Release Date: March 2012
You’ve been there. You’re on a long, interstellar voyage. You’re blissfully chillin’ in cryosleep. Suddenly and unexpectedly, you’re thawed out only to find out all hell has broken loose!
This formula has worked from Alien to System Shock and System Shock 2 and beyond. And it still works in the sturdy new adventure J.U.L.I.A..
You play astrobiologist Rachel Manners who is astonished when she is woken from the deep freeze on just such a voyage to learn that none of the rest of her crew remain on the ship! Her only sentient companion is the ship’s A.I. named J.U.L.I.A. Rachel learns that they are in a mysterious solar system and that all of her companions were thawed out long ago and have since departed for parts unknown.
J.U.L.I.A. is a fun game to review because it does so many things right!
It’s Made by Designers Who Love the Genre
You can feel the love the designers of this game have for the adventure genre. It oozes out of every pore of the game. It makes you want to call them up and sit around and have a conversation about everyone’s favorite old adventure games.
It’s a Garage Game
I love garage games that are better than garage games are supposed to be. J.U.L.I.A. was almost entirely created by just two talented people in Brno, Czech Republic. I don’t know what the budget for this game was, but it couldn’t have been particularly large.
And yet, while it’s definitely a modest production, the game looks great.
Well-Designed, Organic Puzzles
The only thing I like better than finding a set of excellent puzzles in an adventure game is finding a set of excellent puzzles which are well-integrated into the context of the story. The designers of J.U.L.I.A. do an outstanding job in this regard.
I found the puzzles to be consistently clever, fun to work on, visually interesting, and, again, well-connected to the plot.
The interface with the ship’s A.I. J.U.L.I.A. really frees up the designers, because your main character is stuck on the ship while your roaming bot drops down to the various planets in the system to explore.
And in a twist worthy of a Zelda game, more of the solar system becomes available to you as upgrade your Mobot. It gives you a classic adventure game sense of progression as your puzzle-solving efforts gradually open up the game world.
As you guide Rachel through her uncovering of the various mysteries which surround the disappearance of her crew, you will excavate a rich, fascinating, and sometimes upsetting story. It turns out your shipmates were awfully busy while you were still sleeping, and not always doing activities you will be that happy about.
As you uncover their stories, you also make contact with various entities on the planets in the star system you’re exploring. They, also, have a rich history which becomes more and more compelling as you get more and more involved with it.
Fair or not, I frequently judge a science-fiction-themed game by whether or not I think it feels like it could be a good science fiction book. And J.U.L.I.A. most definitely meets this standard.
All is not gold in J.U.L.I.A., however. It suffers from some of the same problems that many World Market projects suffer: Bad translations. There is a LOT of conversation in this game between Rachel and J.U.L.I.A., and much of it is clunky, particularly the attempts at humor. These conversations, even with fantastic translations, could also do with a bit of judicious editing.
There’s a lot of variety in the game’s presentation, which I quite enjoyed. There are brief, nicely done pre-rendered cinematics, 2D exploration screens, and lots of flat panels representing schematics, maps, circuits, etc. These allow for a tremendous variety of puzzles.
Several times you have to use available resources to re-create a schematic for an upgrade to your equipment. There are translation puzzles, light-up-all-the-nodes puzzles, and one fun 2D, gravity-based Dig-Dug-style challenge late in the game that’s quite fun. There’s also one important boss fight, but it’s presented in such a puzzle-like fashion that I don’t think it’ll offend adventure purists.
J.U.L.I.A. isn’t going to change your life in any significant way, but it goes back to many of the tried-and-true tropes of adventure games in a fun and rewarding way. Its medium length (about ten hours) keeps it from overstaying its welcome, and the moral decisions you face at the end may have you reloading a save to check out both of the game’s endings. I think you’ll be glad you picked up J.U.L.I.A..
If you liked J.U.L.I.A. …
… play their upcoming iOS J.U.L.I.A. prequel J.U.L.I.A. Untold
…see the upcoming Prometheus
… read The Black Corridor by Michael Moorcock