Much to my surprise, the Earth does not have a chewy nougat center filled with molten aluminum, iron, and other superheated elements, but is in fact filled with another world, complete unto itself, complete with magical creatures and dinosaurs and people who can, apparently, do absolutely nothing for themselves. Who’da thunk?
Journey to the Center of the Earth is the latest in a string of adventure games trying to revitalize the lately sluggish genre. The story begins as Our Heroine and Intrepid Reporter, Ariane, is on a story somewhere in Iceland. After a helicopter crash, she finds herself stranded and alone. Given no where else to go, she explores a Mysterious Cave, has a bit of a fall, and wakes up on a beach in a vast, underground world, populated by descendents of a group of isolationists from the above world who just wanted to get away from it all several generations ago. Ariane soon becomes embroiled in some Nefarious Plots, and must save the Inner World in the tried-and-true adventure fashion: running errands, combining random junk into useful stuff, and solving logic puzzles.
Since adventure games are all about the puzzles, I’ll touch on that aspect first. Journey has the usual complement of mind benders, including delivery/fetch missions, item recombination, and even a handful of logic games. Unfortunately, many of the puzzles are made much more difficult than necessary due to an almost complete lack of hints or responsiveness from the game while fiddling with possible solutions. Once a “hotspot” is found onscreen, it’s often difficult to tell exactly what is being highlighted. In many places it would have been nice for Ariane to make some sort of comment or description of what I was looking at. For instance, at one point the cursor highlights something near a bridge. Is it the water? The wood planking? Maybe a bit of grass? There’s really no telling, and Ariane keeps mum. Only through the Cheap Method of adventure gaming (trying to use every item in the inventory with the hotspot) was I able to figure out exactly what I was doing. In fact, many of the item-type puzzles are solvable only in this manner, by methodically trying every possible combination until something works. And often, I was left wondering exactly why it worked in a particular way. Granted, there aren’t too many items in the world to play with, so this is a minor frustration.
Delivery puzzles are much more straightforward, but almost laughable in their execution. A good adventure game will at least make a half-hearted attempt to explain why Person A can’t walk half a block to Person B to get the Special Whatzit. But, no, the people encountered in Journey seem to be completely and inexplicably unable to help themselves, perhaps due to ineptitude or just plain laziness. In some cases, it’s almost, “I could walk all the way across the room to flip that switch, but I just don’t feel like it. Be a dear and do that for me.”
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