Being a game reviewer often carries with it the danger of genre burn-out. Eventually, you play so many games of a certain type that they all blur together and it seems you’re just writing the same things over and over again. It’s especially true when you’re dealing with a genre like the hidden object game, which has a very predictable formula in terms of a game structure. Even in terms of story, HOGs tend to tell us supernatural tales set in Victorian Gothic environments, with plots that revolve around intrigue and murder, and it gets stale after a while. Eternal Journey: New Atlantis is nothing close to being stale.
A quick primer on hidden object gameplay, for those of you who haven’t read my other HOG reviews: you explore the game world from a first-person, Myst-like perspective, and interact in traditional point-and-click style. You’ll pick up inventory items for use in solving simple puzzles, play mini-games, and engage in hidden object hunts in which you are tasked with finding a dozen-or-so listed objects in a cluttered scene. Hidden object games tend to also feature casual and hardcore difficulty settings, which affects how often you can get hints and, in New Atlantis’s case, whether or not interactive hotspots are highlighted with a sparkle to help you find them.
New Atlantis, however, sends us 150 years into the future to investigate a Martian outpost from which all the inhabitants have mysteriously disappeared, leaving behind nothing but their clothing and the empty facility. The first half-hour of the game contains numerous subtle callouts to classic sci-fi properties like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Thing, Alien, Starship Troopers, and even video game classics like Doom and, at one particularly creepy point, Dead Space. The story doesn’t quite live up to the expectations it sets, but the atmosphere more than makes up for that.
The game sucks you in, largely because there’s nothing to pull you out of the experience of exploring the base, thanks to the casual nature of hidden object games. If you find yourself getting frustrated because you don’t know what to do, a hint is a single click away, and if you’re stuck on a vexing minigame—like I was with one odious sliding-tile puzzle—you can just skip it. More traditional adventures could do well to learn the lessons here, because being able to bypass troublesome gameplay sequences increases the effectiveness of the experience ten-fold.
New Atlantis also takes the time to also make the world feel more fleshed out than in other HOGs. There are data disks hidden all over the place, which explains the inner workings of the world, describing the technology and people that made the Mars base tick. You’ll find notes and letters describing the situation just before your arrival, all of which helps you to get immersed in the world. The inclusion of an unexpected companion in the middle of the game takes the experience to a whole new level, nailing the feel of “classic sci-fi story set in an abandoned space station” perfectly.
Of course, being an Alawar HOG, you can expect an overall high-quality experience. The painted backdrops are amazing, and the music and sound all fit nicely with the setting. The animated cutscenes are pretty good as well and, while you won’t be mistaking them for AAA-caliber work anytime soon, they’re perfect for the classic sci-fi feel. The voicework, which is normally a weak point of Alawar games, is actually very well done here, what little there is.
Characters who appear in-game still look weird and amateur, which is surprising since they look pretty good during animated sequences, but you only ever interact with other people twice, and only during the bonus chapter of the collector’s edition and not in the main game. That bonus chapter isn’t as good as the main adventure, by the way, but it’s interesting because it fills in the story of a character important to the main plot. The collector’s edition also grants you access to the strategy guide and a collection of wallpapers, which is nice to have even though the strategy guide is kind of unnecessary because the game is easy and the hint system generous.
Of course, being an Alawar HOG, you can also expect the installer to not let you pick the destination directory, to prompt you to install the Ask.com toolbar and change your home page, and to make you use a launcher that’s just a big ad. I didn’t mind these things very much because the quality of the game was better than ever. It should be noted, however, that when TPG founder Adam Ames checked it out, he got a different installer that was far more obnoxious, prompting you install several pieces of adware with the decline button hidden away in a non-obvious location. I’m not sure what happened there, but it’s something to keep in mind as a potential negative.
Conclusion – Is It Worth The Money
Eternal Journey: New Atlantis has taken the prize as the best hidden-object game I’ve played to date, simply because the setting is unique and the world and atmosphere are so believable. The main story took me 3 hours to play while the bonus chapter added another hour to that, which is the perfect length for a story-based game. It’s definitely worth the money, and it’s one HOG I’d recommend to any adventure gamer, not just fans of the genre.