How many times have we, and others, complained about the insufferable stream of Egypt and Atlantis-themed adventure games released in the last few years? Sometimes it seems that when developers run out of original ideas, they flee to the scenarios that they know best.
Well, I'm not going to complain this time. As the name already hints, Atlantis Evolution is meant to be a reinvention of the previous DreamCatcher-published Atlantis trilogy, putting the past installments behind it. And after seeing this game in action at E3, I think that goal has been achieved in every positive sense.
The Atlantis games were never bad games, per se, and clearly they were popular, selling over a million copies worldwide combined. They just weren't very special or unique. Developed by Cryo, they were released during a time period when most commercial adventures looked like carbon copies of each other. For a while there were so many Egypt, Aztec or Atlantis games coming out that it felt like these stories were being force-fed to the adventure community. Although Atlantis is now a tried-and-true adventure locale, Atlantis Evolution puts enough of a spin to it for me to take note and pay attention.
First off, I should note that during our visit to their booth at E3, The Adventure Company emphasized that Atlantis Evolution is not a puzzle-heavy game like Schizm or Aura: Fate of the Ages--or the old Atlantis games, for that matter. This is very much a story-focused game. Although Atlantis Evolution is played from a first-person perspective, the game puts a great deal of focus on its main character, who is seen in cutscenes and dialog screens. Curtis Hewitt is a young adventurer and photographer who finds himself caught in a vortex that sends him to the heart of the lost city of Atlantis. Lorraine Lue of The Adventure Company demonstrated the game for us, and she told us that in contrast to previous Atlantis games, players will actually spend a lot of time in the city of Atlantis this time around.
The graphics are nicely stylized, with slightly exaggerated features on the game's dozens of characters. It's nice to see another game take a less realistic approach, as it can be very effective in telling a story well. The artists have undertaken great effort to add rust, dust and scratches to various surfaces, making the whole world look more authentic and less computer-generated--something that worked equally well in games such as Syberia and the later Myst games. It was probably quite an amusing sight for the TAC people, to see the entire Adventure Gamers group totally impressed just by a picture of detailed rust on a boat, but it is this sort of lack of attention to minor details that intrudes on many adventure games in this era. Take a look at the four exclusive screenshots included in this article, as well as the existing gallery of screenshots already in our database, for more examples of the impressive art direction.
Make sure you also download the trailer, so you can see for yourself how great the characters look when they move. It includes a couple of action-packed cutscenes from the game, though rest assured there's also plenty of exploring and discovering to be done. Although the trailer apparently uses some looped placeholder sound, the actual music from the game will be done by the same composers who worked on Atlantis and Atlantis 2 (also known as Beyond Atlantis).
Even though The Adventure Company is putting their PR focus behind the admittedly great-looking Aura: Fate of the Ages, we gave the nod to Atlantis Evolution as TAC's best game of the show because the art direction is so impressive, and because admittedly we did not expect a great deal from this game when we showed up. The Adventure Company, by choosing to publish games like Missing (aka In Memoriam), is clearly trying to break free from the idea that they only publish one type of game, but even a game like Atlantis Evolution that looks like many other games at first glance, is well-deserving of a closer look.
The team behind Atlantis Evolution is Atlantis Interactive Entertainment, a French studio that includes many people from the now-defunct Cryo Interactive. Atlantis Evolution is their first game, but it is meant to be the first in a new series of games. For anyone who still has a bad taste in their mouth from the era of Cryo adventures, this may be the game to take the sting away. One thing's for sure: don't bring your stereotypes about Adventure Company games to the table here, or you may miss a great game.
Atlantis Evolution is scheduled to be released in September of 2004.