This annoying quest for the continent of Atlantis belongs way below the ocean.
- Good selection of logic puzzles and gadgets
- movie-serial atmosphere.
- Uninspired item-based puzzles
- confusing puzzle setup and lack of clues
- awful visuals aside from some art-deco flair
- terrible voice acting and out-of-place music
- audio pops during music and dialogue.
Few have ever gone broke ripping off classic movies and literature for adventure games, so it would seem like the developers at Atlantis Interactive Entertainment made a smart decision when they decided to clone Indiana Jones. The Secrets of Atlantis thoroughly mimics the exploits of the intrepid archaeologist, right down to the hero's choice of hats and a globe-spanning mystery that involves everyone's favorite sunken continent. Unfortunately, once you get beyond the window dressing, you're left with a pale imitation (really, really pale--think of Harrison Ford replaced by the kid who used to play Screech) that is burdened by clueless puzzles, as well as grade-Z pictures and sound.
About all this game has going for it is its period atmosphere. Just as George Lucas and Steven Spielberg patterned the Indiana Jones franchise on movie serials from the 1930s and '40s, Atlantis Interactive sets its adventure in 1937. Protagonist Howard Brooks may be an aeronautical engineer instead of an whip-wielding archaeologist, but he comes complete with a fedora and a mysterious medallion that just might unlock an ancient mystery. Sound familiar? The story that he finds himself entangled in cribs liberally from all three Indiana Jones movies. Brooks travels aboard the Hindenburg to exotic ports of call, such as Macao and Baghdad. He gets involved with a feisty dame and finds out that his father once searched for Atlantis as well. Even the travel sequences between levels are illustrated by lines snaking across maps. All the game needs to complete its thievery is a cameo appearance by Short Round or Sallah.
Despite this stunning display of unoriginality, enough is stolen from Doctor Jones to lay the groundwork for an exciting game. But everything here is awful, aside from the borrowed bare bones of the plot. The look and sound seem as old as the ancient civilization that you're seeking. Gameplay is based on stutter-step Myst mechanics where you click to move and then swivel around looking at your surroundings, so you know that this isn't going to be a cutting-edge production.
Still, you've got to go back a while to find an adventure with such terrible visuals and sound. Settings are blurry and devoid of visual flourishes beyond period touches, such as posters of old magazine covers in New York or a surreal city in the clouds in India. Characters move as stiffly as zombies; they're as pale and unreal looking as zombies too. All actions are shown in tiny Bink video boxes, and audio is an utter mess. Pounding car-chase tunes illustrate all the Empire State Building sequences even when you're just strolling down an office corridor, and Macao is given music that typically accompanies General Tso's chicken. Voice acting is the aural equivalent of being poked with a stick, especially when accents are used. Sound is also buggy, with lots of snap, crackle, and pop that gets particularly bad during dialogue.
Puzzles blend the familiar with the idiotic. Most of the item-oriented challenges aren't set up properly through dialogue or clues. Generally, you get a reasonable idea of what's going on from a conversation or two but no direction on how to accomplish goals. So you're stuck patrolling rooms and hallways, looking for finicky hot spots. Items are also tough to spot. They're tiny and blended in so well with inaccessible backdrop scenery that it's impossible to figure out what you can pick up without rolling the cursor over the entire screen. There often isn't any rhyme or reason to object placement either. For example, a knife that you need in India is dropped apropos of nothing in the Hindenburg's engine room. You have no reason to suspect that the knife is there, no reason to think that you even need such an implement nor any reason to go anywhere near the engine room, but you've got to have it or you'll get stuck in under 10 minutes.
Set-piece puzzles are handled a little better. In addition to the old-school item hunts, Secrets of Atlantis includes a number of brainteasers involving interesting gadgets. Most are just elaborate combination locks that can be opened by plugging in the codes discovered on scraps of paper and the like, although there are also some logic puzzles. You slide panels to complete a Chinese mosaic, place jewels to direct laser beams, cut and paint stones to restore an ancient Babylonian fresco, and even play Sudoku on the inside lid of a sarcophagus. All of these contests provide some much-needed atmosphere, although they don't compensate for the item-collecting busywork. Nor do they compensate for the horror-show graphics and sound.
If Indy had encountered nonsense like this during one of his escapades, he'd have let the Nazis win. Secrets of Atlantis is best left in a watery grave.