J.U.L.I.A: Among The Stars
A while back I reviewed the
first J.U.L.I.A and you can pop on over and see what I said. In
short, while it had its ups and downs, I thought it delivered about 8
hours of thoughtful, enjoyable, story driven science fiction, a good
number of well-crafted and varied puzzles, and some excellent looking
Now we have Among the Stars, not
a sequel or a prequel, but a reworked version of the original. Not just
a new frock either; this is a complete overhaul, Pretty Woman style.
It is fundamentally the same
game, and if you played the earlier version, many things will be
familiar. However CBE (which I assume is still Cardboard Box
Entertainment) clearly listened to what people said about the first
version, and in effect did away with many of the “downs” while
accentuating and building on the “ups”. The result is a good one indeed.
First up, the central character
Rachel Manners is now far more person than yappy marionette, and whiny
is now sassy. As a result I felt far more empathy for her and her
plight, and never once thought of sticking her out an airlock.
Rachel is the sole human left on
board a deep space probe, designed and equipped to meet and study
extra-terrestrial sentient life-forms. There were others, but after 60
years of cryo sleep it isn’t at all clear what has become of them. Once
Rachel has dealt with the results of the meteor strike that roused her
from her slumber, the nearby planets may offer some insight into what
has gone on.
She may be the only human but
she isn’t alone. J.U.L.I.A is the artificial intelligence that manages
the probe, and she provides a constant source of analysis, logic and
idle chit chat. Then there is Mobot, the go anywhere (albeit with a bit
of nudging and cajoling) planetary exploration vehicle. He is the means
to explore each planet, sending back a stream of data and samples for
interpretation and speculation.
It is clear early on that a
tragedy, or series of tragedies, has befallen the expedition. What that
might be is revealed in scraps, ferreted out through your exploration of
the various locations. Data pads, scribbled notes, the emails and other
messages are all bits of what is ultimately a very large set of events.
While there is a lot to read, it would be a shame to flick through it
just to trigger the key points of progress. The plot is detailed,
perhaps a little overly so, but it will reward a careful consideration.
All good science fiction has
hints of paranoia and hysteria, and they are both present here. Much of
it is within the notes left behind, and many don’t paint your previous
companions in a good light. The finger of suspicion is pointed by and at
quite a few, and more than one looks like they met their demise through less
than natural circumstances.
(Some characters deserve special
mention, if only because you would think that space faring folk on a
scientific mission would have more respect for security than to have
such weak, albeit appropriate, passwords!)
You will eventually encounter
other beings, and have choices to make about a few of them. Scientist or
humanist will come up more than once, and the end will depend upon you.
The graphics seemed much
refreshed from the last incarnation, playing in HD and with nary a
ho-hum screen in sight. The detail enables some serious
hunter/gathering, but a reveal hotspot icon ensures you won’t be pixel
scouring the environments. A log keeps track of your objectives and your
important information, with a little chime registering that you have
learned something which will be useful, likely a code for a door or a
data pad. If you don’t have the code you can always try a hack, or even
a blow torch once you have upgraded Mobot to that end.
Upgrades take place on the
workbench once you find the relevant blueprint, and involve building
what can best be described as circuit boards. There are four or five of
these, and a number of other puzzles repeat as well. There aren’t
however the same mini-games that were part of the earlier version, but
you do have a little timing puzzle that may frustrate for a while.
Mobot can still have his head
torn off by the very large beast, but it seemed to me to be a far more
forgiving interaction. Each failure results in more time on the next
attempt, and once you work out the puzzle sequence, time really won’t
The puzzles are many and varied,
and while there were a few towards the end that did seem a little too
dependent on trial and error, on the whole I thought they made sense, if
sometimes after the fact. Each puzzle comes with a screen which will
explain what to do, which at times will be less enlightening than it
might be, but methodical and thoughtful puzzling will generally get you
through. Some are really rather excellent, and the best ones are still
there - double letter code decipher and reassembling the memory
images are, to name two.
Like last time, things learned
in one place or planet may be needed on another, so if you seemingly
have no way forward, go and explore somewhere else. You will find plenty
of things you need, but Mobot will just make the right item available
for use if he has it, so inventory management isn’t really a factor. Not
everything is necessary; I did do a lot of sample analysis that wasn’t
required for things to progress, but it added to the depth of the
narrative and alien worlds, and there are some “mind maps” you can
complete, but which you can also ignore should you wish to do so.
J.U.L.I.A. is not a vastly
different game, but it is a more polished game. I never did find out
what it stood for, but whatever it is it warrants your attention.
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
The game is
offered DRM free at the
developer's store here.
GameBoomers Review Guidelines