It's the year 2500.
Environmental catastrophe has made the Earth's surface a wasteland.
Further devastation threatens the few survivors who shelter underground. A
group of scientists attempts a desperate gamble. They have created several
capsules that can travel back through time. The capsules and their crew of
time pilots will be returned to a point before the climate catastrophe
occurred and try to prevent disaster.
In A New Beginning, from German developers
Daedalic Entertainment, the rescuers from the future try to forestall an
explosion at a nuclear power plant in Brazil. In a "real life imitates
art" moment, seven months after the game's initial release in Germany,
explosions occurred at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant in Japan. One of
the outcomes -- the German government has recently announced that they
will shutter all German nuclear power plants by 2022. It's hard to imagine
a game whose themes are more topical.
Bent and Fay
This is a lengthy, ambitious game. It is worth your
time if you admire games with serious themes that make a concerted effort
to develop the characters. You alternate between the roles of Bent and
Fay: two characters who represent opposite extremes.
Bent is a modern day bioengineer from Norway. He has
committed his life to the cultivation of a type of algae that is a
reliable source of energy. He has ignored his family and ruined his health
in this pursuit. He is grizzled and stooped over, as though the weight of
the world rests on his shoulders (his research station is named Atlas). As
the story begins, he has been forcibly retired because of health problems,
and his son has taken over his research.
Fay, the other player character, is a young woman on
the time capsule team from 2500. She is along for the ride as a time pilot
because her guardian is the lead scientist. She is inexperienced,
compassionate and optimistic. She looks like a professional athlete --
partly because of her form-fitting uniform, and partly because her posture
mimics that of a gymnast about to execute a back flip.
The voiceovers are professional, though conversations
are sometimes too formal. The dialog contains few contractions, making
certain sentences sound robotic. Since the game was initially written in
German, I ascribe this to the subsequent translation into English.
Hearkening Back to a Classic
In some ways, this game reminds me of LucasArts'
classic adventure, The Dig. As in The Dig, a small team is
responsible for saving the Earth from imminent destruction. Much of the
game focuses on the personalities of the team members -- at least one of
whom appears to have "gone rogue." Plot twists and unexpected events
The hand-drawn graphics in A New Beginning
display spectacular vistas, including the eerie ruins of San Francisco.
Ambient animations enhance the atmosphere. Cut scenes are made up of
partially animated, graphic novel panels. Character animation is smooth.
Background music in A New Beginning is
orchestral with unusual rhythms, ranging from melancholy to suspenseful.
Though it is unusually elaborate, it isn't intrusive. Outdoor scenes
contain ambient sounds rather than background music.
Who You are Matters
A New Beginning plays from a third person
perspective, using a point-and-click interface. The story begins with
flashbacks told by Fay (with occasional comments from Bent). At this point
the two main characters are just getting to know one another, and Fay is
aware that the fate of the Earth is involved, but Bent needs to be
informed and persuaded.
The early going is hampered by some of the puzzles,
not because the puzzles don't fit the story (actually, significant efforts
have been made to integrate story and the gameplay,) but because they
portray the characters negatively. Fay has to construct a complicated
radio antenna from scratch because she didn't pay attention to the
procedure during her training. She must also charge a battery that she
failed to recharge before leaving on the mission. My initial view of Fay
was that she was an irresponsible scatterbrain and a severe drag on the
Bent, on the other hand, early on repairs a fogger
machine, which he uses to season trees for firewood. The fumes from the
fogger are so toxic that they instantly kill small creatures in the trees.
Incongruously, a man who has dedicated his life to finding a non-polluting
form of energy purposely generates (and breathes in) these deadly fumes.
My initial impression of Bent was that his mind was going.
An unreliable, juvenile "time pilot" teaming up with
a past-his-prime scientist isn't an engaging combination. Implausible plot
details also gave me pause. For instance: why would the scientists from
2500 send out capsules without first sending a scout to confirm the right
time period? For quite a while, I assumed that this game was more fable
than science fiction. The failure of good intentions and the frailty of
human nature seemed to be the fable's constant themes.
