Lying on the deck, Curtis stared into the sky. It seemed to be such a pleasant June night. With the stars flickering in the distance, Curtis was not worried about anything. The landscape photographer was on his way back from a successful assignment in Patagonia. Soon he would be back home, perhaps getting ready for an exciting new assignment. Or so he thought...
The storm seemed to come out of nowhere. Within minutes the boat was struggling in the midst of massive waves. One of the sailors informed Curtis that the captain ordered the photographer to wait inside his cabin. But this was not a storm the ship would survive. In a flash, Curtis found himself on a small boat trying to row away from the sinking ship. He was completely alone in the middle of the sea, unsure he would live through the accursed storm.
Within moments, Curtis’s boat was getting sucked into a whirlpool. It seemed the young man’s life was about to end. Yet his boat did not get capsized. Curtis did not drown. The whirlpool transported him to a mysterious realm. It was part of our world, yet it was different. Before the photographer even had a few minutes to take in his surroundings, a strange aircraft appeared above him. A beam of light lifted Curtis and his boat out of the water. The photographer was trapped inside the strange machine.
After a short journey, the aircraft landed on an island. Armed guards greeted Curtis. The photographer was not about to receive a warm welcome. They were calling him a “deviant”, claiming that the young man had strayed from the “Beaten Track of Humility.” They had one thing right, Curtis was confused and disoriented. Yet the young man gathered that this place was supposed to be New Atlantis. Apparently, those who fled from the wreckage of original Atlantis had formed a new civilization.
But none of that was going to matter if Curtis failed to find a way to get away from the guards. They were talking about strange gods. Evidently, Curtis was beyond the gaze of some deity called Enna. While that alone sounded like a bad thing, Curtis was more concerned about the prospect of being recycled! He had been deemed far too deviated from the “Beaten Track.” Realignment as out of the question, Curtis was to be recycled. And that certainly did not seem like a pleasant experience. The photographer did not truly understand why he was being called a “deviant” and why the Atlanteans felt a need to recycle a human being, but if he wanted to stay alive, he had to run. Curtis would have to discover the secrets of New Atlantis and outwit the guards before he could find a way home.
Atlantis Evolution gives players a chance to rediscover the Atlantis universe in a whole new way. While it is part of the series started by Atlantis: The Lost Tales and continued by Beyond Atlantis I and II, this adventure game marks a new beginning in many ways. The developers have moved away from the storyline in the Beyond Atlantis games. You will not be traveling to different parts of the world, discovering ancient and mystical places in search of greater truths. Instead, Atlantis Evolution explores what happened to the inhabitants of the mysterious city from the original game that started the series.
While it has a different structure than the Beyond Atlantis games, Atlantis Evolution is a much more direct sequel to the original game. Players finally get a chance to find out what happened to the inhabitants of Atlantis after the events of the first game. Players who enjoyed Atlantis: The Lost Tales will most likely enjoy discovering the depth of the connection to the latest chapter especially in the later stages of the game.
One noteworthy aspect of the relationship between Atlantis Evolution and the first two games of the series is the soundtrack. Pierre Esteve is back as the composer in Atlantis Evolution. If you have played Atlantis: The Lost Tales and Beyond Atlantis, you will quite likely notice some similarities in the musical style. You might even catch remixed versions of a couple of tracks taken from the previous games. Even as the storyline evolves and shift focus throughout the series, the music helps establish a connection between the new and the old.
The game takes place in the mysterious island that is the new home of the Atlanteans. A long time has passed since Seth’s adventure in Atlantis: The Lost Tales and the people seem to have established a rather peculiar new civilization. The guards and the aircraft you encounter at the very beginning of the game clearly show marks of highly advanced technology. Yet the villagers seem deprived of all but the crudest tools. They are expected to work extremely hard to appease their gods. Confined to their humble homes, they are denied all forms of luxury and even the simplest tools that would make their jobs easier. Their lives are monotonous. Even the thought of straying from the ordinary is considered heresy.
A strange pantheon of gods reign over the Atlanteans. These so-called ascended beings command tremendous respect from all citizens. They do not openly dwell among the citizens, but the gods are still ever-present and always watchful. Zanat is honored as the grand creator. The indisputable leader of the pantheon, Zanat is the maker of the sun. He is the one who has given the gift of light to the civilization. His sister Enna constantly watches all Atlanteans. She is the one who makes sure the citizens do their jobs and do not deviate from the “Beaten Track”. Sama, the goddess of the sun brings daylight to the Atlanteans each morning. Her sister Kama is the goddess of the moon, casting her pristine light across the nighttime sky. And then there is Cosmo, the god of death. He is the grand punisher. Nobody can escape the god’s wrath. He delivers justice to those who would dare to deviate.
