Beyond Atlantis (Atlantis II)

23 September 2000

Copyright © 2000 Balmoral Software ( Portions copyright © 2000 Cryo Interactive Entertainment. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Balmoral Software.

Much as we hate to pan an adventure game, Cryo Interactive's Beyond Atlantis (known as Atlantis II in Europe) leaves a lot to be desired. It's an overlong, obtuse and tedious game that will have you searching for a walkthrough before it's over. The game starts out well, but as it progresses it becomes an ordeal requiring more and more pixel searching, renavigation and a "try everything" approach that has no logical bearing on the story. Beyond Atlantis has beautiful graphics and authentic music, but with its flaws it's simply way too long. It could have been a better game if its designers had tightened up the plot elements, condensed the storyline, and above all, made the puzzles more fair to the player. Although Beyond Atlantis is being sold at a relatively low price, it's not as good a game as comparably-priced contemporary releases.

The basic premise of the game is that you play a different character in each of several sub-games, and have a different task to perform in each one. Taking place in locales such as Central America, China and Ireland, the sub-game environments have somewhat different styles and can can be played (to completion) in any order. Each area also has its own mini-game played in unrelated surroundings. As a result, the game design ends up feeling more like disconnected parts than a comprehensible whole. With lines like "the light was asleep", "the joining must be done" and "soon you will be one with the Dark", the mumbo-jumbo plot attempts to tie all this together with a story about an ultimate goal of uniting good and evil. The plot of Beyond Atlantis has only a passing connection to its disappointing 1997 prequel, Atlantis: The Lost Tales.

Beyond Atlantis uses Cryo's excellent OMNI-3D engine in which full three-dimensional viewpoints are available at each discrete movement node. The first-person perspective of this interface really immerses the player in the game. However, the implementation of the engine here is not as good as in other Cryo games such as The Sacred Amulet (Aztec). Sideways rotation at a node stops too quickly, so you end up wearing out the bottom of your mouse as you repeatedly sweep it back and forth to explore all the areas of the game. The game occasionally has the annoying habit of changing your direction when moving to a new node, so it's sometimes hard to maintain your bearings. On our platform, we found the loading of intermediate movement videos to be too slow, and would have preferred a game option to turn off these transition movies.

Saved games are stored with a date/time stamp and a small icon that changes for each general area of the game. With only this information, it's difficult to distinguish between different saved games. Obviously, the ability to name one's own saved games is desperately needed. Beyond Atlantis allows five simultaneous players to maintain their progress independently, but there is never any indication other than at startup which of these players is currently active. There is no indication on the game control menu and no way to switch players without restarting the game. It's a nice feature, but incompletely implemented.

There are a few minor game control design flaws. For example, you can't exit or cancel once a prompt for a CD change appears. Dialog choices are presented with transparent icons, and are dimmed out once they've been exercised. Some backgrounds make it hard to tell whether or not a dialog choice has been made. There are different colors in the movement cursor crosshairs that are never explained (and don't seem to matter).

The best part of Beyond Atlantis is its graphics. In the sheer scope of the game there are hundreds of detailed landscapes to explore. Animated sprites are occasionally encountered. All characters in the game are rendered cyberpuppets that are animated convincingly. Only one graphics bug was found, involving simultaneous display of two images of the same "birdman" character. Another minor problem involved cursor drift in various locations, such as number puzzles in a temple and a star puzzle in the jungle. Sound effects in Beyond Atlantis are minimal, and probably could have been supplemented to add more atmosphere to the game.

Most of the music in the game is excellent, but a few sequences seemed tiresome due to verbal chanting and excessive whistling of pan pipes. Of course, this may ultimately be a matter of personal taste. Certainly there is an effort to provide authentic-sounding and well-recorded music appropriate for each of the geographic areas of the game (with some exceptions - we couldn't help noticing the Simon & Garfunkel tune in the Ireland book environment). Character voice acting throughout the game is well done and is augmented by optional subtitles.

The puzzles and related challenges of Beyond Atlantis are its weakest point. Most of these are the "find the object and get the correct dialog choice" variety. A few are standalone logic problems that were much more enjoyable to try and solve. However, the vast majority of the puzzles are unfair, unreasonable, frustrating or tedious.

Several "unfair" puzzles have solutions with no connection to the clues you are given to solve them. These include a disk puzzle for crossing a bridge and one involving a divining rod. Other puzzles are downright impossible to solve without additional information or inventory, and the worst part of this is that you have no clue that you're missing something. For example, the "Rainbow Bridge" puzzle involving rearrangement of eight jigsaw pieces is impossible to solve until you notice that right-clicking your mouse allows a piece to be rotated! A more enjoyable puzzle involves being chased by spiders on a web, but the third installment of this puzzle is impossible to solve without an inventory item obtained from far away. It seems a bit cruel of the game designers to create an unsolvable puzzle and let the player waste hours of time trying to beat it without at least some clue that something else is needed. A puzzle near the climax of the game, with hundreds of possible answers, requires total recall of how an earlier puzzle was played.

Other puzzles seemed unreasonable. An obligatory (and rather difficult) sound-matching puzzle will permanently halt any progress in the game for deaf players. Near the end of the game is a huge, tedious task involving the matching of a pattern in inventory with hotspots hidden throughout hundreds of areas of the game already explored.

Some puzzles are frustrating because they are essentially unannounced dead ends or traps with no way out. Although you cannot "die" in Beyond Atlantis, you can easily find yourself trapped inside a stone temple if you neglect to obtain a particular inventory item before entering. This type of dead end in itself is not necessarily unfair to the player, but he needs to know that he's trapped and must restore a saved game in order to continue. Otherwise, lots of time can be spent fruitlessly searching for a way out when there simply isn't one.

A few of the puzzles in Beyond Atlantis were okay - our favorites were the math puzzles in the pyramid (although we had to play these twice), the previously-mentioned spider puzzles, and a "Hell puzzle" reminiscent of the Bureau in Obsidian . Fortunately, only one timed puzzle (involving an octopus) is found in the game, and this one can be beaten by repeated efforts. But for the most part, the puzzles in the game could have been greatly improved.

The designers of Beyond Atlantis obviously spent too much time on the graphics and not enough on making the storyline absorbing and logical and the puzzles interesting and accessible. Even with immersive graphics and music, Beyond Atlantis becomes frustrating to play as a result of too many obscure and arbitrary plot trigger events. A more enjoyable gameplay could probably be experienced in The Sacred Amulet (Aztec), a contemporary release also from Cryo Interactive.


Copyright © 2000 Balmoral Software ( Portions copyright © 2000 Cryo Interactive Entertainment. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Balmoral Software.