I didn’t really know what to expect from Adam’s Venture: The Search for the Lost Garden going in, but any doubts I had about its it religious orientation were somewhat dispelled around the time the intro mentioned a greedy corporation interested in finding Eden because it was full of gold (I don’t remember the Book of Genesis mentioning that, but I’ll work with it). Whatever uncertainty still remained took about two minutes longer to disappear, as the first puzzle in the game is to rearrange three parts of a biblical quote to open a door. Very subtle.
Religious games have a rocky history in the industry, with many previous attempts ranging from poorly made to simply misguided. The lack of success is not because the message and the medium are incompatible, but simply because they just haven’t been very good so far. Dutch developer Vertigo Games is hoping to address that imbalance with the episodic debut of Adam’s Venture.
Does this game buck the trend? Not entirely. While The Search for the Lost Garden isn’t bad, there’s really nothing that stands out about it, other than its refreshingly modern graphics and integral physical element. The game is an adventure that controls more like an action game than a traditional genre title, but features no violence and very little challenging platforming. Rather, gameplay centers around a series of puzzles strung together with simple but enjoyable sequences of climbing, crawling, and jumping. Anyone concerned about similarities to Tomb Raider or Prince of Persia can rest assured that this game was designed with more relaxed gameplay in mind.
Despite its milder focus, Adam is capable of a wide variety of actions, such as shimmying across ledges, jumping from ladders, crawling on his stomach, and so on. Many of these moves are only needed once or twice, but their inclusion helps make the physical game world come to life. Adam’s Venture is controlled entirely with the keyboard (full gamepad support is disappointingly absent), which takes some getting used to, as many jumps and narrow walkways require a gentler touch than the arrow keys can reliably provide. Death is rarely a consequence, mind you, as invisible barriers usually prevent it, and if you do perish, you simply start over immediately at a point nearby. Those averse to “twitch-based” gameplay don’t have much to worry about, as tricky maneuvering is kept to an absolute minimum.
This game is the first chapter of a planned ongoing episodic series centering on the exploits of the aptly named Adam Venture, intrepid explorer. After uncovering the journal of one Charles L’Heureux, Adam is able to track down the location of a system of caves that ostensibly leads to the titular lost Garden of Eden. After securing funding for the expedition, Adam, his girlfriend Evelyn (get it? Adam and Evelyn?), and the stunningly mustachioed Professor Saint-Omair from the not-at-all diabolical Clairvaux Corporation enter the caves and begin making their way toward Paradise.
That information is relayed in much the same fashion that I just told you – a succinct scrawl of text gives you the basic details before the game dumps you right into the caves. And... that’s about as much story as you’ll get. Other than a couple of extremely brief conversations, the game is very light on plot, and even lighter on character development. Adam goes exploring and is generally kind of arrogant about it, Evelyn worries and talks over the radio when signal stength allows, and the Professor yells. The plot disappears for the meat of the game, and after a brief climax, players are treated to an even briefer ending cutscene. Even for a game that lasts little more than two hours, the story is threadbare. It’s also strangely full of holes. There are times when Evelyn, who remains back at the base camp, knows things about your current situation that you have never mentioned. Hopefully later episodes will take more time to get you to care about what’s going on, or at the very least to like the characters, because as it stands, I was woefully uninterested in anything that was going on between them.
Another major weakness is the utter lack of originality in the story. Adam is one of countless Indiana Jones clones, the increasingly tiresome Knights Templar play a role in the proceedings, and the game even features a black smoke monster that will be instantly familiar to fans of the TV series Lost. There are literally no original elements in the game. That wouldn’t be so bad if the story was a creative take on old archetypes and clichés... but it’s not. Again, that doesn’t make what’s offered anything terrible, just nothing of notable interest, either.
Maybe the story was weak because the developers were concentrating on the game’s graphics, which are a genuine treat. By using the tried and true Unreal 3 Engine, which is usually reserved for big-budget action games, Vertigo Games had at their disposal quite a bag of tricks. The game is done in real-time 3D, with crisp textures and beautifully modeled rock formations that look simultaneously realistic and fantastical. The lighting goes above and beyond what it typically seen in modern adventure games, leading to some very convincing atmospheric moments where the player is alone in dark caverns with only his torch to light the way. Shadows twist and warp, water refracts light, and the damp rocks glisten in firelight.Continued on the next page...