the Center of the Earth (JCE) follows the exploits of Ariane, an
attractive, ambitious photojournalist. Ariane is retracing the
footsteps of the unlikely heroes of A Journey to the Center of the
Earth (the book) written by Jules Verne in 1864. Beneath Iceland’s
frozen volcanoes she’s stumbled across the ultimate
headline-grabbing scoop. She’s also stumbled into the inner workings
of a conspiracy that entangles two hitherto unknown civilizations.
Visually and aurally, this game has a distinct “WOW!” factor going
for it. JCE’s 3D environments are vibrantly colorful and feature a
surprisingly sharp graphical resolution. These worlds have an
authentic lived-in character. There are picturesque architectural
forms, unique imperfections in the stone tiles of the floor, rust
trails beneath the metal window frames. Water effects are
beautifully realistic. Fabrics sway in the breeze. Startling yet
recognizable beasts wander through the scenes.
Amid these marvelous surroundings, the story explores two very
different utopian societies. One society has based its beliefs on
scientific reason, the other on natural living and the discipline of
magic. The game delves into our heroine’s reactions to each culture
and the effect – both real and potential -- of bringing the values
of our non-utopian world to bear on these pristine highly-focused
There are various characters to meet on Ariane’s journeys. The main
characters have memorable personalities, but some of the minor
characters (who turn out later not to be so minor) are easily
forgotten. Conversation with characters is rather brief, especially
when compared to, say, The Longest Journey. I thought the amount of
dialogue was just about right, though more interaction might have
given me a better glimpse into the motivations of the minor
characters. Dialogue writing and voice acting are both solid.
Although this isn’t a comical game, there are snatches of humor
throughout. Ariane tells one laid-back unanimated character: “I’ll
be back to see you later.” He responds: “Okay, I won’t have budged
The game has an engaging high tech/scientific gloss for what is
essentially the telling of a far-fetched tale. There are references
to the characters from the Jules Verne book, and to the history of
the exploration and settlement of the underground world. Ariane puts
her laptop to good use, both to analyze what’s going on around her
and to receive messages and news bulletins from the world she has
JCE has two endings. The developers have made the unusual choice of
inserting one of the endings much earlier in the game than the
other. The game pauses at the tipping point of a moral dilemma,
which our heroine resolves by walking either through a wide door or
a narrow one.
The choice that gives you more gameplay also spends more time
developing the story. You go back to previous locations and work
your way through the conspiracy until the truth is revealed. I
confess that I would have enjoyed a few new locations here –
especially because the worlds in the game are so well developed.
However, the story definitely carried me along even through familiar
territory. I found myself caring deeply about the fate of the
dual-societies, though it was nerve-wracking near the end to observe
the meditative pace of the back-to-nature one. A catastrophic threat
is approaching, and the extremely relaxed victims demand that Ariane
scurry around running errands for them before they will assist her
in saving their own world.
Both endings, though not full of wiz-bang effects or revelations,
are interesting and satisfying.
The music adds greatly to the gaming experience. It is delicate and
lyrical, which perfectly suits the game environments. There were
places in the game where I stopped for awhile just to listen to the
music -- I wish that the music had been used much more throughout.
Ambient sounds are well done in each location.
Now for the quibbles: although there is a nice range of entertaining
gameplay in JCE -- from stand-alone strategy puzzles to mechanical
puzzles and inventory puzzles -- there are also moments of intense
frustration. Frustration for this gamer arose because of the
inconsistencies in the hotspots. Sometimes hotspots are easy to
find. Other times they appear from out of nowhere after an
unidentifiable triggering event occurs. A few times they never
appeared at all, so that solving a puzzle involved clicking until
the cursor activated a hotspot where previously there had been no
sign of one.
Beyond the hotspot inconsistencies, there are two high-end
tear-your-hair-out puzzles in the game. One puzzle has you placing
tiles around a portal. Each tile has its own symbol. For the puzzle
to work, the meaning of the symbols on the tiles should be
susceptible to reasonable deciphering, but (as frequently occurs in
this kind of puzzle) symbols are amenable to so many different
interpretations that recourse to a walkthrough is necessary. By the
end of the game, the meaning of each tile becomes a little more
obvious – unfortunately the puzzle is at the game’s beginning.
The second hair-tearing puzzle is called Initiation Alley. Here you
have to activate resonating wooden poles as you go back and forth
and back and forth, pausing to draw pictures and take notes. In
other words, the challenge uses repetitive movement within a
structured path to slow down the solution. You can figure out this
puzzle by sheer determination if you keep slogging through. However,
any little error – and the poles look enough alike that it’s very
easy to make an error – means that you will have to backtrack and
figure out where your notes were wrong. You really need a secretary
(or a note-taking playing partner) to ensure accuracy.
Further, I’ve rarely had as much trouble moving from place to place
while using the mouse as I had in JCE. Directional hotspots
(represented by footprints) are frequently tiny, forcing you to pass
the cursor over the spot several times before you can find and click
on it. The footprints occur at various intervals – sometimes in the
middle of the screen, but more often down at the farthest edges.
Sometimes the hotspots are placed in such a way that in order to go
forward, you first have to move sideways. Sometimes no directional
hotspots can be found, so you click around wildly.
There is also an odd two-step move that Ariane often performs if she
can’t decide which direction to go: she spins around in a whirling
dance until she hits the hotspot that sends her on her way. It isn’t
unusual for the directional hotspots to send our heroine over to a
location where she actually blocks the element needed to solve a
puzzle. Every time she moves somewhere new, you need to shift Ariane
slightly to the side to see if she is covering something important.
In addition to the aforementioned technical problems, the game
crashed five times. On the whole, I thought JCE’s strengths
outweighed its frustrations. Still, I can’t help wondering how much
more fluidly the game would have played if more care had been taken
with movement controls and hotspot placement, and if there had been
less game-lengthening back-and-forthing.
Quick List for Journey to the Center of the Earth
Third person perspective, frustrating mouse control. Sumptuous 3D
graphics in an authentically-realized world. Fun critters. Cutscenes
vary in quality, though one in particular is magnificent. Occasional
graphical glitches: stuttering, one slow-down, heroine able to run
right through furniture and pedestrians. Five crashes (I suggest you
save before getting on the altimonorail). Nice range of puzzles;
however there are hotspot inconsistencies plus a couple of puzzles
that are real stumpers. No sliding tile puzzles, no mazes, no timed
puzzles, one sound puzzle. The inventory is easy to use, though it
may cover up hotspots on the screen when activated. Visit the
Preferences Menu before playing – lots of ways to tweak your game
there. No dead-ending, no dying, two well-done game endings.
Unlimited saves. Exceptional music, good voice acting, good dramatic
tension and a story that keeps you guessing the identity of friend
and foe. Game length: long. Aimed at gamers who like to explore
fantastical environments while caught up in a thought-provoking
Final Grade: B
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