A New Beginning

Genre:   Adventure

Developer:   Daedalic Entertainment

Publisher:    Lace Mamba

Released:  June 2011

PC Requirements:  

OS: Windows 2000/XP/Vista/7

Processor: 2GHz Single Core / 1,8GHz Dual Core

RAM: 1GB RAM (Vista/7: 1,5GB RAM)

Sounds: Compatible with DirectX9.0c

Graphics: OpenGL 2.0-compatible, min. 256 MB graphics memory (ATI Radeon or Nvidia Geforce recommended)

HD: 3,5 free disk space

DVD drive, mouse




by Becky


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 abound.

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 mission.

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 slots.

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 puzzles.

Final grade: B

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August 2011

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