Reviewed by Mark Hasley
Once upon a time, when many of us were significantly younger, the world was a much different place. The comic section took up about eight pages of the Sunday paper. Television, which forced people to stand up and walk across the room simply to change the channel, was in black and white. Men almost always wore hats and women almost always wore skirts. In those olden days, fictional American heroes were usually shown as manly, lantern-jawed, cryptic, handsome ex-soldiers. Men envied them, and women wanted to be with them. Women weren’t even women. They were 'Gals', or even 'Dames'. Terry and the Pirates was a Sunday comic staple, and Soldiers of Fortune appeared on television, where John Russell wowed the TV fans with his tales of daring-do. (This was really a long time ago. You can look it up!) Times were indeed very different.
If anyone is wondering why I mention any of this stuff when most of today’s game players don’t even remember the 1970’s, let alone the 1950’s, it’s simple. I just finished playing one of the most entertaining games that I’ve ever played. It took me back to the days mentioned above, and did it wonderfully. Aside from a few operating glitches, this may well be the perfect adventure game. The Secrets of Atlantis: The Sacred Legacy is a game not to be missed.
In this game, the plot, setting, and characters all coexist exquisitely. The gamer is introduced to (and then plays the game as) an intrepid fellow named Howard Brooks. It is early in the year 1937, and Howard is crossing the Atlantic on an airship (the Hindenburg, no less!) when he is accosted by two broad-shouldered tough guys, wearing fedoras, who threaten him and then thump him on the head. They proceed to disable the airship before they escape in the scout plane. Howard, being the aforementioned intrepid hero, shrugs off his concussion, saves the Hindenburg, proceeds to his meeting in New York, repairs and saves the Empire State Building... and then agrees to assist a mysterious but well-intentioned millionaire to seek an ancient collection of artifacts that will allow his associates to learn all the secrets of Atlantis. Brooks then proceeds to travel, via the Hindenburg, to several exotic spots as he attempts to complete his quest. If this all sounds a bit trite, it is. What makes it so much fun is that it is all done so perfectly. Even the 'exotic spots' are entertainingly different. Howard goes to China, but never somewhere trite like Hong Kong. He goes to Macao instead. In India he goes to some gorgeous but isolated area with a secret and incredibly beautiful temple, not some clichéd and overpopulated, if romantic, urban location.
The characters too are easily identified. Brooks meets a good many people in his travels, and they are all easily recognized. The most obvious character is Kate Sullivan. She is to meet up with Howard and assist him in his quest. In true 1930’s fashion, when she finally appears she turns out to be the proverbial 'blonde bombshell'. The villain is a greedy, narrow-eyed, highly competent bad guy. However he’s not evil or motivated by communion with the devil. He’s just a villain. Brook’s inevitable 'sidekick' is a brave but disillusioned military officer who constantly makes gloomy allusions to 'The Great War'. These three and the other dozen or so characters with whom the gamer becomes acquainted are all excellently developed and fit perfectly into the plot. They are all people, not cartoons, and the gamer has no difficulty accepting them as part of the story.
The Secrets of Atlantis is very definitely a linear game. There are few variables allowed as the player proceeds. But it should be noted that since it’s also a really cleverly written game, that linearity is not always obvious at first glance. Even the interface has a sense of being old fashioned. It’s a traditional point and click type. The game allows the player to scan 360 degrees, but the cursor stays in the center of the screen and changes shape when there is an opportunity to pick up an item, use an item, or interact with an item or a puzzle. Any gamer has been here before. There is an inventory that is easily accessed with the mouse, and if a document in the inventory needs to be read, this is readily accomplished with a right-click. There are nine save game slots, but they are easy to overwrite and since this is a linear game, a player won’t need more than that. Conversations are dealt with by simply clicking on the individual with whom Brooks wishes to converse. All in all, everything is of the ‘old and reliable’ type.
There are, of course, a few new wrinkles in every new game. The innovations here are clever and provide even more entertainment for the game. The game's screen itself appears on your computer like a wide-screen motion picture. There are black rectangles at the top and bottom of the screen throughout the game. At times Howard (the player) finds himself wandering through a situation while in the company of one associate or another. When that occurs, a small picture appears in the upper left hand corner of the screen. It’s a simple thing, but because of it the player never loses track of whom he’s with or whether or not he’s alone. And at times that knowledge really helps in deciding what to do next. I also found it clever that while there are subtitles for all the conversations, they appear at the bottom of the screen as conversation balloons. Again the appearance of an old adventure comic is reinforced. Another interesting difference is that whenever a cut scene must play in order to show a key unlocking a lock or a door opening, the scene is played in a smaller rectangle in the center of the main screen. Somehow this makes the scene clearer and more a part of the action. I can’t explain why, but it works to perfection. The interface is generally very simple, very effective, and somehow keeps the player involved in the myth that he is actually part of the game, not just playing it.
The several characters in this game all seem to be carefully acted. Each voice seems to match the visualization of that particular character. They’re all stereotypes, but each person sounds perfectly normal for the context in which he speaks. The elevator guys are friendly but not too bright. The rich antiques collector is pleasant, but a bit distant and very rich. The wise old man of the mountain is a bit daft, but clearly full of ancient knowledge. Even the Chinese bouncer is only gruff and a bit harsh, not vile and disgusting. Every person to whom the player speaks seems to be clearly that person, not someone else. The voice acting is excellent throughout.
