Mr. Bill's Adventureland Review
Reviewed by Mark Hasley
At some time during the summer, I was forced to accept the fact that my beloved Detroit Tigers were a lousy baseball team, television was full of re-runs that I hadn't enjoyed the first time, mowing and tending my lawn had become bit wearying, and MYST V wasn't going to be released for another three months. These four situations combined to motivate me to go to a store and purchase a new adventure game. I found and bought VOYAGE: Inspired by Jules Verne. I almost wish that I hadn't.
At first, VOYAGE seemed to fit my requirements for an entertaining game. It has a first person, point-and-click interface, it's based on a rather old semi-classic piece of literature, it contains some interesting puzzles, and the game doesn't require the player to kill anybody. There's only one problem with all of those facts. Somehow, all of those positive characteristics combined to form a rather lousy game.
According to the promotional material that I had read previously, the story is from a classic tale written by Jules Verne. But in truth, it's more like what Jules Verne alluded to in From the Earth to the Moon. In his story, the characters missed the moon and returned to Earth. In the game, one of them actually lands on the moon and stuff happens. The gamer here plays Michel Ardan, a French scientist and explorer who, along with two friends, is in a space vehicle that has been launched from a giant cannon and is supposed to strike the moon. However as the game begins, the player, as Ardan, wakes up to find his two friends dead and himself the apparent victim of amnesia. He is hurtling through space, has no clear idea what has happened, and needs to do something quickly or he will miss the moon entirely and be lost. What to do next constitutes the first puzzle... and the game is on.
As mentioned above, the game has the first person, point-and-click type of interface that I always find enjoyable. The cursor points to the various directions in which a player can move. It also changes to a very weird looking brass claw when an action can be taken, or an item picked up. When the cursor becomes a magnifying glass, that item can be more closely examined. The game seems to defy being called linear or non-linear. Sometimes the player must get through one step before attempting another. Sometimes it doesn't matter. There aren't that many different places to go, but different rooms in the same area seem to open up at different times. But all in all, there's nothing new here, and it all works correctly and does what it's supposed to do.
When an item is picked up, it goes into this huge inventory area. Here the player can store several dozen (In fact, there are spaces for eighteen dozen!) inventory items. He can sort them however he chooses so as to be prepared to use them when needed. But of course until he needs them he won't know what they're for, and so as the game proceeds, and dozens of items are acquired, they just get stuffed into empty slots and will then be extremely irksome to find. There are also several other items available in the inventory. There's a log where all of the conversations go. There's a collection of cartoon pictures that report what has happened for awhile. And there's a collection of answers to previous puzzles that the player can apply to upcoming puzzles. Simply put, this inventory has a lot of stuff.
Many of my personal decisions as to the worth of a particular adventure game are based on the graphics. And the graphics in this game are odd. They cover the full spectrum of evaluation. Some are excellent, some are lousy, but much of the game is just visually dull. The backgrounds are generally rather complicated and impressive. They are all presented in the slightly grotesque, misshapen, but weirdly real Salammbo-style that showed up a few years ago. These backgrounds seem grim and foreboding. Even the colors seem odd; most of the time there are only five, and even these are generally limited to specific areas. The rest of the areas are just various shades of gray. They do, I suppose, look like the moon, but they also look rather dull. And because of these rather foreboding backgrounds, a player might well expect something fairly nasty to appear, and yet there was no indication of a villain in the game. So this is where I began having second thoughts about VOYAGE.
But as long as there were only backgrounds to observe, I could assume that part of the problem was me. I didn't like the style, and wanted a bit more (or sometimes less) color, but the drawings were well done and the three dimensional artwork was consistently professional and effective. However this was not true of the creatures that Ardan must deal with. They were a bit foolish looking, and were drawn in a rather basic two-dimensional way. So the effect was as if someone had taken the complicated backgrounds of Disney's Snow White and used them with Hanna-Barbara characters. Again, it simply looked odd.
The sounds were adequate. The music wasn't particularly important, but it usually fit the mood of the scene. The voice of Ardan was fairly well done, although why a French explorer would speak English with such a vile accent is beyond me. The creatures just sounded silly. They had this strange 'whistle and bell' language that went away after a particular puzzle was solved. After that, they all sounded like Midwestern insurance salesmen.
Initially, the puzzles seemed to be the main strength of this game. There were several different kinds of puzzles, and all seemed solvable. They were, at first, even clever. The player could die, but he was immediately returned to the exact spot and could attempt to solve the puzzle again. There was no loss of what had been accomplished in the game. However as the game proceeds, the player finds himself having to solve the same type of puzzle again and again. Not only does that pall, but also the huge inventory (which has room for all found items with lots of space left over) won't allow the player to pick up more than three of anything. Often the game requires four or five of something, so poor Ardan has to go back again and again to get items that he knew he needed, but couldn't carry. There are also a few times when things that were used to solve puzzles have to be returned to wherever they came from. So the gamer then has to go and redo a secret gate or puzzle that he's already completed in order to return the items that he needed to solve the puzzle in the first place. If that sounds convoluted, it was, and is.
There are also a couple of other things that bothered me. Nothing seemed to continue throughout the game. At first, there was a series of drawings available in the log that helped inform the player as to what Ardan had accomplished so far. It was a bit like a journal and seemed rather helpful if the player has been away from his computer for a few nights. But after awhile this stopped, and no more drawings appeared. It also bothered me that every once in awhile the writers of this game didn't seem to be too sure about how to advance the story. So when this problem arose, they simply drew a rather cartoonish picture, stuck it in the middle of the game with some appropriate verbiage, and went on. This seemed a rather lazy approach to plot development. There were also a few items that seemed to be stuck in the game for no apparent reason. There is, for instance, a chicken to which Ardan speaks. They have one very brief conversation and then the chicken gets huffy and won't talk any more. All in all, whoever put the plotlines together had no shame. If the plot became awkward, he didn't bother to rewrite, rethink, or edit. He just stuffed in a cartoon, a talking chicken or some other non-connected element, and moved on.
I suppose there must be the obligatory paragraph describing what was good about the game. It should be re-noted that several of the puzzles were unique and clever, although this advantage was lost when the same puzzle had to be done four or five times. The several cut scenes were quite beautiful, but this seemed to make the rest of the animation in the game look even more childish. The only thing I was really impressed with was the ending of the game. I won't give it away, but any gamer who has played Return to Mysterious Island will find the end of VOYAGE to be rather cute.
I'm not a big fan of negative reviews, but this game simply had little that the gamer has come to expect. More than anything, it gave the impression of an old Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland movie. There were probably a bunch of people just sitting around and someone said, "Hey, let's make a computer game!" So the result was a hodge-podge of stuff, with some individual value but no general continuity. There was also, sadly, a significant lack of entertainment value.
© 2005 Mark Hasley
Visit the Official Voyage Website to learn more about the story, view more screenshots, download the trailer or music and more.
Developed (2005) by Kheops Studio and published by The Adventure Company.
Rated: T for Teen 13+ (blood, some violence, use of alcohol)
Minimum System Requirements:
PC: Pentium III 800 MHz Processor (Pentium 4, 1 GHz Recommended); Windows 98 / 2000 / ME / XP (Windows XP Recommended); 64 MB RAM (128 MB Recommended); 16X CD/DVD-ROM Drive (24X Recommended); 64 MB DirectX 9.0 Compatible Video Card; DirectX 9.0 Compatible Sound Card; 1.3 GB of Free Hard Drive Space; DirectX 9.0; Keyboard, Mouse and Speakers
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