Release Date: June 2001
Do we really, really need another game about the lost civilization of Atlantis? I don't think so. But for once, a game about Atlantis is actually invigorating and whimsical instead of the usual mystical mumbo-jumbo we are usually force-fed.
In the case of Disney's Atlantis: Trial by Fire, after seeing the movie and playing the game, I got to wondering which came first: are scenes from the movie based on the game, or is the game an extension of the movie? Hmm ... tough call, especially since most of the game seems to be following the plot of the movie, or wait, is the movie following the plot of the game? Whatever the case, it is great that software companies are finally releasing games simultaneous with the feature movie instead of six months later. Plus, how can you go wrong when both game and movie feature the voice of Michael J. Fox?
Atlantis: Trial by Fire looks like a first-person--well, I don't want to say shooter since you really don't "shoot" anything. We need to come up with a new description for some of these games; how about first-person adventure (FPA)? It looks like Quake but is nonviolent and involves puzzle solving! So anyhow, this FPA has you playing as one Milo Thatch, and you lead an expedition to find the lost city of Pittsburgh. Wait a minute, someone already found Pittsburgh, let me check my liner notes--okay. that should have been Atlantis. We're looking for the lost city of Atlantis. And, not to ruin the ending for you (major spoiler alert!), but we will find Atlantis!
But it is what happens in between the beginning and the end that matters most, and Trial by Fire successfully manages to be a game that is attractive to the mindset of the mainstream gamer. It is challenging without being impossible, and it is addictive but not to the point where you forget about the real world. In other words, it is the perfect entertainment. To be up front, hard-core gamers would probably find Atlantis a piece of fluff, but this game wasn't made for them, it was made to attract new gamers to the fold and to encourage parents to sit down at the computer with their children.
Still, to attract the mainstream gamer, you need eye-candy and plenty of it. Atlantis uses the impressive 3D Lith-Tech engine, and, when combined with some Disney cel-animation, you're looking at some darned impressive graphics. The plot, while extremely predictable, does manage a smooth story progression between the eight playable levels of this FPA. You never feel as though you simply reached the next area accidentally as each level is goal-oriented.
Trial by Fire gets off to a rip-roaring start with a wonderfully cinematic opening, and the next thing you know, you're attacked by a Leviathan sea monster and must maneuver an escape pod to freedom. You find yourself piloting the pod through the depths of the ocean and before long are following a course to Atlantis provided by members of Captain Rourke's exploration team. Through the use of the Shepherd's Journal and radio transmission, the party members will guide you to the ancient ruins. What impressed me most about almost all of the levels in the game is that they constantly managed to convey a sense of tension. In many ways I thought the levels similar to a Disneyland ride--you always knew you were safe, but there was an underlying rush of danger--and in fact it would not be so farfetched to create theme rides from the sea-pod or zeppelin levels of the game.
There are a few things that should have been done differently, though. Probably the one thing I despise the most in a game (next to a maze) is that video game mentality that puts you back at the beginning of a level when you save. While this might be fine to extend the game's length for a hardcore gamer, this game is not intended for them, and some mainstream gamers may be put off by this repetitiveness. There is also quite a bit of jumping and running, though it really is not some of the atrocious, humanly impossible gyrations we've come to expect from characters like Lara Croft. Of course, there are enemies or monsters that must be overcome, but Disney has wisely decided to forgo the violent nature usually associated with this type of game--Thatch instead uses various tools to temporarily overcome obstacles. Strangely, in what must be seen as an attempt to get casual games involved in Internet gaming, Atlantis offers multiplayer capabilities over the Internet so gamers can compete against in each in Capture the Flag and similar diversions.
If you are looking for a pleasant diversion--a game you can play for too long and not feel guilty--then by all means put on your goggles and fins and do some exploring in the ocean depths. Just be prepared to come up for air occasionally.
Final Grade: B-
If you liked Atlantis The Lost Empire: Trial By Fire:
Play: Beyond Atlantis
Watch: Atlantis the Lost Empire
Pentium II 266 MHz
64 MB RAM
8 MB video card
350 MB free hard drive space
Direct X 8.0 (included)