Mr. Bill's Adventureland Review
Reviewed by Mr. Bill & Lela
This beautiful game was created with input from adventure gamers, and it certainly shows. In an unprecedented move while it was still in development, the writers asked gamers on public forums about their preferences in things like settings, characters, and puzzles, etc. It is obvious that many of those suggestions were incorporated into the final product... and the result is a truly magnificent and totally immersive game.
In a lot of ways it reminds us of The Longest Journey, one of our all-time favorite games. Of course the story here is based on the classic Jules Verne novel by the same name. But that story has now been updated and given a decidedly different contemporary twist, with almost mystical overtones, and a modern young heroine who is faced with a moral dilemma.
The year is 2005 and you are Ariane, a beautiful and ambitious young photojournalist who has been sent to get pictures of Iceland's harsh uninhabited landscape for a travel magazine. But you have no sooner landed in the frozen crater of an old volcano, when a freak rockslide destroys your helicopter, and your pilot is lost. Alone and desperate to find a way out, you enter a dark crevice in the surrounding rock, only to find yourself suddenly falling, headlong and unconscious, through a hole in the earth.
When you finally do awaken, you discover that you are stranded, indeed a prisoner, in a hitherto unsuspected world located far beneath the earth's surface. It is a vast, achingly beautiful world, one that is inhabited by both strange prehistoric beasts and perhaps even stranger people. There are two distinct races, and they have formed two unique and diametrically opposed utopian societies: one based on science and technology, and the other on nature and psychic ability. Two completely different, perfect, peaceful civilizations... and yet somehow, something seems amiss. And the more you see, the more you become convinced that this seemingly perfect world hides some terrible dark secret.
But you'll worry about all that later. Right now you've got to find a way out of here, and get to the press! You've accidentally stumbled onto the scoop of a lifetime, a discovery so momentous that it's almost guaranteed to bring you instant fame and fortune, and it will make your career! But what if revealing the existence of this beautiful world leads to its destruction? Could you live with that? You're on the horns of a dilemma, and you must decide soon...
This is a 3D, 3rd person, point & click game, with a smart cursor, optional subtitles, and unlimited saves. Volume of both voice and music can be adjusted at the beautifully designed, antique-looking main menu. So can the resolution, but the game is best played at 1024 x 768 with 32 bit color. And it is important to have the latest video drivers, in order to avoid choppy cutscenes and possible crashes.
The labeled inventory has also been expertly designed and is easy to use. A simple right click toggles it on and off across the bottom of the screen. In addition to found items, it contains Ariane's camera, which she uses automatically to take certain photos, plus a marvelous simplified version of her laptop computer. It functions semi-automatically, and is used as a multi-tool device to view her photos and documents, do analysis, send and receive limited emails, and read the latest news bulletins from the surface. It beeps and flashes whenever anything new has been added, and we recommend that you always look at the new information.
The full screen graphics are absolutely stunning, with spectacular beauty and fantastic scenes wherever you look. You will visit places as exotic as a giant mushroom forest and a prehistoric inhabited(!) savanna, and as utilitarian as a working diamond mine and a quaint bustling city with a suspended monorail... all made believable with realistic weathered details, unusual camera angles, and sharp resolution. The water looks real enough to swim in, and the cutscenes are truly magical. Among many other delights, you will ride in a helium balloon and a submarine, adopt a baby dino, and even pet a Triceratops!
We could hardly wait to see what came next. And the sound effects are perfect, adding to the illusion. You find yourself almost shivering in that cold, whistling wind on the volcano, and tempted to go wading in the gentle rolling surf that you hear at the village. But it is the soaring and lyrical philharmonic theme music that really puts this game over the top. It is simply beautiful... so very good that we always had to stop whatever we were doing, and just listen, whenever it was played.
The subterranean world is alive with people and animals all moving around on their own agendas, but not all of them can be interacted with. When you can talk with someone, dialogues are relatively brief and well written. Voice acting varies, with some better than others. But Ariane herself is excellent: she's smart, independent, likeable and convincing. And we particularly liked the voice of the shaman, Adam.
As you search for some way back to the surface, you discover that there is a big mystery to be solved. So it is a long game, which is divided into 6 major parts or levels. And although some of the locations and puzzles are non-linear within a particular level, you can't move on to the next part of the story until everything has been completed in the last. Of course there are two possible endings to this story, but in another innovation that we haven't seen elsewhere, one choice logically results in much more gameplay than the other, and you play 2 full additional levels: all 6 instead of only 4.
The story is emotionally involving and tense at times, but gameplay is relaxed and unhurried. You can't die and nothing is timed. The game is loaded with puzzles integral to the surroundings, and they usually involve doing something to help others. They are inventory based or logic and strategy (no mazes), and they range from very easy to quite difficult. You should be aware that some hot spots are small and not easy to find, and that some things may be hiding behind Ariane, or behind your inventory if you've left it open. And some hot spots and conversation options don't become active until after a certain action triggers them, so always retrace your steps if you're stumped. Even so, there is still one killer puzzle (Initiation Alley) that you'll almost certainly need a walkthrough for... we sure did!
We experienced no serious difficulties after we updated our video drivers, but we did encounter several minor technical glitches. Most of them appear to be the result of insufficient testing, and could probably be easily fixed with a patch, like a missing hot spot icon on an item or person, or Ariane occasionally walking through people or things. And we think the videos would run smoother if they fixed the refresh button on the main menu. Our game did freeze once in The Valley of the Spirits, so we do recommend that you save after each part of that puzzle, even if you're using a walkthrough. And sometimes it was very frustrating trying to get Ariane to move where we wanted her to go.
But in our opinion, these minor annoyances pale by comparison to the good points of the game. We enjoyed every second of it, couldn't wait to get back to it, and really hated to see it end. There is no doubt that this game will join our list of favorites, and we highly recommend it!
© December 2003 Mr. Bill and Lela
Visit the Official Journey To The Center Of The Earth Website to learn more about the story; view fantastic screenshots; download the demo, trailer, and some beautiful music; and much more.
Developed (2003) by Frogwares Game Development Studio. Published by Viva Media (in North America) and Micro Application (in Europe).
Minimum System Requirements:
PC: Pentium III 500 MHz Processor (Pentium III 600 MHz Recommended) ; Windows 98 / 2000 / ME / XP; 64 MB RAM (128 MB Recommended); 8X CD-ROM Drive (24X CD-ROM Drive Recommended); 16 MB DirectX Compatible Graphics Card (32 MB DirectX Compatible 3D Accelerated Graphics Card Recommended); DirectX Compatible Sound Card; 700 MB of Free Hard Drive Space; Mouse
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Walkthroughs or Hints: