The Secrets of Atlantis
Subtitled "The Sacred Legacy" in Europe but not in North America, and not on my copy, The Secrets of Atlantis continues the adventure game fascination with the Atlantean myth begun by the now defunct Cryo Interactive in Atlantis: The Lost Tales. Two more games followed before Cryo folded, but from the embers came Atlantis Interactive whose first foray was Atlantis Evolution, and now this.
Not only did the North American release drop the subtitle, it also changed the cover art, not an unusual occurrence but, in my opinion, a disappointing one. Set in the 30s with a distinct comic book noir feel about it, the European cover for The Secrets of Atlantis was a far better indication of the style of the product that lay within its cover.
I have played the Cryo games, but not Atlantis Evolution, and while it was some time ago, there were definitely semblances of how those games were constructed in this latest offering. Familiarity also arose from the lead character, Howard Brooks, not so much in his persona but in his voice, which is the same lead voice as in the first game.
The said Mr Brooks is an aeronautical engineer, working for the Zeppelin Airship Company. A voyage on the Hindenburg leads to a whack on the head, some sabotage, and some necessary zeppelin repairs, before an appointment in the Empire State Building sets Mr Brooks on the path to Atlantis — or at least, on the path to the path to Atlantis.
The world is a big place, and in The Secrets of Atlantis you get to visit a fair bit of it. From New York to Macau, on to India, then to Mesopotamia. It's a globe trotting race around the world against the sinister Thule Society, a sect with shady intentions. But not everything is as it seems.
The puzzles in The Secrets of Atlantis are a mix of inventory conundrums and pure puzzling. The inventory conundrums are not terribly difficult, by and large being logical and clear in their objective, and being stuck is more likely to be a result of not finding the particular item or the relevant hotspot.
The pure puzzles offer more challenge, but many have been trotted out in numerous other games, and some are variants on current classics. There are, though, a good number of them. They are pretty much all self-contained; you won't find yourself fiddling in one place and observing an effect somewhere else. Step up, activate the puzzle, and solve it — what you need is pretty much all on the screen in front of you. As such, despite the number, the puzzling seems a little lightweight, and some grander puzzles would certainly have been welcomed.
I did almost have a stroke when I came across what looked like a timed slider, but calmed down when I remembered what I had been told and behaved accordingly. Nonetheless, it was a slider.
A variant of Texas Hold'em Poker must be won, and at first it appears as if you are playing against the computer. However there is a single sequence that, once you play a few hands you should work out, and which will enable you to win reasonably quickly. The final game is played against the computer however, and is reminiscent of the bridge puzzle in Schizm which caused more than a few palpitations among players. A good strategy will see you through, but you may well lose a few times (or quite a few) along the way.
Most puzzles are integrated coherently into the game, or at least as coherently as you would expect in a search for Atlantis. You need to repair and paint a bas-relief to gain access to a temple, and repair the lifts to access the correct floor in the Empire State Building. Some are more contrived — why would you be given a puzzle by the doorman in order to enter the poker room you have already been permitted to enter, why can't you take a book you can see until you have had a particular conversation — and others are a little tacked on, but on the whole I was reasonably pleased.
The Secrets of Atlantis looks really good, especially in the cutscenes. They are sharp in their detail, in contrast to a slight fuzziness in the game world itself. The detail is excellent, especially the art deco look of the sumptuous Empire State Building, and some scenes, notably in India, are grand and rather beautiful. The scenes are a little still at times, but the excellent ambient sound adds to the quality of the gaming environment and there are some little touches that finish it off; for example, the casino on the junk in Macau rocks ever so slightly on the current. The designers have created a good place to be.
So too the game play is clean and simple. Point and click is your mode of perambulation, with 360 degree panning around a centre fixed cursor. Right click for the inventory, and to examine items and put them away. A plus is that having selected an item, you can "carry" it with you as you walk around, and it will remain available for use until put away. A small array of active cursors indicate actions triggered by hotspots. There is a bit of hotspot hunting, hindered in one location by murky lighting, and don't be fooled by the bees. Running your cursor over the bee hives will generate an action cursor every time you hit a bee, but save yourself the angst of thinking there is anything to do other than the single bee puzzle.
Conversations can be lengthy and detailed, and topics are indicated by descriptive icons. Exhausting a topic results in a shaded icon, but you can repeat the conversation should you want to review any details. Speech bubbles add to the comic book feel, and on the occasion you have other characters accompanying you, the character speaking will appear in an animated pictorial head shot at the bottom of the screen. I liked this touch a lot, as the animations are well done and added to the characterisation.
Whilst you will speak to other characters, and would be advised to do so more than once, there is a lack of people in most settings. This is, though, explained in most locations, albeit a little contrived.
I mentioned the noir style, and certainly there is a hardboiled feel to some of the events in The Secrets of Atlantis, but more so with the characters and dialogue. Howard Brooks is a chiselled Humphrey Bogart kind of guy, with an eye and a word for the ladies. The ladies themselves are not backward about being forward, and the repartee is at times cliched, over the top, and pure noir. It's good fun if you take it in that vein.
Character modelling is good to excellent, the head shots, in particular, during conversations being suitably expressive and exhibiting mannerisms in keeping with the characters. Indeed, I thought the characterisation among the leads was well defined, each rather distinctive and well supported by the voice acting. The little embellishments on Miss Pennington, though, were unnecessary.
The menu screen is a key stroke away and loads are almost instantaneous. There are 10 save game slots, which is many more than you need, but why they have to be limited escapes me. You can die or otherwise have your adventure end, but the game will automatically restore before the crucial moment, and many of the puzzles have a reset mechanism, so you can start from scratch if you have fiddled and lost your way.
The Secrets of Atlantis is by all accounts a big improvement on the previous game, and I enjoyed its mix of styles. I think it needs tweaking; some bigger puzzles and less regurgitation for sure, and I would ramp up the noir and give it a real Raymond Chandler feel from top to bottom. What is already there, though, is well worth playing and would suit a variety of levels of adventure gamers. And who knows, perhaps the undoubted next instalment will be a classic.
Copyright © Steve Ramsey 2007.
All rights reserved.
Windows 2000/XP/Vista, 1 GHz or higher CPU, 256 MB RAM, CD-ROM/DVD-ROM Drive, 32 MB 3D Accelerated Video Card, DirectX compatible sound card, DirectX 9.0c, 2 GB available hard disk space, mouse, keyboard.