New Atlantis is a land of oppression. Independent thought and innovation cannot be a part of this civilization. The citizens are expected to obey without question. The people are obligated to be humble and unfaltering in their faith in the pantheon. This would be a difficult world to comprehend for any stranger. Yet things are even worse for Curtis. He is hunted by the authority for being different, for being a “deviant.” Surviving the island and finding a way back to his old life will not be an easy task.
Atlantis Evolution is played from a first-person perspective. The game features a simple mouse-driven interface with 360 degree panaromas. You move the mouse to look around the environment. An arrow icon is used to indicate that you can move in the pointed direction. If you can interact with an object, the mouse icon turns into a cross. The inventory is accessed with a right click and appears at the bottom of the screen. A right click on an inventory item brings up a detailed close-up view. Once you select an item with a left click, you can close the inventory and attempt to use it on the environment.
The storyline is the strongest element of Atlantis Evolution. Discovering New Atlantis and understanding the island’s culture is an interesting experience. As you come to learn more about the oppressed inhabitants and the gods who rule over them, the story gradually grows more engaging. But the best parts of the plot are not revealed until the last stages of the game. When you finally unlock the mystery behind New Atlantis and gain a thorough understanding of the events that lead to the current state of the island, the true quality of the plot is revealed. Despite the relatively slow middle section of the game, interesting plot twists in the later stages and the imaginative history of the civilization makes for quite an entertaining and at times even fascinating tale. Unfortunately, other elements of the game severely hurt the experience, ultimately making Atlantis Evolution a difficult game to recommend.
The problems begin to emerge at the early stages of the game. When you start exploring the island and meet some of its inhabitants, you quickly realize that much of the dialog does not bring any value to the game or add to the complexity of the storyline. The conversation system is simple and will be familiar to players who have followed the Atlantis series. Clicking on a character brings up a list of conversation topics represented by icons. Players select individual topics, which causes Curtis to ask a question or make some kind of comment. Most of the time, the other character responds with a couple of sentences. On some occasions though, the conversation goes back and forth for a small amount of time, revealing more details. If you have heard all the other character has to offer about a particular topic, the corresponding icon gets dimmed on the conversation list. Conceptually, this system works fairly well. But there are some problems with the execution in Atlantis Evolution.
The biggest issue is that in many cases all the topics of conversation are not really necessary. Regardless of which topic you choose, you get a variation of the same response, offering no concrete details. Thus you can end up asking about several allegedly different topics to obtain virtually no new information. The problem is occasionally further augmented when multiple characters give you almost identical responses. Of course some of this can be justified by the fact that the citizens of New Atlantis are extremely fearful of their gods and seem very hesitant to make any statement that might upset the deities. The developers may have also been trying to make sure players would obtain key details by making them available through multiple characters. Yet no amount of justification may be enough to completely overlook the problem. Especially in several cases, Atlantis Evolution could have benefited from the characters offering intelligent responses instead of reiterating the same information.
The voice acting leaves something to be desired as well. While the voices do for the most part seem appropriate for the characters, the intonation should have been handled better. In many cases, it sounds as though the characters are unnecessarily raising their voices. Especially in the early parts of the game, Curtis fairly frequently sounds like he is yelling instead of asking a question to someone less than two feet away. The guards you meet at the beginning of the game sound as though they are constantly screaming. It seems the intention is for them to speak in harsh tones to the outsider who is asking a bunch of strange questions. Yet in reality they simply sound irritatingly loud.
Given the interesting storyline revealed in the later parts of the game, the problems with the conversations can be overlooked. But Atlantis Evolution also has some considerable problems with its puzzles, further hurting the overall experience. First of all, Atlantis Evolution overuses sequences where you have to avoid capture by the guards. Especially frequent during the first stages of the game, these sequences typically involve some accurate timing and quite a bit of trial and error. While it is usually easy to figure out what you are supposed to be doing after a couple of attempts, players should still be prepared to die quite a few times through the course of the adventure. Thankfully, the game is kind enough to automatically send players back to the beginning of the sequence so you don’t have worry about losing too much progress. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with occasionally putting players into dangerous situations. And when done correctly, stealth sequences can be quite entertaining. The problem with Atlantis Evolution is that the sections where you are evading the guards appear all too frequently given the relatively short length of the game and fail to be engaging or interesting. Rather than giving you a thrill and keeping you at the edge of your seat, they can easily leave you annoyed and wanting to punch your monitor every time you hear a guard say “Halt deviant!”
