Atlantis: The Lost Tales

Developer/Publisher:  Cryo Interactive Entertainment
Year Released:  1997

Review by Gordon Aplin (August, 1997)
atlan.jpgThis game is a visual and aural delight with sumptuous full-screen graphics, smooth-flowing movement, and an immersive 3-D environment, all backed up by a haunting soundtrack. "Wow!" I thought, as I watched the introduction and commenced playing, I was sure I was going to enjoy it. And, I am also sure that I would have enjoyed it were it not for a couple of 'features' that I found particularly frustrating, but more on this later.

Atlantis is a first-person perspective adventure game with some gorgeous third-person cut sequences. The introduction shows you, Seth, a young man arriving at the palace on Atlantis to take up your position as a Queen's Companion. You soon learn that all is not well as Queen Rhea has been attacked and kidnapped, and your first task is to investigate her disappearance. Before long you are at the centre of an Atlantean power struggle where patriarchal forces are attempting to overthrow the peaceful, goddess-worshipping society that has long existed. Their aim is to usurp the powers of the moon-goddess, Ammu and to install the minor diety, Sa'at, the sun-god, as the one, true, god. If successful the patriarchy will be able to establish a king as ruler instead of a queen, systematically oppress women, and go off to fight wars against less powerful people. Fortunately, Seth is loyal to Queen Rhea and Ammu.

Death by a thousand cuts
I hadn't progressed too far into the game when I came across what was, for me, the most annoying 'feature' -- timed reaction sequences with almost no time to react. There are several of these throughout the game, and each one requires you to work out what you are meant to do as you are doing it. Hesitate for just a split second and you're dead. So you end up playing the same sequence over and over as you try out different actions desperately seeking for a solution, other than death, to put you out of your misery.

This would have been bad enough had you been able to save your game each time you made progress, but you can't. The game saves automatically after the completion of certain set portions of the story, and should you die or otherwise fail before completion you are restored to the beginning of that 'episode'. To be fair, in most cases you are returned reasonably close to where you 'failed', but there are a few notable exceptions where you must replay longish sequences just to get back to where you were. This only adds to the frustration when you click through a long conversation for the umpteenth time only to die again at the end of it because you didn't choose the correct option or you didn't 'turn and click' quickly enough.

The sad part about all this is that Atlantis isn't really an action/arcade game at all, there is no combat to speak of, no hack and slash, and what 'action' there is revolves around avoiding enemies. So why put these fast reaction sequences in a game that many adventure fans would otherwise enjoy? The rest of the game is acceptable adventuring fare, involving exploration and conversation, finding items to help you overcome obstacles, following cryptic clues and unravelling the story, and it even has a few, fairly easy logic puzzles thrown in here and there. Needless to say, I quite enjoyed these aspects of the game, though I must admit the threat of further fast reaction sequences also spoiled my leisurely exploration of the beautiful locations as I never knew if my next step would be my last.

Disappearing cursor
Another feature I didn't particularly appreciate was the absence of a useful cursor for navigation. As a mouse controlled game, Atlantis presents a golden arrow on screen to indicate when you can move forward or turn, but this arrow only appears when your mouse is in the right position both vertically and horizontally. So to position yourself means using your mouse to waver the screen viewpoint around until the cursor appears. If it doesn't make you nauseous, you'll get used to it after a while. The same goes for the action cursor. Once again there is no focus point on screen and you must simply wave the mouse around until you find the tiny 'hotspot'. This is an innovation that doesn't work well as it's extremely alienating removing much of the illusion of 'control'. Also having no easily identifiable focus point to 'do' things makes the fast action sequences even more difficult.

The essentials
Atlantis takes up four CDs and installs to Windows 95 utilising DirectX. The game will also install to DOS if you need it. Don't even think of buying this game if your computer is not up to speed. I initially started playing it on a machine that barely met the minimum specifications and it was slow. I also found it almost impossible to get through the fast reaction sequences -- by the time it processed my frantic click I was dead. As soon as I installed it to a P200 the difference was remarkable. The graphics flowed smoothly and seamlessly and I seemed to have more breathing space when I was called upon to react.

The game does provide the option for on-screen text, though there are problems even with this. Text does not appear in all of the cut sequences and there are important clues in some of these scenes. Also, one of the puzzles provides verbal hints but these, too, do not appear as on-screen text which may make life difficult for some players. Pressing the 'Esc' button once you are in the game allows you to access this and other options. You can also reload previous automatically saved positions if you wish to backtrack for any reason.

I really loved the graphics and the music and the story was interesting, though the dialogue was rather dreary and predictable. I really wanted to enjoy Atlantis, but it didn't live up to its early promise, it became frustrating and annoying for the reasons already mentioned. Of course, if you love rapid reaction sequences in adventure games then, please ignore my complaints, this one might just be for you. Just a final thought, the Atlanteans must have been at the forefront of cloning technology as all the guards looked exactly the same.

See the Atlantis: The Lost Tales walkthrough. rating:  

Copyright © Gordon Aplin 1997. All rights reserved.

System requirements:
Minimum: Pentium 90 (130 recom.), 8MB RAM (16 MB recom.) Quad-speed CD-ROM drive,
1 MB video RAM, SVGA graphics card, SoundBlaster compatible sound card.
Mac 68040, 12MB RAM, Quad-speed CD-ROM drive, SoundManager 3.0 or later.