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Journey to the Center of the Earth

Review by Old Rooster
October 2003

The Strangest Journey

"The World you have never seen ...
The World you have never heard about ...
... is just beneath your feet."

Give an enthusiastic welcome to Ariane, a young photojournalist, who literally falls into the scoop of a lifetime when she discovers an unknown world far below the Earth's surface. Not since The Longest Journey have I been so captivated by the story and heroine of an adventure game. Ariane's journey is not only strange, but also long, with this elderly reviewer taking over 40 hours to complete one of the most involving titles I've ever experienced. Not once did I wish for it to end, and I couldn't wait to discover what new twist and turn the developer would throw my way.

"A Beach in Iceland?" —Ariane

I must be careful, with text especially, and also the photos I took while accompanying Ariane, not to give too much away. As you can tell from the screenshots, the world of Journey is extremely large, colorful, detailed and varied. This is a game where the box tells the truth. There really are over "300 magnificent views, more than 30 cut scenes, 100+ puzzles to solve, 40+ hours of play, characters in real-time 3D, and stunning high quality graphics."

Using as a narrative springboard the classic Jules Verne tale of a center-earth "voyage," our journey creates an elaborate tale of a complex and isolated underground civilization. They are aware of us on the surface but don't care for this awareness to be reciprocated, thank you very much. This paranoia forms a major portion of the plot thread.

Puzzles are fun but, for me at least, most interesting when they are completely story-relevant and make sense—such as repairing a broken camera—a task not unfamiliar to a professional photographer. Yet there is often a certain illogic to the errands of Ariane, sometimes begging the question as to how people managed before this naive stranger showed up. Indeed, her confidence sometimes borders on arrogance. She's a regular MacGyver, knowing how to fix hot-air balloon leaks, for example. But we'll grant some narrative license, since Ariane is a quite special and bright young lady.

"Wow, I Must Be Dreaming; This Can't Be Possible!" —Ariane

Particularly with the outstandingly voiced acting, Ariane is one of the most interesting, smart, mature and attractive central characters since the days of April Ryan.

Journey is a third-person point-and-click adventure in a classic form. All actions are performed with the mouse, with left-click leading Ariane to move, converse or pick up/use objects, a double left-click causing her to run, and a right-click bringing up inventory. After the 625 MB installation, given the specs of your system, you'll find the game running very smoothly at 1024×768, 32-bit. Movement is sometimes rather jerky, with Ariane occasionally doing a pirouette before changing direction. Further, you can't always walk where you might think you could, and soon learn that an obvious pair of double feet on the screen (as opposed to just random arrow placement) gives a clue as to the best place to go, typically where a scene transition occurs. These transitions are almost instantaneous. Indeed, not only can you save anywhere, but load times are fast. The main menu interface is outstanding, even accompanying your selections with the wonderful musical theme of Journey.

Another word of criticism, I'm afraid, needs to be voiced regarding the sometimes obscure and almost invisible "hot spots" where inventory items must be found. Even knowing what you're looking for, and approximately where it is, may still lead you to be frustratingly lost and confused. At one time I was sure I had encountered a bug, until the eighth try finally led to the required item. The trouble there had to do with Ariane herself obscuring the view of the desired area and being unable to move her in such a way as to reveal my target. Fortunately, you can't really get too far in the story, and certainly not out of each of the six major sections, without having what you need and completing all required tasks and conversations. The game also allows you to restart a particular sequence (mixing chemicals, for example) if you mess up, even if you haven't saved at that spot.

One of the most interesting features, available in the inventory, is your trusty laptop, regarding which one of those relevant puzzles is how to recharge the batteries. This computer gives you some continuing access to the surface of Earth, allowing news bulletins and limited email message exchange. An encyclopedia is also available to allow some research.

"I Can't Leave Just Yet" —Ariane

We've talked a bit about Ariane, who is the focal point of our adventure, but there also is a range of colorful, deep, and sometime surprising characters inhabiting this unusual land. This is not a quiet, Myst-like setting. We find a bustling civilization, with folks wandering about, living their lives. You can't speak with all of them, but will learn a great deal from many as to nature of their current circumstance. Sometimes, you need to return for additional conversations. Written, as well as voiced, text is available.

Not only is the acting of Ariane outstanding, but the other cast members are first-rate. Sometimes the accents are a bit hammy, although never at a level to offset the wonderful script. Background sounds, from birds to the whistling wind on a suspension bridge, to traffic and machinery, add to the total ambiance.

The musical themes are remarkable, from the menu screen to the frequent changes throughout the game. There's a pleasant, relaxing, calming effect that, accompanied by the story and scenery, leads this Journey to be one of the most enjoyable, perhaps even therapeutic, games I've recently experienced.

As advertised, the graphics are stunning and almost photorealistic. There is something new and awe-inspiring around almost every corner. Of course, as with Verne's tale, you'll find prehistoric creatures, but not in quite the way you think. You'll also find two distinct civilizations and visit jungles, a sea, crystal caves, a mushroom forest, even take a hot-air balloon ride!

"This Will Be the Scoop of the Century!" —Ariane

Journey to the Center of the Earth is one of the best adventure titles of the last two years, and it may well take the form of a "sleeper hit"—that is, a game that is not heavily advertised, particularly in the mainstream gaming press, but that is lauded and recommended by all who play. Journey will rest in a special spot on my "to keep and not trade" adventure game shelf, alongside that other game with Journey in the title and several other A-level works.

These are games I'm very glad were made and am proud to demonstrate to my gaming-cynical friends. Unlike The Longest Journey, Ariane's quest is one that can be played and enjoyed by the full family. The puzzles are often too difficult for children and senile seniors, and the story may be a bit complex; but the text is G-rated and the exploration of the remarkable world can be enjoyed by all.

In spite of a few technical rough edges, I am pleased to award Journey our Gold Star. With very, very few adventure titles can I say: "If this was a book, I'd like to read it." Journey falls into that category. There's wonder and surprise to be sure; but there's also mystery and suspense. The graphics are lush and spectacular. The details of the "land beneath" are intriguing, both visually and aurally. The acting, especially of Ariane, is professional and convincing. The puzzles are integral to the narrative and solvable without being a Mensa member. Finally, with a genuine 40+ hours of play time, this Journey only costs 50 cents an hour to experience. How can one go wrong?! The End

The Verdict

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The Lowdown

Developer: Frogwares
Publisher: Viva Media
Release Date: October 20, 2003

Available for: Windows

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System Requirements

Windows 98/Me/2000/XP
Pentium III 500 MHz
64 MB RAM
16 MB DirectX compatible video card
8X CD-ROM drive
700 MB free disk space

Where to Find It

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