Reviewed: September 14, 2007
Released: May 29, 2007
The Secrets of Atlantis is yet another derivative, unoriginal take on the idea that ATLANTIS IS REAL and FILLED WITH PUZZLES. After a while, a veteran gamer such as myself begins to lose all patience with such games. Will any of them ever try anything new? When will they stop depending on the word "Atlantis" to move stock for them? How many Atlantis-themed point-and-click adventure games can The Adventure Company publish before they finally lose their appetite for the motif? Unfortunately, this last one is a question no one outside of TAC can answer, but let's hope that the answer is "soon."
In The Secrets of Atlantis, you play a beefy young white man with bad hair named Howard Brooks in a late-steam punk, 1937 setting with zeppelins and so forth. It isn't very richly imagined, but as a zeppelin mechanic, you end up on the Hindenburg, where things begin to happen to you courtesy of Shady Figures. Eventually, you end up floating all over the world solving puzzles, and then at last to Atlantis, where more stuff happens. The developers were going for a pulp fiction, dime store adventure novel feel in this game, but it's hard to tell from looking at it. All in all, there's nothing in this game that hasn't been done better elsewhere.
The interface is very basic--point and click to move; watch the cursor for indications that something can be interacted with; fill the inventory with pieces of pipe and ornate artifacts that just happen to be lying around. As usual, a lack of oversight as to what is happening as you interact with objects masquerades as added difficulty here.
A really satisfying puzzle is one in which players can see the basics of how something is working, but still have to work hard to make it function the way it should. Obscuring information, or making it monotonous and time-consuming to obtain (like having to walk three screens or more every time a wheel is turned to check its effects on the steam flow of pipes), is a cheap and artificial way to add playtime and difficulty to an adventure game. Unfortunately, there are too many puzzles of this type in The Secrets of Atlantis.
This game is unsatisfying from the moment it begins. The production values are so low it can be embarrassing to play, especially during interactions with other characters in the game world (more on that in a moment). Many of the puzzles are arbitrary, repetitive and flat-out dull. There aren't even any small innovations (such as a novel HUD or other user interface) to break the monotony of playing it. Aside from the fact that it does, in fact, run properly once installed, I can't find a lot of good to write about The Secrets of Atlantis.
Where to begin? I suppose the set screens are done well enough. As with most point-and-click adventure games, all of the backgrounds have been pre-rendered to allow for a high level of visual detail and quality in the settings of the game. However, the design aesthetic is uninspired at best. At worst, it recalls the mess created by a junior high school kid playing with Bryce 5 for the first time. This problem is worse at a distance. Any effect involving motion (such as steam shooting from a pipe) has been layered over the backgrounds in a marginally convincing way. If nothing else, at least the camera can be swiveled to look around, but movement is still from screen to pre-rendered screen.
The real ickiness begins when the game is forced to display human characters. Even the cinematic cut-scene at the beginning of the game looks like a mid-gen PlayStation 1 production. Characters move realistically at times, but look anything but realistic. Since it's obvious that realism is what the game was aiming for, this fact only makes it that much more pathetic.
Howard, the main character, is perhaps the saddest case of all--his hair looks like black mercury, thanks to the generic liquid texture chosen for it. It shines like a blob of bacon grease, colored to look like hair. On top of it all, characters almost always look cut-and-pasted into the game from another program, with slight graininess around their edges. Pixel for pixel, the hare-lipped human male avatars of World of WarCraft look more realistic, in their own way, than any of the characters in The Secrets of Atlantis.
About the only place that the pulp-adventure aspirations of The Secrets of Atlantis really comes through is in the game's sound package. The music is decent and atmospheric, though unfortunately it is not often cued to events in the game--that is to say, a theme that runs the gamut from mysterious to alarming will loop continuously in a zone, regardless of what is actually happening. At times the music seems to want you to be startled, but nothing whatsoever is happening in the game.
The voice acting is a bit above average for the type of game The Secrets of Atlantis is. The characters sound like bit players in a Casablanca rip-off, which is exactly how they should sound. The main problem is that there isn't more of it to offset the game's poor graphics and uninspired play experience.
Despite the fact that many of the puzzles are arbitrarily difficult, The Secrets of Atlantis does not offer a particularly good value. Replayability is very low, and there are no alternate game modes or extra content to speak of. The game is apparently the fifth in a loosely connected series of games focused on the legendary lost civilization, so a series fan might find the game a worthwhile purchase. Adventure fans in general would do better to look elsewhere for their fix.
There just isn't much more to say about The Secrets of Atlantis. Everything it offers is either totally standard (the gameplay) or a failed gambit (the 1930s atmosphere). Some interesting sets are ruined by yucky, grainy characters and effects, and the puzzles are bland at best, mindless and frustrating at worst. The story could have been scraped off the floor of the reject room in an adventure-story publishing house, and may very well have been.
I cannot recommend this game to any but the most ardent fans of the Atlantis series, and even then, be forewarned: lost continent or not, these games are beginning to get really old.