(For those of you who are as confused by Dreamcatcher's naming conventions as Murray and I are, please note that Beyond Atlantis 2 is the same game as Atlantis 3. --ed)
Dreamcatcher has done some silly things with the naming of this game, so we now have the confusion of a game known by Beyond Atlantis II, and also known as Atlantis III. Even the patch I downloaded for the game was titled atlantis3.exe. For the purposes of this review, I'll just call it Beyond Atlantis III (or BA3 for short).
For that matter, I have no idea why they called this game Beyond Atlantis II -- it doesn't seem to have anything in common with the previous game(s) at all.
Since I enjoyed Beyond Atlantis so much, I was really looking forward to playing BA3. I couldn't find any reviews on the net, but I figured that most people were just slow in getting around to it. Instead, I should have taken it as an ominous warning of what I was about to get into. Brace yourselves; this review isn't going to be a pretty sight. The game had its good points, but they were buried in an avalanche of poor acting, poor scripting, poor puzzles, and poor gameplay.
Graphics (quality, animations, cut scenes)
Let's start out with one of the highlights of the game; the graphics and cut scenes were top notch throughout the game. This game is definitely enjoyable to watch.
Sound (music, voices, special effects)
The music was enjoyable and suited the mood of the game throughout.
The voice acting was another story entirely. The lead character was acted by Chiara Mastroianni, and the graphics character was a surprisingly good likeness of Chiara in real life. She may be a really good looking actress with a cute accent, but her voice acting talents (at least in this game) were dismal. It ruined some otherwise memorable moments in the game when she spouted her lines in a dull monotone.
The remaining voice actors were all fairly good, and some of them were quite a bit above average.
Story (plot, theme, depth)
This is one place where the game fails miserably. I honestly think that the developers had a few partial games written and decided to throw them together in an attempt to get something out the door. The story wasn't merely incoherent, it was comletely nonexistent. To give you some idea of how fragmented it was, I will mention that the game throws you into worlds where you play:
- An unnamed thief in 1001 nights (with Chiara narrating as the story teller)
- Chiara as a stone-age woman in a series of caves (wintertime)
- Chiara as a stone-age woman on a series of islands (summertime)
- Chiara as an modern-day Egytian archeologist
- Chiara in an underwater world talking to an oracular dolphin
- Chiara wandering around in an ancient Egyptian world
These portions of the game had nothing to do with each other, and the (feeble) attempts to meld these separate locations into a single story is a dismal failure. There was never any reason given for why you had these separate worlds, and the game didn't even bother attempting any sort of explanation. I ended up just wading through the game and taking what was thrown at me.
Characters (depth, development, interaction)
Back to a good bit -- this game had some really memorable characters, a few of them had me laughing out loud in delight and amusement. The cut scenes were also used to humourous effect, even with characters that never spoke a single line of dialog.
Puzzles (difficulty, uniqueness, suitability, ugliness, linearity)
The puzzles were by far the worst part of this game. I don't know who designed them, but that person should be quietly (and quickly) eased into a job where he/she is never again allowed anywhere near the design of an adventure game. Let me give you a few examples (without spoilers):
- A sequence of islands where you find an inventory iten and use it to solve the puzzle allowing you to get to the next island. You can't go back to where you have been, only forward. I don't mind linear games, but this is taking it way too far.
- A conversation with two people where you "died" and had to start over at the beginning if you didn't select the conversation icons in exactly the right order. Even worse, you had to select the correct person to ask each time, and you had to move from one to the other periodically (also in the right order). There were absolutely no hints or reasons provided to help you through this maze of choices. This entire sequence was a piece of twisted, perverted work by a person who could not have ever played an adventure game in their life.
- A maze in a water world where the distortion effects made it almost impossible to map the maze in any meaningful way. We were reduced to moving almost randomly and hoping that we would eventually find the correct node.
- Many, many places where you were killed because you naively chose the wrong door to open or the wrong path to take. The problem was that the game provided no hints whatsoever about which choice was right -- you just had to die repeatedly until you found the right choice.
