October 21, 2004
The Adventure Company
Release Date: October 2004
Moons ago when most of you were but a twinkle in your adventure gamer parents eyes, there was a company from France named Cryo that had a reputation for developing strikingly beautiful adventure games - such as Dragon Lore and Lost Eden - that often lacked substance, at the expense of eye candy.
Well, to steal a line from the little girl in Poltergeist, they’re baaack.
Cryo was dissolved in bankruptcy a few years ago, but much of their talent has been rehired and reformed into a new European development team under the auspices of Dreamcatcher so I guess I in a way it would be fair to call the new team Cryo-Lite.
Atlantis Evolution is the first in what is too be a new series of games based on the fabled city made famous by Donovan and some guy named Plato. Now there had been a previous series games based on the Atlantean mythology (Atlantis,Beyond Atlantis, etc.) and, no surprise, we have reviews of them on this very site, but it would be unfair to compare a game that is supposed to be a departure from the series to what has gone before.
The year is 1904 and Curtis Hewitt, a 25-year old photo-journalist from New York City, is on his way home after an assignment in Patagonia (for those who are geographically challenged, Patagonia is in Chile). Trapped in a vortex that plunges him into the heart of the New Atlantis, he is first an unwelcome stranger and then a god in a land ruled by archaic faith and governed by high technology. His main mission is not only to return home, but to also liberate the people of New Atlantis who live under the domination of a family of ruthless gods.
Curtis is a rugged, lightly bearded individual who will have young girls swooning and the more mature gamers wishing they were twenty years younger. But his voice acting is often over-the-top and is at times too fluffy and does not at all fit my idea of what a turn-of-the-century New Yorker should sound like. He has no hint of accent and his vocabulary is too modern. One thing he does possess though is that New York hard-edged, sarcastic attitude and while I personally found it to be a little off-putting, most others will probably not have a problem with it (especially those from New York). The goddesses we encounter late in the game are appropriately whiny, but they also sound too much like Valley Girls. In fact, much of the voice-acting is simply melodramatic when it need not be. The drama should arise from the story, not from vocal intonations. Of course, a lot of this could have been overcome if the dialogue was not so lame. I’m not asking for Shakespeare here, but neither do I want to listen to what sounds like a Flash Gordon serial.
The Atlantis Evolution development team promised Pixar-Disney-like graphics and they’ve delivered big-time. The graphics are eye-dropping gorgeous and finally adventure games will understand why aficionados of games like Doom 3 go gaga over graphics. Early animations of Hewitt’s steamer sinking and, late in the game, some holographic images are the best I’ve ever seen in any adventure game.
That’s the good news, the bad news is that free flowing sequences are interrupted by 2D mini-game arcade sequences that are so vastly different from what we have been seeing that they are actually jolting in appearance. These mini-games include variations of Choplifter, Pong, Frogger, Hanoi Towers and others. No, I’m not kidding. The rationale behind including these mini-games is that they are always in the context of a machine that must be reprogrammed or defeated if the hero is to progress. They are not difficult to beat, nor will you need pinpoint reflexes, but they make not one whit of sense and the only reason I can even conceive that they were included (and I’m just speculating) is their inclusion would make it easier to sell the game to a console publisher. If I were to tell you that inserting such mini-games into an otherwise gorgeous game is the worst decision I’ve ever seen in an adventure game, well, I wouldn’t be exaggerating.
The machiavellian plot that is eventually unraveled is worthy of Terry Dowling forays into the adventure genre, but until we reach the eventual plot twists and denouement which comprise the last quarter of the game, we have to trudge along with a hackneyed, seen-this-a-thousand-times-before script and lame dialogue. While the last few hours of gameplay are absorbing, they only serve to make you yearn for what could have been had the same momentum been sustained for the entire game.
For almost seven years now I’ve had the luxury of imposing my point-of-view on those crazy enough to hang on my every word and one thing I’ve made clear over the years is that I hate mazes. Hate ‘em. Now I realize that hate is a pretty strong word, but I would rather be locked in a room strapped to a chair and forced to listen to William Hung perform Streisand’s greatest hits before I would face another maze in an adventure game. Of course there is a reason I bring this up and it is a huge jungle maze – not so cleverly disguised as a search for the source of a stream – that had me inventing new swear words for the New Atlantean vocabulary. If that’s not bad enough, then consider this, not only do you have to work your way through this maze, but you have to also look for hotspots to collect inventory items that you don’t even know you need until after you have left the maze. Which means of course, that you then have to re-enter the maze to find these items. And it is for this reason that I too will, from this day on, be calling them American Fries.
Almost, but not quite, as bad as the jungle maze is a sequence in which you must run through a different set of woods and, while trying to stay one step ahead of the evil guards, search for obscure hiding places in tree trunks and nooks in cavern walls. What suspense there could have been is negated by not only the quickness by which the guards often appear, but even worse, you never hear them coming. Unfortunately, this occurs earlier in the game and not only does it blow chunks, but it may also discolor the more timid gamers perspective and discourage them from playing past this point.
The music and ambient sounds are by the same (awarding winning) composer who worked on the previous Atlantis games. The soundtrack is noticeable, but not intrusive and knows the exact moment to cue the appropriate mood music or sound effects. Probably the highest praise I can pay is that it did not get on my nerves when I spent endless hours in the jungle maze (which I’m sure you’ve hoping I don’t mention again).
Many of AE’s puzzles are triggered either through dialogue options, stealth sections or the mini-games, but there are also the requisite inventory-based puzzles. While I would not consider any of the puzzles unfair in nature, neither would I consider any of them to be too difficult for the average gamer. There is one puzzle near the end of the game that I absolutely loved – though it does cheat somewhat as there is no hotspot indicated to give you an initial idea as how to proceed – but I don’t feel like typing ‘spoiler alert’ so if you’re stuck at the end of the game, feel free to drop me a line.
So what we’re left with is a game that has major highs – the plot, the graphics, the soundtrack - and major lows – the arcade sequences, twisty jungle mazes, lame dialogue and timed events.
By my reckonings that balances out to an average game, but the AE development team shows great potential and I get the same feeling from them that I do from Frogwares, that they have a classic adventure game in them waiting to come out under the right guidance (crack that whip Lorraine!). I present as evidence the day and night differences between Frogwares Sherlock Holmes: Mystery of the Mummyand Sherlock Holmes & The Case of the Silver Earring and look forward to the future.
Final Grade: C+