About halfway through the game, the story tempo
quickens, events become increasingly dramatic, and the characters become
more competent and sympathetic. My initial impressions turned out, in the
end, to have been almost beside the point. But even so, these opening
puzzles are a strange way to introduce characters whose personalities and
motivations are so different than when they first appear.
Conundrums and Obstacles
There are a handful of stand-alone challenges in the
game, all of which are difficult and some of which require trial and error
-- for instance, disarming a bomb and accessing a team member's field
report. The latter puzzle is rather clever and becomes more enjoyable as
you manage to figure out what's going on. These can be skipped if
necessary. The rest of the puzzles are inventory based, and many involve
gathering odd items and figuring out how to repair or operate machinery
using combinations of the items.
The inventory puzzles slow the pace -- partly because
they are frequently multi-stepped, but also because necessary hotspots are
easily missed. Pressing the space bar reveals all hotspots, but many are
packed closely together, and a few activate only after a triggering event.
Scrolling screens and rooms that sometimes fade in from behind background
walls create more opportunities to miss essential items. The overall
result was that I spent a great deal of time wandering around wondering
what I might be missing, and then finally consulting a walkthrough.
Clicking on hotspots reveals a medallion that gives
you access to different actions -- "look at," "take," and "talk," for
instance. You click on the hotspot, then hold down the mouse button while
cycling through the options. I've seen this system surprisingly often in
recent adventure games. Here, it was awkward because it required precise
movement while holding down the mouse button -- I frequently triggered
unintended options and then had to start over again. On the plus side,
though, the medallion didn't include any options that gave repetitive,
rote responses, as I have found in similar games.
This game contains hundreds of hotspots, and some of
the "look at" comments are not particularly fresh or informative.
Sometimes the player character would simply describe the object or wonder
what it was used for. Fay's "look at" comments often compared what she was
seeing with her restrictive life underground before the mission. Bent's
comments were more acerbic (which was amusing) and technical. Even so, by
about mid-game, in order to increase the pace, I was skipping nearly all
the "look at" descriptions unless the item was important enough to go into
the inventory, at which point I would then look at it.
I encountered a saved game glitch that could only be
overcome by applying a save game from another gamer. In addition, the game
crashed to the desktop three times.
Thankfully, the game appears to have unlimited save
Sierra Club Members Only?
This is a "save the Earth from environmental
disaster" game and a question arises as to whether the game can be enjoyed
by those who don't believe that the Earth needs saving in this particular
fashion. In other words, is the game annoyingly "preachy"? No in the sense
that there is a lot more going on in the story than environmental
warnings. But yes in the sense that both player characters indulge in
pro-environmentalist platitudes, and the ending twist puts the game's
message securely into "something must be done, and soon" territory.
Quick List for A New Beginning
A time travel story with an environmental theme. Lots
of character interaction; plot twists and shockers. Gorgeous hand-drawn
graphics. Graphic novel-like cut scenes. Third person perspective,
point-and-click interface. The space bar shows all hotspots. Navigation is
smooth, though scenes sometimes scroll and rooms become accessible in the
background without sufficient indicators.
Multi-stepped inventory puzzles. A few "set piece"
puzzles that can be skipped. Many of the puzzles are on the high side of
the difficulty continuum. Three of the most difficult: reconstituting a
colleague's field reports, interacting with a defunct library retrieval
system, and drinking a guard under the table. Although some of the puzzles
occur during urgent circumstances, I don't recall that any are actually
timed. No sliders, no mazes, no sound based puzzles. The bomb defusing
puzzle (already difficult) will be even more difficult if you can't
distinguish colors. You can't die.
The writing is effective, though the dialogs are
sometimes stilted. Good voiceovers. Dialogs and hotspot descriptions can
be clicked through to speed up the pace. Occasional spicy language. The
game contains violent moments and adult themes and is appropriate for
older teens and up.
About twenty hours of gameplay. A full color manual.
No problems with installation. A saved game glitch and a few crashes to
the desktop. Unlimited save slots.
Aimed at those concerned with climate catastrophe,
and at gamers who enjoy plot surprises and multi-layered inventory
Final grade: B
GameBoomers Review Guidelines