adventure gamers who've acquired the sixth sense needed to navigate
quickly through item hunts may enjoy Journey to the Center of the Earth
for its engaging story and often-beautiful environments."
cues from the world envisioned by Jules Verne in his science fiction
classic of the same name, Journey to the Center of the Earth is a solid
but somewhat flawed adventure title that puts players in the role of
Ariane, an ambitious young photojournalist who stumbles upon a
mysterious new world when stranded after a helicopter crash.
in the early 1990s, when adventure games ruled the PC section of
everyone's local Babbages, LucasArts and Sierra were kings. Their entire
stable of adventure titles – Grim Fandango, Monkey Island, Day of the
Tentacle, Kings Quest and Space Quest – all had a strong element of
humor, and their puzzles required players to pay close attention not
only to the their surroundings, but also to clues dropped in
conversations with NPCs.As
for Leisure Suit Larry… well, let's just say that as a 13-year old, I
probably would've played through Captain Novolin if there were pixelated
may be a little unfair to compare Journey to the Center of the Earth
with titles from adventure gaming's heyday. But, what disappointed me
about this game was that it's got a great story, several beautifully
designed environments, a solid score and decent voice acting, yet the
puzzles players have to solve to move the game's action forward seem
overwhelmingly dependent on inventory items.
leads to a couple of problems. Adventure games are all linear to some
extent, but the best titles manage to skirt that problem with those
"Eureka!" moments that make players feel that they are driving
the story line. A missed or misleading clue in a conversation with an
NPC, for example, can take players down the wrong track, but when the
pieces do come together, the satisfaction makes up in spades for any
frustration. An absorbing mystery does begin to unfold about a quarter
of the way through Journey to the Center of the Earth, but it never
quite feels like players are doing that unfolding. Instead, at many
points a random assortment of items is collected and combined,
essentially to manufacture keys that unlock new parts of the story.
course, item hunting is a longstanding tradition of the adventure genre.
Who among us has not witnessed the scope – and, indeed, the sting –
of the adventure game designer's wit when a spark of static electricity,
prompted by a shuffle across a bearskin rug, converts a bit of pocket
lint into a ring of inter-dimensional travel?
combinations and uses of inventory items don't always have to make sense
for a game to work, but for a game that relies heavily on items, Journey
to the Center of the Earth doesn't cut players much slack in finding
them. Many adventure titles assist players by having characters glance
at items and points of action as players troll them around each new
screen. Ariane, as a photojournalist, must be more interested in the big
picture, because she spends her time admiring the scenery as you use
your mouse to hunt for anything and everything that's not bolted to the
do occasionally drop hints about items scattered throughout the game (as
in, find X, Y and Z for me), but playability could have been greatly
enhanced if even the most cryptic clues were provided about the location
and potential usefulness of some of the other items. As it is, the game
prevents you from leaving anything important behind as you progress
through the story with a simple comment by Ariane. "I must have
forgotten something" she'll say, and balk at moving on. That works
just fine at the beginning, when you're trying to get her to descend
into a cave and she hasn't gotten any equipment out of her crashed
helicopter. It quickly begins to fall a little flat, though,
particularly when the thing you've "forgotten" is something
you won't understand how to use for another 4 hours of game play.
are a handful of entertaining, well-integrated brain-teasers sprinkled
throughout the game, such as one that requires players to create a
sequence of sounds referencing mysterious, squiggly tablature and
another that requires players to determine which ball, among a set of
12, is the lightest by using a scale only three times.
as I've mentioned, the story is actually pretty good. There's a
mysterious old man that lets you loot his mastodon hut, a missing pilot,
dinosaurs, a race of giants, a couple of rides in a blimp, a cool
underground city and a conspiracy to solve. And with a branching story
line, you, as Ariane, at one point have the opportunity to sell out the
entire hidden world you've discovered for the betterment of your career,
or to finish solving the conspiracy and alert others.
that’s what makes the game's poorly designed item hunts such a
problematic flaw, often bogging down the pace of the story with what
eventually begins to feel like an artificial element of toughness.
Suspense, intrigue and double-crosses are the currency of any plot
revolving around a conspiracy, and throughout the game, I felt as if the
NPC interaction had been tweaked just a bit – perhaps causing players
to think a little more about who Ariane's real allies were – that the
plot would have improved significantly. Unfortunately, too many of this
game's "Eureka!" moments occur when players backtrack, pixel
hunt, and see a little hand pop up next to their cursor.
(spoiler alert?) I felt that the writers squandered an opportunity to
overlay the story with a real sense of urgency and dread. Very early in
the game, the leaders of the underground world caution you that there is
a massive war about to break out on the surface. They also inform you
that several years have inexplicably passed since you descended
underground. One of the game's unique devices, e-mails to Ariane's
laptop from concerned friends on the surface, could easily have been
used to continue this theme throughout the game with miscommunications,
but instead you find out really, really, really, really quickly that
these guys underground are either lying or mistaken. (End spoiler? Does
it count as a spoiler when the game's designers were the ones that
games, supplanted by the much simpler puzzles of action-adventure and
the think-on-your-feet-before-a-zombie-eats-your-face mentality of
survival horror, have become something of a dying breed, although they
continue to enjoy the loyalty of a small but devoted group of players.
Frequent adventure gamers who've acquired the sixth sense needed to
navigate quickly through item hunts may enjoy Journey to the Center of
the Earth for its engaging story and often-beautiful environments. But,
less experienced players are likely to find themselves frustrated by
challenges that ultimately have little to do with the story.