During certain sections of the game, part of the challenge is to find your way through a specific area. These quasi-mazes can be yet another problematic feature of Atlantis Evolution. The areas you need to navigate are never huge and their layout never gets extremely complicated. The path usually branches a relatively small number of ways, minimizing the amount of backtracking. As such, on the surface, the maze-like sequences seem like they should be cakewalks. Unfortunately, due to the way the screens are presented, that is hardly the case. For one thing, individual screens in the area you are supposed to navigate can at times look remarkably similar. To make matters worse, the game does not feature movement animations to allow players to see the path unwind from one screen to the next. Instead, you directly jump to the next screen, which can be quite disorienting when you are trying to find your way through a maze. As if to further augment the problem, the positioning of the camera when you arrive at the next screen can also be confusing. You will not always be facing the direction in which the path continues and at times it is possible to accidentally turn back and go in the wrong direction. When you add the fact that you will need to find inventory items or try to avoid guards as you navigate these areas, you have a complete recipe for a rather frustrating experience. The saving grace is that, the navigational problems truly affect only a couple of areas of the game. During the bulk of the adventure, finding your way should be fairly simple.
The last problem with the Atlantis Evolution’s challenges is the frequent arcade games that you have to play. It almost seems like the developers were on a quest to let adventure gamers experience the joys and frustrations of a number of classic arcade titles presented under the guise of weird Atlantean machinations. During your journey through Atlantis Evolution, among other arcade sequences, you will be treated to a riveting game of Pong and Tron. You will also get to play an old-fashioned shooter game where you will control an aircraft and fight against ground targets and two bosses. There is really nothing wrong with the actual implementation of the mini-games. They work fairly well and can even offer fair challenges without becoming overly difficult. The problem is with the fact that they do not really fit into the game. Any experienced adventure gamer will have encountered plenty of obscure mechanisms to do simple things like keeping doors locked. But when you have to play Tron against the computer to close down some shutters, the feeling of immersion gets lost. If Atlantis Evolution had been a truly lengthy game that featured a good number of logic puzzles, it would have been easier to overlook the arcade sequences. One or two of them might have even offered a nice break from the routine puzzles. Yet given the relatively small size of Atlantis Evolution, the mini-games really stand out and make very poor substitutes for puzzles that challenge players intellectually. While some of the sequences are indeed essentially puzzles, there are too many arcade adaptations for the scope of Atlantis Evolution.
The frustrating aspects of Atlantis Evolution without a doubt significantly hurt the gaming experience. Yet the game does fortunately have its redeeming qualities. The best parts of Atlantis Evolution are hidden in the later stages of the game. Once the secrets behind New Atlantis are revealed, the game gains a whole new perspective. And as the storyline reaches its climax, players get to experience the highly imaginative and greatly entertaining last chapter of the journey. The game not only offers interesting plot twists, but also throws in creative puzzles that take great advantage of the unique situation created. It is a crying shame that the rest of the game is simply not on part with the very last stages. The problems encountered early on can even discourage many players from continuing the game.
Atlantis Evolution feels like a missed opportunity. The pleasant graphics, the interesting civilization with the curious pantheon of deities, the intriguing mysteries of the island, and the highly entertaining puzzles presented in the last part of the game are greatly overshadowed by problems that should have been easy to avoid. The mini-games do not truly fit into the game, avoiding the guards becomes tedious, navigating certain areas becomes an unnecessary chore, and some of the conversations fail to sound realistic or add true value to the game. Yet if you can be patient during the early parts of the game and the premise sounds interesting, you might still find something to enjoy in Atlantis Evolution. All hope is most certainly not lost for the series. Parts of Atlantis Evolution show that the development team is indeed capable of creating an entertaining experience. Hopefully, the serious problems that hurt this game can be avoided in the next installment in the series. In the meantime, Atlantis Evolution will have to do, assuming you can put up with its considerably frustrating aspects.
The final grade is 67/100.