Amerzone: The Explorer's Legacy

Developer:  Casterman
Publisher:  Microids
Year Released:  1999

Review by Gordon Aplin (August, 1999)
amerz.jpgIn a timeless ritual the native inhabitants of the Amerzone have always assisted in the regeneration of the fabled great white birds that soar endlessly above the still-active volcanoes of this mysterious 'lost world'.

But no world stays 'lost' forever and this idyllic existence is shattered by the "inevitable march of progress" in the form of the politician turned dictator who wants to raise his country from its primitive state by forcing it to modernise; the priest who wants to bring the civilising influence of his religion to the natives and cure them of their belief in the mythical white birds; and the explorer/fortune hunter who wants to make a name for himself back home. Each in their own way have a devastating impact on Amerzone culture, but it is the explorer who, perhaps, does the most damage with his betrayal of the tribe who healed him and the woman who loved him when he steals the massive egg that is crucial for both the tribe and the birds.

Time waits for no one
Now it is some sixty years later and the explorer, Alexandre Valembois, racked by guilt, wishes to return the egg to try to make amends for what he has done. For the egg is still fertile and contains all of the next generation of white birds. Unfortunately, time has just about run out for him and he is too old to make the hazardous journey.

This is where you come in. In this first-person perspective adventure game you are a journalist who has been interviewing Monsieur Valembois in his fascinating lighthouse home and he lays on you the task of returning the egg. Then he promptly expires. Fortunately, he has left behind his journal of his own expedition to the Amerzone in the 1930s and the means for you to retrace his steps, if only you can get his Hydrafloat contraption to work. And of course you must also locate the egg.

Sumptuous and simple
Amerzone (created by European artist Benoît Sokal) is a visual treat, the full-screen graphics are excellent and the animations involving the strange creatures you encounter on your journey are simply wonderful. The music and sound effects are also first-rate and contribute greatly to the overall atmosphere. The point and click interface is easy to use and the game allows 360 degree panning though the default speed of rotation may make some players feel a little queasy. Fortunately, there is an option to slow this down in the game menu which is accessed by pressing the 'Esc' key on your keyboard.

In this journey of re-discovery the explorer's beautifully illustrated journal is an important guide that also provides a few clues to aid you on your quest, you will need to refer to it at various times. Though the challenges you meet are not overly difficult as long as you are observant and diligent in searching your surroundings and this includes looking up and down as well as panning around. The story progresses in seven self-contained 'episodes' some of which are quite small with only a few locations to explore. This means that, for the most part, the solution to your problem is close at hand and obviates the need for backtracking. Most of the problems involve finding and using inventory items at the appropriate spot and your cursor changes to indicate where you can do something. Other problems include working out co-ordinates, finding passwords and grappling with the vagaries of the Hydrafloat which can function as a plane, boat, submarine, etc. Many adventurers will be relieved to know that there are no timed puzzles or action/arcade sequences.

Brief encounters
Besides the explorer you will meet a few characters along the way who will talk to you including Monsieur Valembois' two companions from the 1930s who also promptly expire shortly after meeting you, guess journalists just have that effect on some people. You don't actually converse with characters, nor can you question them, but you do find out what you need to know. Unfortunately, there is no text option for these brief monologues.

Amerzone is contained on four CDs and has a Myst-like quality to it though it is not nearly as complex. While experienced adventurers may find it to be relatively easy to complete and therefore a little short it is still quite an engaging game. Those players new to adventure games may find it more challenging, but it is very forgiving and won't let you make a mistake.

I know it is a tale of fantasy and mythology, but there is one glaring anachronism that is impossible to overlook and that is the explorer's Hydrafloat invention which used computers and floppy disks in the 1930s and seemingly travelled for miles on the smell of an oily rag. Surely if Monsieur Valembois had wanted to find fame and fortune he would have been better served by leaving the egg where it was and marketing his invention. He'd be better known than Bill Gates by now and considerably richer. Still, this doesn't really detract from the game so ignore my cynicism, suspend disbelief and enjoy Amerzone. rating:  

Copyright © Gordon Aplin 1999. All rights reserved.

System requirements:
Windows 95/98, Pentium 166 (200 recommended) 32MB RAM (64 MB recommended) 8xCD-ROM drive (16x recommended) Soundblaster or compatible sound card, 2MB graphics card (4MB recommended)