Mr. Bill's Adventureland Review
Reviewed by Mark Hasley
In my small and unimportant personal world, there are few 'Bests'. The 1968 Detroit Tigers were the best baseball team ever; Frank Herbert's Dune is the best Sci-Fi novel ever written; my 1969 Mustang convertible was the best car ever; and more importantly (for someone on this website) URU may well be the best PC game that I have ever played. While recognizing that there is no perfect game anywhere, URU still sits on that pedestal which is reserved for works of unmitigated genius. No waiting for my conclusion here. I really like this game!
That said, let me readily admit that URU lacks one major element that gamers seem to demand. There is virtually no plot to the thing. To be fair, there is an attempt at one. The game takes place in the present time. And early on the player is told by a hologram of Yeesha that he is to visit several different worlds and find seven 'Journey Cloths'. It is suggested that if this is done correctly there will be great truths revealed about how the D'ni lived and were eventually brought down.  Anyone who has played MYST or one of its sequels knows that the civilization of the D'ni was destroyed. The assumption here is that the city of D'ni has been discovered, and is being researched and reconstructed by some sort of archeological team (this reconstruction is the excuse for the presence of the orange cones that I mention later in the review). It is further assumed that the player has somehow been drawn to the game's starting point to begin a quest for some sort of awareness. It all makes little sense... and it matters not at all.
When the game is begun, the player is confronted with the design of his 'Avatar' (that's the 3rd person character that you play in the game). What makes the situation so special is that the Avatar can be anyone. The player gets to choose size, gender, weight, facial features, and clothing, as well as the color of everything, from shoes to eyes. For example, at first I thought that I'd play the game as a buxom 1950's blonde (I have no idea why... it just sounded like a hoot). But then I changed my mind and made my character male. After that I spent an hour fussing with all the variables. I made him look fiftyish. I made him appear twenty pounds overweight, semi-bald, gray-haired, and then added silver wire rimmed glasses. I matched skin tones and eye color, adjusted nose, lips and chin sizes, and dressed him in faded khakis, a golf shirt, and fairly ratty looking tennis shoes. Voila!!! The character in my game is... ME! So as the game proceeded, I got to watch ME solve all the puzzles and learn valuable stuff. What fun!
URU has so many unique characteristics that it's difficult to decide where to begin, but I'll start by noting that URU can be either a first person or a third person game. And the beauty of this is that it can be either one whenever the player chooses. The F1 key changes the game from first to third and back to first person anytime the player needs a different point of view. This is a clever and entertaining approach that allows for all kinds of interesting choices. Gamers can peek through doors, look out windows, read signs and posters, and then watch themselves do all that from a third person point of view. But there are also times when a first person viewpoint is not just fun, it's necessary. There are places in the game where the player must look down very carefully, or he will fall, and be returned to his 'Relto' to start again.
The interface is rather complicated and that has irritated more than one of my friends. But I found it to be effective, fun and generally perfect. Movement is usually controlled by the mouse, but it takes a bit of getting used to. For instance, when the mouse is moved left, the character goes to his left, not to the left of the screen. That means that if the character is facing the player, he will turn to the player's right when the mouse goes left (his right is the game's left). It seems very weird, but I got used to it quickly.
The game sometimes demands jumping and running. Running is facilitated by double clicking the mouse. Jumping is controlled with the space bar. All of these movements can also be controlled by the keyboard arrows, and I often used these to back away from something. And in addition to the controls already mentioned, there is a whole collection of frivolous, but fun, controls. The gamer can make his guy step left or right, wave, laugh, dance, sneeze, etc, simply by hitting Ctrl-1, Ctrl-2, and so on. These actions aren't necessary, and are silly... but so what? They add another unique aspect to an amazing game.
There are no inventory items in the game. At times some things (rocks, fish traps, bones, and other items) are needed, but they're always right there. They just have to be pushed around until they're in the right spots. A silly note here: lots of things can be shoved around. I lost hours in the game because I decided to push all of the orange plastic construction cones over the edge of something, simply because I could (my sons found my behavior very odd). And later, as I proceeded to different levels of gameplay, I would find these piles of orange cones at the bottoms of cliffs or stairways!
Now that the basic stuff has been mentioned, I can go on to discuss at length what really makes the game the wonder that it is. The player starts out in 'The Cleft'. This makes sense to anyone who's read the novels, because it was here that Atrus was raised by Anna (if you have no idea what this means, don't worry... you'll still love the game!). And the place is as beautifully exact as it possibly can be. The blue flowers, old living spaces carved out of the rock, and the D'ni machines are just what they should be. It is also here that the puzzle solving, note taking, and general gaming begins.