- When you died, the game would bring you back to life at some point before you made the "bad" decision. The problem was that it always yanked you back too far, to the point where you had to repeat a bunch of tedious work to get back up to the decision point. I ended up just saving the game a lot because this poor "resurrection" design was just too tedious.
- Arcade sequences requiring (mild) hand-eye coordination and timing. The problem was that the broad hotspot didn't give you any hint about the "exact" spot you needed to hit, nor did you know what was the "correct" time to strike. As a result, you had to just keep trying and dying until you lucked onto the correct combination of timing and location.
I could go on, but my blood pressure has risen too much at this point. I was ready to give this game an average (or positive) review, but then I would run into another infuriating puzzle which had the dubious distinction of being even worse than the last one.
To be fair, the game did have a (very) few good puzzles, but they were the distinct minority.
Controls (user interface, save/restore, sound/video adjustments)
The game appears to use the same game engine as Beyond Atlantis. The cursor stays centered, and the screen rotates around it. Those that suffer from motion sickness should take their Dramamine before playing. The 3D underwater maze was especially bad, since any movement was wildly distorted, much like trying to look at the world through a fish-eye camera lens. I am not very susceptible to motion sickness, but that world even made my stomach queasy.
The save game system was fairly easy to use -- hit escape, hit the save button, and click on a checkmark to "confirm" the save. Besides adding the extra step involved in the confirmation, I also missed the ability to give a saved game a name of my choice. All games were timestamped, with a thumbnail picture of the current location shown beside it. The problem was that the picture was too tine to be usable most of the time.
The entire set of game controls used "Mystery-meat Navigation". For an explanation of this, see www.webpagesthatsuck.com/badnavigation.html. Basically, no buttons were labelled -- you had to move the mouse over a button to get a text display showing what it did. This may be good as a memory enhancement tool, but it's lousy menu design.
Bugs or problems
The minimum game requirements ask for an 8X CDROM drive, but I would recommend that you have at least a 30X. The time taken to load cutscenes from CD was so bad that I very quickly loaded the CDs onto my hard drive and ran the game through a CD emulator. The game provided no option for a full install where you could load all the CDs onto your hard drive (but it shoud have).
I encountered no crashes or other problems with the game.
A clean install and uninstall.
- Nice music
- Pretty graphics
- Cut scenes are great
- Some unique characters
- A (very) few good puzzles
- Poor voice acting by main character
- No coherent story or plot
- Some of the worst puzzles I have been forced to "solve"
- Dismal, infuriating gameplay
Every time you think Cryo has figured out how to write a good game, they come along and dump one like this on you. They put together a game with wonderful graphics, good music, and some characters that are truly unique in adventure gaming. They then proceeded to completely and utterly ruin it with a total lack of a coherent plot, horrendous puzzles, and some of the worst gameplay I have ever been forced to wade through.
If you can handle some really painful gameplay, I suppose you might want to play this game just to see the graphics, meet some unique characters, and watch some good cutscenes. However, I think you would really need to be a masochist to get through the game without wanting to take a hammer to the CDs at least once.
Sadly, I cannot recommend this game to anyone -- its faults outweigh its virtues by a large margin. If you do end up getting it for a "bargain", I would recommend that you resort to using a walkthrough frequently -- it will save your sanity.
Editor's note: after his original review, Murray added the following.
Conclusion (second thoughts)
After some time to cool down, I feel that I was a bit too harsh in the conclusion of my original review, so I feel the need to soften it a bit. Since Beyond Atlantis II has some great graphics and some really unique characters, I will upgrade my recommendation. I recommend that you play this game to experience the graphics, and to meet the unique (and fun) characters. Just don't set your expectations too high; the gameplay really is awful. If you print out the walkthrough and use it frequently, then the gameplay shouldn't ruin your enjoyment of the other portions of the game.
This article copyright © 2001, Murray Peterson