another life I reviewed a game called Ghost in the Sheet, and I
remember that it was a bit of everything Ė a bit different, a bit silly,
a bit ambitious. It was good, but not great, but promised a fair bit.
Much of that promise is realised here.
Half of the Cardboard Box is the
man under the sheet; the Box as a whole has come up with J.U.L.I.A.
J.U.L.I.A is the artificial
intelligence managing an interstellar probe in the year 2430. A signal
suggesting life has been detected in a solar system not unlike our own,
and a team of scientists are despatched on a long voyage to investigate.
Except that Rachel Manners, 35 year old astrobiologist, is the only one
now on board, having been awoken from a cryo sleep as a result of a
meteorite strike. What comes next is about what happened before.
Six planets are below, or they
will be when the ship is repaired. Exploration of each will reveal
secrets and surprises, some moral dilemmas, and will end in a rather
large choice. Just before that point the game will prompt you to save,
so you can go back and make the other choice if you are so inclined.
Although exploration is the name
of the game, as Rachel you never leave the ship. Mobot is the
exploration robot of choice, and itís through ďhimĒ that planetary
interaction takes place. There is a constant stream of video and
dialogue coming from Mobot, interpreted and dissected with the help of
J.U.L.I.A. Itís a constant three way conversation, so despite the
solitary nature of Rachelís situation, she is not alone.
Inside the space probe, a number
of icons at the top of the screen allow you access to various views and
operations. You spend the initial part of the game here, gathering
minerals and repairing the ship. You will also come back here throughout
the game to upgrade Mobot and access the planets in the solar system.
When down on a planet, we have
Mobotís heads-up display sending back pictures and images, often
overlayed by little diagrams or images generated by J.U.L.I.A. The
planetscape is the main visual, with various ďheadshotsĒ top left,
depending on who is talking, and images of whatever Mobot is exploring
bottom left. Dialogue options appear mid-screen, and some icons bottom
right let you bring Mobot back to the ship when necessary. It might
sound a little messy but itís all rather clean and uncomplicated Ė check
out a screenshot and you will see what I mean.
The game has quite a lot of
dialogue, and the story it reveals is rather a good one. A little
clichťd at times, a bit chick-lit in one part, occasionally laborious,
but a story worth telling and finding out.
Ditto the graphics, with some
little minuses but a plus overall. Rachel looks way too like a
marionette for my liking, but you donít see her a lot so it wasnít a big
issue. Some screens are a little dull, and some of the interfaces in
space are a bit ho-hum, but the planetscapes are impressive and the
cutscenes verge on being quite magnificent. Perhaps itís that I havenít
had cutscenes in recent games, but I enjoyed these immensely.
And ditto again on the voice
acting. There is a narrative voiceover that you can choose not to have,
and he was a bit pompous and didnít add a whole lot, so I suspect when I
play it again I will turn him off. Mobot was imbued with just the right
amount of artificialness, and I suspect he was a distant cousin of
Marvinís, and perhaps J.U.L.I.A was a little too human although the
emotion chip explained it, and thanks to Hollywood we are used to our
A.I.s being almost people.
There were times I wanted to
slap Rachel, but it was more about her manner than what she was saying,
and she tended to get over it fairly quickly. Taken as a whole, she
managed to convey that somewhat on edge demeanour you might expect in
her situation, and I warmed to her as we went.
There are puzzles a-plenty, most
being single screen in construction, requiring a varying degree of brain
power. Some repeat, and the sixth planetary scan for minerals was about
four too many, but there is variety throughout. You do all manner of
ďmechanicalĒ things (rewire circuitry, decipher codes, reassemble
images, construct items), as well as a few exploration based puzzles
(map locations in a jungle, get Mobot out of a hole in the ice). Some of
the more common types have also been tweaked to add a layer of
complexity and to freshen them up Ė the double letter code decipher and
reassembling the memory images are good cases in point.
All have a little question-mark
icon, which will tell you the objective or the rules, and only once did
I think the rules could have been a bit clearer in how the particular
puzzle worked. One puzzle has built-in help for the maths involved (it
will in fact do the maths for you so donít ask for help unless you
actually want the puzzle solved), and many of the puzzles you can back
out of or reset. There was one sequence type puzzle you couldnít reset,
which if you want to peek at a walkthrough makes things a bit more
One puzzle will also literally
tear your head off, or at least Mobotís head, and itís the actiony one
and very annoying. I do actiony, but I didnít do this. However, lose
Mobotís head three times and you get the option to skip it, so give it
your best shot and move on.
Exploring the planetary surface
will often require you to find clues and items to gain access to
buildings or other structures, and while you do collect items you donít
have an inventory. Mobot just uses what he finds if itís the right thing
to do, or he beams it up for you to decipher or fiddle with. Things
learned on one planet may be needed on another. So depending on the
order in which you visit them, you may not get terribly far before
having to go elsewhere. However all of them are available to visit once
the ship is spaceworthy.
Looking back, itís another game
of bits. Except that with Ghost in the Sheet, I thought all the
little bits prevented it from being better than it was. Here, the bits
are irritants but they donít prevent the game from achieving something
rather good. It can be a bit melodramatic, the acting can be a bit
strained, and Rachel does look only a little bit less artificial than
J.U.L.I.A. But it does provide eight or so hours of thoughtful,
enjoyable, story driven science fiction, a good number of well crafted
and varied puzzles, and some excellent looking cutscenes. J.U.L.I.A.
is a game I would happily recommend as being well worth the price of
I played on:
OS: Windows 7
Processor: AMD Phenom 9500 Quad Core CPU 2.2 GHz
Ram: 4.00GB DDR2 400MHz
Gx card: ATI Radeon HD 3850 512Mb
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