure gamers, I am confident that your brains have more than one gear! Unfortunately, there are a couple of puzzles included that several adventure gamers have had an aversion to since the beginning of time, with the most prominent example being the dreaded slider. But here it’s not just a slider, but a timed slider! Wait, wait, don’t start dashing out in the streets screaming bloody murder like a maniac. Things aren’t as bad as they sound. Although you can lose if you run out of time, which will mean you have to restart the puzzle from scratch, you can avoid that by walking away from it and coming back to pick up from where you left, with the timer reset! But it’s still a slider, isn’t it? So, go ahead, scream like a maniac, everyone will understand! Overall, I did enjoy the puzzles, but I do have a minor grievance about a puzzle towards the end of the game, where the clues were too farfetched and obscure. There is, though, one severe issue that mars the overall gameplay enjoyment. At some point in the game, you will be required to play Texas Hold ‘em Poker – and no, I’m not kidding.
Now, I was under the impression that having to play cards (or get involved in any other kind of gambling) in order to progress in an adventure game was a thing buried in the past and long forgotten (I still shudder in remembrance of Larry 12’s blackjack table). No adventure gamer wants, likes or even remotely tolerates having their adventuring interrupted in order to play a game of poker, much less when it’s a mandatory game of poker which you must win. What possessed the developers to include this in the game is beyond me. Maybe they have been watching too much late-night poker on TV? Don’t they know that online gambling is illegal? Regardless, it is an unacceptable and highly annoying move that ruins the flow of the game – especially since it comes right after one of the best puzzles. At least there is a way to make things easier if you notice that every time you restart, the cards dealt and the opponents’ reactions are exactly the same. So even if, when you hear the word “poker,” you think of your fireplace you should be able to put this behind you sooner or later by using trial & error.
Adventure gamers’ expectations vary, but one of the most common ones is to be taken away to exotic times and places.Secrets of Atlantis succeeds in that area perfectly by capturing the required atmosphere and providing some really beautiful graphics. The Himalayas especially are nothing short of gorgeous. Pity that the game is pretty short and each area can only be enjoyed for a small amount of time. The characters don’t follow the beauty of the backgrounds. Not that they are badly designed, but there is a certain harshness in their appearance. Sometimes it does work out just right towards the comic feeling of the dialogues, though. The music is of the same standards, complementing the atmosphere nicely, and the voices are nothing outstanding.
Overall, Secrets of Atlantis is certainly an adventure worth playing. Granted, the story is fished out of the deepest pits of clichés. But it’s not badly presented and comes with the obligatory twists and turns. All locations are portrayed beautifully, creating the atmosphere required. The characters are interesting, and the puzzles are, for the majority, fair and challenging. Secrets of Atlantis may not be a milestone in the adventure genre, but if you can overlook the originality factor and the poker fiasco, then you could have a few hours of nice adventuring fun. Looking forward to Atlantis XXIII: We’ll never die m****f****!
Final Grade: B-
1Quest For Glory 5
2Leisure Suit Larry 1 aka Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards