In the opening sequence of Beyond Atlantis II, a bald man digs into a cave wall, greedily snatches a crystal skull, and proclaims "All power is mine!" You likely won't notice how silly the dialogue is at first, because you'll be too distracted by the incredible animation. Beyond Atlantis II may well be the best-looking adventure game ever. The characters are so realistic that it's a bit creepy at first. The eyes look human and expressive, and the facial expressions are emotive and believable. Even the lip-synching with the dialogue is nearly perfect. As in so many Cryo games before it, Beyond Atlantis II is full of strange puzzles and metaphysical gobbledygook. But the constant barrage of strangeness actually works in the game's favor.
You play as a "young archeologist" (the game never names the protagonist) who is searching for a lost Egyptian tomb thousands of miles from Egypt. When told that Egypt is far away from her target location, she responds matter-of-factly: "Yeah, I noticed." At least Beyond Atlantis II makes it clear early on that the story won't be an issue. She finds the tomb, and the discovery leads her to ancient Egypt (or possibly future Egypt--it's never clear). From there it's on to Baghdad, some prehistoric tundra, and a metaphysical world full of bubbles, spiny paths, and crystalline dolphins. Her goal is to unlock the secret of the crystal skull. The secret will lead the world toward a new age of enlightenment.
Beyond Atlantis II doesn't try too hard to make sense. Those who have played earlier entries in the series will note this as a good thing. Both Atlantis and Beyond Atlantis spent a good deal of energy bludgeoning you with a seemingly endlessly stream of profound-sounding dialogue that meant nothing at all. The characters in Beyond Atlantis II will more often than not spout some nonsense, but at the end, they'll just tell you what you need to do. Your tasks are still cloaked in nonsense--you'll need to find a feather to help free a Pharaoh's soul, fight cave paintings to resurrect yourself, and jump into bubbles that lead to decrepit municipal hallways--but at least it's nonsense with clearly delineated goals.
Once the game gives up on making sense completely, it gets really interesting. When the nameless heroine finds herself in Baghdad, for no apparent reason, she turns into Scheherazade and begins telling the story of a young thief. During this segment alone, you'll visit a wizard's enchanted garden, get trapped in outer space, lead a unicorn through a maze, and race a metal gnome up a staircase by playing a handheld video game about a monkey and some hippos.
Not all the puzzles are this inventive. Beyond Atlantis II features its fair share of generic puzzles, and some may be a bit too obtuse. Others are just downright bad, with a dialogue tree puzzle near the end being the worst of them. But many of the generic puzzles are good, and the balance of inventory puzzles and traditional puzzles should ensure that fans of any type of adventure game will find one or two stumpers that they really enjoy. Even the easier puzzles are enjoyable. In Egypt, you'll be required to arrange a series of stone tablets to tell a story and then arrange another series of stone tablets to illustrate the story. It doesn't take too much effort, but it's an interesting twist on a standard theme.
Unfortunately, there aren't very many puzzles. Unless you get hopelessly stuck, it will likely take only a few sessions to finish the game. Perhaps the lack of puzzles is an inevitable result of just how much effort was exhausted on the visuals. Beyond Atlantis II looks beautiful. It isn't just the characters--the environments are gorgeous. The game uses the standard node system found in many adventure games--you move from one predetermined location to the next and then you look around. The difference here is that you'll want to actually spend time looking around. Unlike other adventure games in the Myst mold, the worlds in Beyond Atlantis II look alive. Birds fly around, water moves, and people move about. The scenery itself is impressive, and it's enjoyable to stop and just look at a mountain on the horizon or a nearby lake.
The attention to detail in the visuals may also explain the lack of attention to the audio. The dialogue is mostly bad, the voice acting is mostly awkward, and the music is mostly indistinct though occasionally grating.
Cryo may have finally found a means to make its standard formula work. By abandoning almost all pretense of a coherent story, the designers have simply created a series of beautiful, interesting environments filled with some good puzzles. And while the puzzles are still bizarre, at least you have some guidance. Cryo's adventure games have always seemed like patchwork affairs with crude seams. With Beyond Atlantis II, the simple fact that the seams are almost nonexistent makes it easy to overlook the disjointed nature of the whole and just appreciate each strange part in turn.