Genre: Fantasy Adventure
Release Date: Summer 2004
I’m torn – I’ve never been so torn about my feelings on a game before. When I was first approached to review what has been heralded as one of the most impressive adventure games of the year, I leapt at the chance. I had seen snippets of extraordinarily constructed worlds via the official Aura website. The story line rang with pieces of The Longest Journeyand Schizm, two of my personal favorites. Graphically, Aura appeared to be an all out homage to Myst 3: Exile, from the architecture to the details in the rock walls.
And yet, I am still torn.
In Aura, you assume the role of Umang, a young student of the wise man Arakon. Arakon believes that Umang is ready for the trials of achieving the highest knowledge, the knowledge that will lead him through the great Ages of his people and all the fame and glory that goes with it. Unfortunately, in the process of doing this, Umang gets swept up in a revolt brought on by the wise men and is tasked by Arakon to retrieve a series of magical artifacts from these great Ages.
Aura really is one of the most remarkable games I’ve seen in quite some time. The environments are gorgeous, very accessible, yet alien enough to make you believe you’re in another dimension. The opening gate of the Age of Na Tiexu reminds me of Obsidian. The landscape is gritty, pockmarked with natural deformations adding to the organic feel that I’m sure the artists at Streko were trying hard to achieve. At times, I questioned their use of color. One area in the Age of Dragast had a white iron rail that surrounded the edge of a balcony. But slapped across it was bright red paint that was either blood or an homage to Jackson Pollack. Other times, the bright colors were welcome, providing the imaginary fantasy element needed for such a game.
Aura has scores of FMV, and most of it is quite gorgeous. One scene that especially stands out is the journey from the Age of Dragast to the Age of Na Tiexu. The only bits that I found annoying were the close-ups of Umang, the character you play. His movements are quite stiff and awkward as is his hair, which looks mysteriously like a bad hair plug job that a friend of my father’s once had. It’s strange that all the other characters could look so fluid and expressive while you remain as emotional (or lack thereof) as Al Gore during a presidential debate.
The sound effects are extremely enjoyable. Streko made great efforts to give the sounds depth and perspective. One great example of this is in the caves on Dragast where water is dripping from one distinct source and as you’re panning, the dripping changes location depending on where your head is turned. While this is not extremely new technology, I still find it encouraging when a game takes the time to give that sort of detail. Without it, I believe it shows signs of a lazy sound designer.
Music is not altogether remarkable. This is where I was first really disappointed. When I was first treated to Aura’s demo (before playing the full version I am now reviewing) I thought the somewhat cheesy, overly soaring MIDI track under the FMV of Umang going to Dragast was just for demo purposes and that it would be filled in with orchestrated music at a later time. To my dismay, this was not the case. The ambient music found on the official site is present in the game, only I wish there was more of it. One other particular music bit of note is the Psycho-like down-bow of the strings found in Dragast. I felt that at any moment some crazed person was going to leap out and kill me.
But I promise, I’m not all gloom and doom here. There are plenty of silver linings, mainly in the form of puzzles. If you ever wished that the creators of Jewels of the Oracle, Obsidian, Myst, and about a hundred other game designers had gotten together and created a game, Aura would have been the product. The puzzles throughout run the gamut, from inventory, to logic, to symbolist, to ritualistic. There’s even a puzzle involving Zodiac symbols! (Oh no . . . not that we have ever seen that before, shall I count the ways.) But really, I found them to be creative in their approach, taking old forms of puzzles and making them new again. There are times when solutions seem quite obtuse and I’m still scratching my head and figuring out how the heck I solved a couple of them, namely the Zodiac puzzle.
Be forewarned: there are a couple of music puzzles. For all of you who went running to hills over the organ puzzle in Myst and the harp puzzle in Shivers, this one will make you want to run even farther. And if you’re tone deaf, consult a hint guide.
But again, I can’t be all sunshine and roses either. Here is where I am torn, completely, utterly torn. My instincts are telling me to give Aura a good grade, to let you all out there know that another wonderful achievement has been added to gaming shelves all across the world. That your $19.99 at Best Buy will not be spent in vain. To be honest, I don’t know how things will turn out. My full version of the game came from a copy of the Gold Master, sent directly to me from the publisher. The game has (or had) one huge bug that would tend to repeat at critical places and at one point, had me completely unable to continue with the game, no matter how I tried to fix things. I’ve been back and forth with the Q and A people, and I think we pretty much figured things out, so I’m hoping this problem doesn’t make it to the retail version. Just know that if your cursor suddenly stops responding, no, you are not losing your mind. So save often!
So where do we go from here now, dear reader? I can tell you that if you invest in Aura, you will not be disappointed in its content. Streko Graphics put great care into developing this little graphical gem and I feel that even with the frustrations I had with a few of its puzzles and the occasional cursor issue, I found Aura to be a thoroughly entertaining escape from the day-to-day humdrum of work and classes. Adventure fans, prepare for an out-of-this-world journey that will delight the imagination. With its superb graphical quality and diabolical puzzles, Aura is one for all the Ages.
Hi everyone! Just wanted to add a tag onto my recent review of Aura. The Adventure Company supplied me with their most recent release of the game and I’m happy to say that it is completely bug free. Granted, I had to completely erase the previous version from my drive and replay it, but I’m pleased to report the bugs have been eradicated.
Enjoy without trepidation!
Final Grade: B+
800 MHz Pentium® III (or Higher)
64 MB RAM (128 MB Recommended)
16x CD-ROM drive (24x CD-ROM Drive Recommended)
1.3 GB Hard Disk Space ( 2.4GB Recommended)
32MB DirectX 8/9 Compatible 3D Video Card (or Higher)