As I conclude this section, it strikes me that what is really going on in The Secrets of Atlantis is the same as what went on in the original MYST game and its sequels. This is a game where the producers spent a lot of time making sure that every element of the game matched every other element. The tone of the game is consistent and complete throughout. Once you enter the world of MYST, everything in the game is appropriate to MYST. And once you take off in the Hindenburg, everything in the game is appropriate for that time, that place, and that mood.
Obviously, the graphics also contribute to this feeling of completeness. Most of the backdrops are pre-rendered, but they are so effective and so attractive that they too fit without exception. For instance, I haven’t been in New York City since 1962, but if the Empire State Building doesn’t really look like it does in this game, they should alter the building, not the game. The sunset seen in Macao harbor in so gorgeously presented that I spent about five minutes just spinning around and looking at it. The temple scenes in two different locals are breathtaking, but both places seem as though they actually might exist. All the visuals are impressive. When Howard Brooks enters Mr. Foster’s study to discuss business, the impact of the room’s overdone Art Deco design sets the perfect tone for the mysterious millionaire’s plans for Howard. There is a huge goldfish pond in the floor, for heaven’s sake. Everything is overdone, over detailed and generally just wonderful.
Even the characters look like they’re supposed to. The men are tall, broad shouldered, and all wear wide-brimmed fedoras and ties. They have weathered, craggy, ultra-masculine faces. Kate Sullivan dresses in skirts, blouses, and other kinds of women's clothes. There is no attempt at girlishness here. The backgrounds are full of odd but interesting details. The game is a visual joy. Indeed it is often like watching a favorite movie. There is nothing on the screen that doesn’t fit and add to the game.
But before I discuss the puzzles, I do need to mention a problem with the game. The blasted thing didn’t always run very well. At times, for no particular reason that I could discern, the game would arbitrarily dump me back to the desktop. I attempted many corrections (clean starts, uninstalled programs etc.) but nothing cured the problem completely. I became so paranoid that I finished the last half of the game while saving about every ten minutes. I hope that it was either a problem unique to my computer or that it was something a patch can fix. Because whatever the cause, it really took a great deal out of an otherwise joyous gaming experience.
Like all adventure games, the real value of The Secrets of Atlantis lies in the puzzles. This game provides a collection of puzzles that seem to run the gamut from fairly easy all the way to 'kick-the-dog-and-yell-at-your-mother' difficult. And there are lots of different kinds of puzzles here. There are mechanical puzzles, inventory puzzles, and decode-the-symbols puzzles. There’s a Sudoku puzzle. There’s even a ‘Texas hold ‘em’ poker game. There is one slider puzzle with an added twist that may well send the gamer screaming out to roll in a snow bank until he figures out what exactly is going on. The game even ends with a traditional find-the-route puzzle that will also precipitate some irritation (and a good bit of profanity!). Given the amazing variety of games and puzzles, it’s safe to say that there is at least one that a player will love, and there is probably at least one that will drive him nuts. However it’s not the variety of problems that is really notable here. The real beauty of these puzzles is that each one of them is fitted flawlessly into the story. I have never played a game where each puzzle is so exactly where it should be, answers what it should answer, and seems completely reasonable in its location. Not only are they perfectly placed, but also the answers are always reasonable and acceptable once the puzzle is completed. I never once felt that I had been cheated and that the answer was an unfair trick. Like the rest of the game there is little innovation, but there is a lot of thoughtful excellence.
It is surprising to me that I enjoyed this game so much. My requirements for an enjoyable game usually lean toward fictional fantasy worlds and secret, mystic modes of transportation. I have always loved MYST’s books or Sentinel's teleporters. I might even have been disappointed with the fact that this game, often billed as Atlantis V has virtually nothing to do with the other four Atlantis games. That being the case, it seems odd to find myself all aglow about a game that takes place on this planet at a time when a Zeppelin was considered ‘cutting edge’ technology. All I can say in support of my very positive reaction is that whoever put this game together has, with great concern and a careful eye for detail, created a game that does what that person hoped it would do at all times. Every plot element, character, scenic view, detail, and puzzle fits into the pre World War II tapestry with constant perfection. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Indeed, I’ve already arranged to borrow a newer, bigger computer, with a really big monitor, so that I can play it again. I’m more than certain that anyone who plays this game will not be disappointed with any part of it. In fact, I’ll bet that, like me, before that person is even halfway done with it he’ll be thinking, "This is truly fine…  I hope there’s a sequel"! I’ve had this sort of hope before, but I have a feeling that this time neither I nor anyone else will be disappointed.
© February 2007 Mark Hasley
Visit the official Secrets Of Atlantis: The Sacred Legacy Website to learn more about the game, enjoy a video trailer, and see more fabulous screenshots.
Developed (2006) by Atlantis Interactive Entertainment and published by Nobilis Group.
Rated: 12+ European rating equivalent to our Teen (13+) Rating (violence, gambling, sexual references)
Minimum System Requirements:
PC: Pentium III, 1 GHz Processor; Windows 98 SE / 2000 / XP; 256 MB RAM; DVD-ROM Drive; 32 MB, DirectX Compatible Video Card; DirectX Compatible Sound Card; 2 GB of Free Hard Drive Space; DirectX 9.0c; Mouse and Keyboard
Where To Buy This Game:
OR: see our Places To Buy Games for other sellers around the world
Walkthroughs or Hints: