Thursday, September 6, 2012

Adam's Venture Episode 3: Revelations - Review

The third and final episode in the Adam's Venture trilogy, Revelations, brings closure to Adam's quest of uncovering the secret of the Garden of Eden and putting a stop to the Clairvaux Corporation's evil schemes. Left for dead in the crumbling tomb of King Solomon, Adam loses consciousness and experiences a flashback of how he met his partner, Evelyn, and how they came to be involved with the Clairvaux Corporation. When he comes to, he feels reinvigorated in his promise to protect Evelyn, and sets out to rescue her from the clutches of the Clairvaux leader.

The majority of Revelations takes place during the flashback, as Adam explores the hidden depths of the University of Oxford, the French town of Luz, and a Templar mausoleum. While the flashback offers some backstory to the game's premise, it doesn't offer much newfound depth to any of the characters. Interactions with Evelyn, Adam's father, and Professor Saint-Omair scarcely go beyond the mechanical necessities of what needs to be said or done to advance to the next puzzle or location. Learning how Adam met Evelyn doesn't prove to be all that interesting because their depictions remain as flat and shallow as cardboard cutouts.

Once the flashback has concluded, the rest of the game is over with so quickly that it leaves the entire experience feeling abrupt and underwhelming. After regaining consciousness, you watch a few cutscenes while solving the same two puzzles over and over again, and follow extremely linear paths to the next cutscene or puzzle. At one point the villain just flat-out tells you his evil plan in a matter of just a few sentences. Nothing in this episode really builds towards this big revelation -- it just comes out of nowhere for one fleeting moment, so it feels cursory and unsatisfying. To top things off, once you solve the final puzzle, the game's practically over with no real resolution to everything that's happened.

The puzzles, meanwhile, feel too detached from everything else. Most of the time you're staring at a close-up view of some abstract interface with an entirely self-contained logic puzzle, typically the kind where you have to deduce some type of pattern on a grid for some ultimate effect. These puzzles can be somewhat satisfying within their own rights, but they just don't integrate with the flow of the gameplay. You could completely remove them from the context of the game and they'd make as much sense without it, because they're not tied to the environment (or even the story) in any significant way. It's kind of like exploring a cave and then having to solve a Rubik's Cube to advance. They just feel obligatorily mashed into the game.

To make matters worse, many of these puzzles get repeated ad nauseam. During the flashback, one puzzle gets repeated five times, and another gets repeated three times. Once you're back in the present, reawakening in Solomon's tomb, two different puzzles are repeated three times, each. They don't seem to be designed with increasing tiers of difficulty, expanding and becoming more complex with each rendition; they just seem to be the exact same puzzle, but with a slightly different solution. It was so tedious to me that I immediately consulted a walkthrough for later renditions of certain puzzles, because I just did not care to do them over again.

When the puzzles aren't coming off as random, abstract challenges, they feel really contrived. You're tasked with getting a book from a library, but the door is locked; instead of going back and asking for a key, you have to solve a series of obscure puzzles to open it. You're driving through France, and your path gets blocked by a broken-down automobile; instead of just pushing it out of the way, you have to solve a puzzle to get it working again. Someone tasks you with getting a delivery package up onto his roof, and instead of him having a practical elevator system, it's the most complicated and inconvenient thing ever. These puzzles are awkwardly forced into the game and don't always feel natural, so it's pretty exasperating at times.

Some of the puzzles can be pretty frustrating, too. In some cases, the directions are vague and unclear, so it becomes a two-step process of first figuring out what you're even supposed to be trying to accomplish, and then figuring out the specific solution. It's too easy to feel stuck relying on brute force trial-and-error to deduce the game's intended logic, because it doesn't always provide feedback for why your intended solution didn't work. There's one area in particular that's intentionally cryptic; it drops several dead-end, unsolvable "puzzles" solely to distract you from the actual puzzle, which is discreetly hidden in a separate screen. If you're not fortunate enough to stumble into that screen, you can be left totally clueless about how to proceed.

Besides the puzzles and the dialogue cutscenes, you spend the rest of the game navigating Adam through dangerous environments by jumping, climbing, and crawling around obstacles. With the game's emphasis on non-violent gameplay and being accessible to all audiences, these platforming sequences are pretty easy-going. Most of the time there's an invisible barrier preventing Adam from falling to his death, which makes the platforming a simple matter of pressing the jump or crouch key in the appropriate hot spots. Although not very challenging, these actions provide a nice opportunity to feel more tangibly involved with the environment and to lend you a feeling of greater control over your character.

Unfortunately, this episode doesn't allow you to explore, which is a missed opportunity to immerse yourself further in the character, setting, and environments. You visit a lot of really interesting locations in the flashback, all beautifully rendered with exquisite detail, but it's a little harder to feel part of these environments when you're always stuck on linear paths that only exist to lead you to the next puzzle. You just mindlessly go forward, instead of getting to actually explore these wonderful locations. Furthermore, all of the game's best puzzles leave you in full control of Adam, moving about and performing different actions, so it would've been nice to have more puzzles emphasizing movement and exploration.

Revelations presents several interesting locations, maintains a good atmosphere throughout the entire game, and also provides a nice hands-on approach to the gameplay -- all of which is held back by tedious puzzle designs and a lackluster story. As the final episode in the trilogy, it almost feels like it was rushed, ending too quickly without any development in the plot or even a worthwhile resolution to the story. Rather than being a strong, climactic finale to the series, Revelations just kind of peters out at the end. It's not a bad game by any means, but the overall experience feels a little too shallow, repetitive, and underwhelming to recommend unless you're dying to know how the series ends.

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