Two steps forward, one step back; one step forward, one step back (cha cha cha)...
Actually, no, this isn't fancy footwork for a new dance routine. It's a description of the uneven route taken by Presto Studios in designing Buried in Time, a sequel to their futuristic sci-fi adventure, The Journeyman Project. It's also somewhat similar to the path the player will inadvertently take through the game.
The Journeyman Project 2 is both trapped in the past and ahead of its time. Yes, I know that's shameless wordplay for a game about time travel, but it's an apt description nonetheless. Even more than its predecessor, the game manages both a stubborn adherence to convention in some ways, and an innovative, progressive approach in others. In doing so, it corrects weaknesses and mistakes of the original, and creates some all new ones in the process. Fortunately, the advances outweigh the losses for a worthy gaming experience, but it's not always a smooth ride.
Picking up shortly after the conclusion of the first game (in the year 2318, though only momentarily), Buried in Time once again features Agent 5 of the Temporal Security Agency (TSA). Though still played from a first-person perspective, this time around Agent 5 is no longer anonymous. Instead, he is introduced as Gage Blackwood—and I mean "introduced" literally. The game opens with the future Gage materializing before us (the present Gage), and hurriedly asking for our help. Apparently, in ten years he is framed for tampering with history, and the only person who can save him is us (or him… or you… sorry—pronouns are useless when speaking in fourth and fifth-person perspective). No sooner has he handed over his time travelling jumpsuit than another agent appears and whisks him back to the future.
Before hopping back in time, the first stop is to our future home to piece together the details of our wrongful arrest. Now a celebrated hero for protecting Earth's admission into the interplanetary Symbiotry of Peaceful Beings, we learn that we've left the security branch of the TSA to be part of a new historical research team. Under strict orders only to observe, our last four assignments have registered small but illegal disturbances, which can only mean that time has been altered by outside interference. To make matters worse, the Symbiotry is embroiled in a heated debate about time travelling technology, and our arrest threatens to sway the balance of the talks. Clearly, these elements are related, and the stakes are even higher than we first suspected.
The first thing you'll invariably notice about the game is its tiny viewscreen... Whoa... Deja vu from the first game! Unfortunately, it's no flashback, but a very disappointing return of windowed gaming. For an idea of how small the viewable area actually is, take a look at those screenshot thumbnails to the side—no, not that small, but if you click on one, the enlarged version is even bigger (and at the very least, the screenshot itself will put it in perspective for you). It's not an unforgivable flaw, but there's no getting around the fact that it's a detriment.
Once again filling up another large portion of the screen is the elaborate interface. The first game's interface walked the fine line between complex and complicated, but the one used in Buried in Time is altogether unwieldy. It's visually elegant, but that doesn't make it any more comfortable to operate. Far too much time is spent laboriously scrolling through menus, and you'll be required to do so constantly. Keyboard commands can help shorten the process, but that's hardly an ideal solution to a poor design.
Fortunately, what fills the viewscreen is pretty darn slick. Presto has done a terrific job of creating an engaging, fictitious world that any science-fiction fan should appreciate. The story itself is a clever take on rather standard fare, but probably won't win any converts on its own. Yet as with the first game, what The Journeyman Project 2 does most successfully is to build a believable world and entice you to explore, interact, and experiment. In a departure from the original, however, the time travelling escapades of Buried in Time take us back into real historical eras, which should help appeal to those who don't salivate over space age technology. There is a near-future space station, but we'll also take Gage to a Mayan pyramid, a besieged castle in medieval France, and a studio of Leonardo da Vinci. There's also another environment to explore late in the game quite unlike any other, but you'll have to discover that for yourself.
The graphics have undergone a thorough makeover since the original game, and the result is noteworthy. Each area is much more richly detailed, and the diverse environments are all realized convincingly. The game has also rejected its pure slideshow origins, and the movement between nodes is now fully animated with no drop-off in visual quality to break the immersion. Although still largely static, the backgrounds are interspersed with various animations that make the game feel more dynamic. On rare occasions that will include other people, but time travel doesn't permit interaction with others, so Gage is a spectator-only. Unlike many games that feel artificially desolate, however, Buried in Time smartly justifies its emptiness.Continued on the next page...