But once this place is dealt with, the gamer will link to the 'Relto', which is an island in the middle of the clouds somewhere. It is from this point that he will access four different worlds as well as several other oddly undefined places. Each of these worlds is amazingly different in geography and tone from the other three, and each is, in its individual way, shockingly beautiful. I don't want to overstep here and provide spoilers, but I think I can safely give brief descriptions of these worlds, since no description will be as effective as viewing them. The gamer can enter these worlds in any order, but he'll need to go to all of them to search for those 'Journey Cloths'.
The Teledahn Age is the most brightly colorful. It's a mechanical age full of giant mushrooms, falling spoors, oddly shaped birds, and a fast moving sun (some people have written that there's even a creature called 'Shroomy' here, but I've not been able to find it). This Age is brightly ochre, orange, and turquoise. It's also loud. The Kadish Tolesa Age is just the opposite. It is deep green with giant trees and dark, somber buildings. It is quiet, yet filled with the most beautiful background music of the game. The Gahreesen Age is also a machine age. It has huge, complex, austerely grim looking structures set in a giant forest. There are lots of mechanical noises. The Eder Kemo Age is actually two Ages. One is a brown, harsh looking desert area with a wonderfully rendered waterfall. The other half is a gorgeously flowered park area with fountains, gazebos, strange monuments and other beautiful things to see. And throughout all of these places the details are amazing. There are fish in the rivers. The sky brightens and then darkens as the sun comes and goes. Birds fly. Fireflies buzz. Weird and exotic foliage does things. It is constantly new and amazing.
There is, of course, more to this game than its graphics. After Yeesha appears very early in the game, there is no else to speak to, hence voice acting is not an issue. However the sound in this game adds an amazing dimension. When the player walks, he hears footsteps. If there is water to walk through, he hears splashes. Bees buzz, winds blow, in Eder Kemo a thunderstorm comes through often, and it is a humdinger. The thunder and the rain are audible. Again I cannot clearly describe all of the sounds because they all fit so perfectly, add to each scene, and are simply too good for me to explain.
At certain places in the game there is also a good deal of background music. It is tense, exciting, or (most often) hauntingly lovely. I have been known to start the game just to go to the museum in Kadish Tolesa simply to hear the music! I leave it on while working at my desk (my sons assure me that this too is 'odd'). But the music also fits the game, and it adds an emotional note to the visual situation.
Of course, like all of the previous MYST games, there are puzzles. Indeed there are lots of puzzles, even though none of them are inventory type puzzles. There are all degrees of puzzles. Some are quite simple, a few are extremely hard, but all of them are fair. Usually the player has to solve a puzzle to move on in a particular Age and find the next 'Journey Cloth'. Most of the puzzles open a door or power up a section. There were a couple of these that caused me a great deal of frustration. However after I solved one, I could always look back at my notes and see that there clearly was a reasonable clue. I just simply missed it. There weren't any timed puzzles that could kill you. If a puzzle is not completed in the allotted time, the character just has to start over. I'm assuming that anyone who plays adventure games has played at least one MYST game. These are all typical MYST puzzles. They're fun, fair, and clever.
There is one other item that I should mention. As a person plays this game, he'll wind up in several odd places where he can't escape without linking back to 'Relto'. And it may seem strange to be stuck on a balcony that isn't identified, looking out over a city that isn't part of the game. Just be aware that this was a rather brilliant marketing ploy on the part of the Cyan people. They marketed an expansion pack called The Path of the Shell, which includes the original expansion pack called To D'ni. And the player has to have both of these additions before he will be able to explore all of those places (areas that he was only allowed to observe before, while playing URU) as well as many other places. The expansion pack is large enough to warrant a separate review all by itself. Just be assured that it, too, is all that a game should be.
There is no way for a writer of my limited ability to accurately describe the care and attention to detail that is prevalent in this game. It is, quite simply, a work of genius. It allows for dozens of hours of immersive entertainment that is pleasing to the eye, the ear, and the brain. I'm really not sure of what else to say... except to tell you to be aware that there is more to it than I could ever show. If you want a violence free, discomfort free, completely engaging game, then you definitely want URU.
© April 2005 Mark Hasley
Developed (2003) by Cyan Worlds and published by Ubi Soft Entertainment.
Rated: E for Everyone
Minimum System Requirements:
PC: Pentium III 800 MHz Processor; Windows 98 SE / 2000 / ME / XP; 256 MB RAM; 4X CD-ROM Drive; 32 MB DirectX 9.0 Compliant Video Card (800 x 600 16 Bit Display Required) (Supports NVIDIA GeForce 256/2/3/4/FX Families; ATI Radeon 7000/8000/9000 Families or Better); DirectX 9.0 Compatible Sound Card; 2 GB of Free Hard Drive Space; DirectX 9.0b; Mouse and Keyboard
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