The year is 1904 and Curtis Hewitt is aboard the steamship Lemoria returning home to New York after completing a photo shoot in Patagonia. Close by Bermuda a storm brews and Curtis is ordered below deck.
The ship creaks and groans in the turbulence and his cabin rocks drunkenly. The porthole flaps open, no matter how many times Curtis shuts it. When he ventures outside the order is given to abandon ship. In the driving rain Curtis clambers into a lifeboat. He survives the sinking ship only to be sucked into a whirling column of water.
He survives again, this time to find himself floating gently on a tranquil sea, a curiosity for circling sharks. But he has travelled far, or that two headed bird that alights on the lifeboat is a new earthly species. Then more surprises. The bird takes flight as an airship hovers above and Curtis is once again pulled towards his destiny.
It's a promising start with excellent rain and raging sea effects. Curtis comments that he was impressed with the futuristic technology, and I was impressed with the game as I slipped into his shoes, explored the airship, diligently made note of the wall murals, solved a simple puzzle, and ended up a captive in the Orientation Centre of that strange Atlantean land.
Alas, I then experienced the first of many, many deaths as I began this adventure. I also faced the first of 8 or so arcade/puzzle style mini games of the type that were around in the early 80s. A small maze challenge is first and it's quite easy, but you do have to die a few times to recognise what's happening. Later there's a game resembling Pong, a Hanoi Towers challenge, a couple of missile shooting affairs, as well as one dodging challenge, a snaking line game and a Sokoban (crate pushing) puzzle too.
Now I doubt that these little puzzle/arcade type games will challenge fans of such games because they only have a couple of levels of difficulty, and I certainly can't see them enthralling adventurers. I found a couple irritating being repeatedly returned to square one to try again, but other players will probably be more frustrated by different ones. More than this, though, all of them are out of place in this otherwise wondrous land. They completely sever the atmosphere of the game. They don't belong in good adventure games, especially not in such abundance!
But as I helped Curtis make his escape from the Orientation Centre, I was unaware of what was to come. Of course the aim of the game is to explore and discover where you are and, hopefully, how to get home. Talking to the inhabitants of a small settlement nearby the Orientation Centre will reveal that all is not well and very soon your own experiences will confirm this. It's a rigid, regimented society, ruled by the gods who demand complete subservience and allow for no free will or independent thought. The chatter of the few characters you meet leaves you in no doubt of the abhorrent situation.
There are, of course, some deviants who evade 'orientation' and they are the key to your escape. Help them and they will help you. Ultimately you'll learn what happened in Atlantis and your place in the story is a fantastic tale indeed!
After quenching his thirst Curtis is soon free, at least intermittently, for the next step of the journey. But, sadly, he is being pursued by guards, and they are diligent pursuers. They chase him (you) through a maze-like forest where there's barely time to look ahead let alone find branching paths or search for objects that might be useful. So it's a matter of taking a few steps, get zapped by the guards, return to square one and begin again. It's far from conducive to finding the elusive items you might need to progress. And this is not helped by the lack of information because you don't even know what you are looking for.
There is some reprieve from pursuit after this chase but you are soon plunged into another forest maze, this one even more tangled than the last. Keeping your bearings is difficult and so is navigation and finding items because there is so much on the canvas making it easy to miss potential hotspots. This time Curtis does give a clue as to what to look out for, but only if you're lucky enough to strike the right pathway early on. If not you will likely spend much time waving the cursor everywhere on screen in the hope of finding something to break the deadlock!
Be prepared! Soon after escape from the forest maze you'll be back attempting to defy death once more, and very likely experience it again and again, this time in the sneaking part of Atlantis Evolution where the guards are waiting patiently to nab you. As you start out here it's a matter of finding ways to evade the guards but as you progress timing is more crucial. Fail and your life ends and you find yourself back to the start of the sequence.
There is no easy way of avoiding death. My advice, if you are determined to persevere, is to save each time you progress. Experiment till you move on, then save again!
You can relax now and enjoy the scenery, this is where the game gets better. There is no more inevitable dying although I suspect you can if you don't pay attention at the end. There are more characters to meet and some familiar adventuring puzzles although they never get too difficult as the characters clearly signal what needs to be done. In fact I was a little disappointed here as one of the more interesting puzzles seemed to resolve itself. And, towards the end, another puzzle annoyingly broke the rules by not providing a conventional hotspot.
What a shame Atlantis Evolution didn't live up to its early promise because the graphics are gorgeous. From the initial cutscenes with the rolling waves and swirling waters, to the busy forests with vivid, exotic plants, swarming insects, snakes slithering underfoot and butterflies fluttering across your path, it's a world that's potentially wonderful to explore. The music is also good, and not too intrusive, even when you're stuck for any length of time.
The character modelling, too, deserves mention. Curtis' movement is fluid and lifelike and he's friendly, with a sense of humour and not too macho, which I appreciated. He even has a touch of naivety. Other characters work well also, many of them over-the-top in their appearance and their dialogue. In fact the dialogue is generally well delivered and I smiled a few times at some of the lines, they certainly communicate the messages you're meant to receive loud and clear. There's not much subtlety, but it fits in well with the ambiance of the story.
Atlantis Evolution is a first person perspective game although you see quite a lot of Curtis in conversation and cut scenes. Conversation is handled quite smoothly with small graphics to select for questioning. The inventory appears at the bottom of the screen at a mouse click and you can save whenever you like and enable subtitles for the dialogue.
I can only end by repeating that Atlantis Evolution is a highly frustrating game. If looks are all that count then it's very good looking, but as an adventure game it falls short of providing a satisfying experience. It would have been much improved minus the mini games, with a lot less dying, and with more attention paid to the adventuring puzzles.
Copyright © Rosemary Young 2004.
All rights reserved.
Windows? 95/98/ME/2000/XP, Pentium III 800 MHz (1 Ghtz or Higher recommended), 64 MB RAM (128MB recommended), 32x CD-ROM drive (24x CD-ROM Drive recommended), 32MB Compatible 3D Video Card (or Higher)