Atlantis II / Beyond Atlantis
For many generations the descendants of Seth, hero of Atlantis: The Lost Tales, have been the keepers of a secret of which even they are only dimly aware. Now something has happened to awaken that secret and it may be related to the appearance of a new 'star' in the sky.
A young man named Ten is drawn by a strange compulsion to follow an eagle into the Tibetan mountains. There he finds an equally strange craft and a levitating Shaman who is the Guardian of the Crystal. The Shaman provides 'enlightenment' by outlining the background to the story. He tells of a mysterious power that came from space long ago and how it came to be split into Light and Dark. He further explains that, as a descendent of Seth, Ten is the Bearer of the Light, and that the Light must travel to the Dark, which is hidden away in Shambhala, to be reunited. Thus begins Atlantis II, but before Ten can find Shambhala he must complete the road which has been broken into six pieces. Three pieces (triangular stones with markings on them) are readily available and each of these leads, indirectly, to the other three. To find these remaining stones Ten must complete tasks in Ireland, China and Central America and 'inscribe' his journeys on the crystal which the Shaman gives to him.
Though the themes of this story, Light and Dark duality, recover sundered pieces, etc., are not new they are handled reasonably well in this game and take a novel approach in that Ten must explore these three diverse cultures in the body of a character from those lands. So Ten indulges in a spot of astral travelling and 'becomes' Tepec in the Mayan story, Brother Felim in Ireland and Wei Yulan in China. In each self-contained world the sudden appearance of the star is seen as a portent of change and related to a myth or legend of that culture which Ten (and you) will experience whilst you are there. This, I thought, worked very well, and I liked the way the legends from each of the cultures was intertwined with the actual event of the Crab Supernova which was recorded by Chinese astromoners in 1054. I was less enamoured with the Shambhala ending which, for me, lacked the depth and coherence of the three main stories and involved a different type of astral travelling.
Atlantis II is a first-person perspective adventure game with occasional third-person cut sequences. The gameplay is greatly improved compared to the first game and doesn't feature the annoying sudden death sequences that marred the original. This means that you won't be regularly repeating chunks of play in order to continue, although there are a couple of frantic puzzles involving a spider's web in the Mayan jungle that may frustrate some players. Here I did slip into repeat mode as I was thwarted time and again by monstrous spiders, and got a good dose of arachnophobia into the bargain. I guess this is the one, obligatory puzzle that designers put into adventure games to appease arcade players who probably won't play them anyway. I do wish they wouldn't do it!
However, spiders notwithstanding,Atlantis II is a beautiful game and much of the time you will be exploring the three wondrous lands and talking to characters to learn what problems you must assist with and what tasks you need to perform. And it's not as easy as it sounds as you really need to immerse yourself in each world in turn and learn a little of the background mythology before certain puzzles will begin to make sense. For example, you may need to find out about an ancient Celtic tree 'alphabet' or a Mayan numbering system before you can begin to solve them. Generally the puzzles are a rather eclectic mixture that fit in nicely even when not completely in context and include a couple of simple mazes, a sliding tile/jigsaw and some logic and mechanical-type problems. While you are completing these there are many inventory items to collect and use and lots of breath-taking scenery to admire and explore.
I thought the graphics in the first game were pretty impressive, in Atlantis II they are simply stunning. Not mere 'eye candy', but a visual feast! I especially loved the Ireland section where the dark, ominous clouds climbed like mountains out of the surrounding mist. The characters too are greatly improved and are quite remarkable in their detail. Instead of stony, alabaster-like faces you now converse with 'real people' with their own distinct features and personalities aided by some very creditable voice acting. The music is ideally suited to each world and, as we have come to expect from Cryo, is excellent and evocative, at times hauntingly so.
Atlantis IIonce again uses Cryo's Omni 3D engine and this time they have wisely included the option of enabling a small centring cursor which effectively lets you orient yourself within the game environment and overcomes one of the major gripes players had with the first game. Navigation is easy, the cursor becomes an arrow to show directions you can move and provides two animations to indicate when you can talk to a character or when you can use something in the gameworld.
The game comes on four CDs and allows up to five players to have a different game in progress at one time. It also remembers where you were when you exit the game and restores automatically upon your return. There are plenty of save game slots and the usual options for adjusting sound effects, music and speech, screen resolution and subtitles.
Atlantis II has some slightly surreal aspects, but overall it is a most enjoyable adventure game. I thought the individual stories in Ireland, China and the Mayan world were interesting, varied and quite evocative though the overall premise lacked the cohesive storyline of the first game. To that extent the links to Atlantis: The Lost Tales are only tenuous so it isn't necessary to have played that game before embarking on Ten's adventure. I'm pleased that Cryo have shown that they are prepared to listen and act upon suggestions for improving gameplay and in that respect they have certainly implemented many improvements here and ultimately produced a fine game. Now, if only I could get them to reply to my numerous requests for review copies of their games. Once again we have to thank a kind Quandary reader for loaning us this game to review.
Copyright © Gordon Aplin 2000.
All rights reserved.
Win 95/98, P200 MHz processor, 32 MB RAM, 8x CD ROM drive, 2 MB video card, Soundblaster-compatible sound card, 70 MB hard drive space, DirectX 6.0 (supplied with game)