UK REVIEW--As far as video games go, saving the world is a fairly common goal. Perhaps less common, though, is saving the world using algae. A New Beginning's tale of eco-warriors, retired scientists, and seaweed is somewhat more grounded than the usual fare, despite a bit of time travelling. The story plays on global warming and climate-change fears, giving events an air of believability. And even though there's a science fiction element to the proceedings, the puzzles and interactions remain within the realm of possibility. This level of care doesn't extend to every aspect of A New Beginning. The poor translation and shoddy voice acting will put many off, as they negatively impact the storytelling. There's something to be enjoyed here for fans of traditional adventure games, thanks to some great puzzle design and a fantastic art style.
A New Beginning charts the adventures of time-travelling radio operator Fay, and Bent Svennson, a morose retired algae specialist. In the distant future, the planet has been decimated by climate change. The only way to save the world is for Fay to travel back in time and convince the powers that be to start investing in more eco-friendly energy sources. You can almost picture Al Gore fist bumping the writers as each apocalyptic warning is issued. Naturally, the best way to stop climate change is to convince a clinically depressed former scientist to continue his algae research. Much of the first half of the game is taken up with Fay recounting her story to Bent and explaining just why his work is so important. The narrative is a lot less preachy than it initially seems, and it ends up developing into a rather balanced morality tale with a surprisingly human touch to its characters, all of whom talk about algae far more than is healthy.
At times, though, the dialogue doesn't do the game's story justice. It's painfully clear that something has been lost in translation, with lines seeming unnatural and stunted in both scripting and delivery. On occasion, the poor translation makes way for no translation at all, with the text for a few optional interactions presented in its native German. The voice acting is equally lackluster; vocals drip with boredom or are performed by one of the numerous Seth Green-soundalikes who make up half the cast. It has a distinctly low-budget air to it, which is perhaps understandable, but it's a shame when put beside the gorgeous background and character art, as well as the swelling, evocative soundtrack. The game suffers most during any scene that is meant to be in any way serious. Toward the beginning, there's a montage of fairly dramatic reveals, and the line delivery turns them into something of a farce. At other times, there's some clearly intentional comedy, but often, it's hard to tell whether you're laughing with the game or at it.
A New Beginning is really something special to look at, however. The beautiful, hand-drawn style is a refreshing change from the more common 3D models of recent years. Cutscenes take on a comic-book style, but they're nowhere near as good looking, and it's the in-game art that really shines. Not only does an immaculate art style offer a visual treat, but it also provides clarity to a genre that all too often suffers from confusing pixel hunting as you try to pick out a tiny item on a background of blur. The clarity is aided by the simple, effective interface. It is standard point-and-click fare, with the right mouse button used for your inventory and the left mouse button used to open a radial menu from which you can select one of up to four interactions. Sometimes these let you play with an object to glean more clues as to its use, and other times, they serve as an excuse to simply expand on the dialogue. More than once, an object possesses a "look at" and an "analyze" option, both of which just lead Fay or Bent to make an observation about the hot spot. Some of the interactions are plain unusual and obviously pointless; the option to drive a vehicle you've just wrecked being a low point even if it is quite amusing to see it appear.
Puzzle design is where A New Beginning really comes into its own. There are no ridiculous leaps of logic here; nearly everything makes sense, and the balance is just right so that you rarely find yourself combining objects at random just hoping that something works. There's the occasional puzzle that requires too much of a stretch to solve without experimentation, but these are thankfully few and far between. Toward the end of the game, after performing a routine fix on a boat, Bent comments that it's nice to find a logical solution for once, compared to the usual obscurity he's dealt with, but he's doing his adventure a little disservice. The most annoying visual conundrum bizarrely occurs in Chapter One, a puzzle Fay later derides, making you wonder why it existed in the first place.
The game's handful of spatial and navigational puzzles can be skipped should you spend long enough on them, a concession rarely made in adventure games. It's mostly unnecessary, but it's a pleasant option for anyone more concerned with the narrative. You'll never be stumped for too long, but some of the environmental brainteasers in the game are up there with the best of the genre. One area-spanning puzzle involving a drunken game of cards is a notable high point and extremely rewarding once you nail the solution. To aid things even further, there's the option to press the space bar and reveal every visible hot spot, which means that the fun lies in solving the puzzles rather than finding them in the first place. It's optional, of course, and adventure game purists may wish to ignore it altogether, but it's an example of A New Beginning's accessibility.
It's a shame that the quality present in A New Beginning's art and puzzle design isn't prevalent throughout the rest of the game. It's hard to get too excited about the story when it's so poorly delivered, even if it is rather good. When compared to such games as Broken Sword and The Secret of Monkey Island, the game falls short, but it's a clear improvement over its predecessor The Whispered World. This mostly comes down to the fact that the problem solving will never have you snagging underwear with a rodent. Weighing in at about eight hours, A New Beginning a good length, although seasoned genre veterans might breeze through it in about six hours. It makes no attempt to build on the adventure game template, but it's a decent way to spend a an evening or two if you've exhausted some of the higher quality titles the genre has to offer.