To even the most stalwart and blinkered triple ‘A’ gaming fanatic it has been obvious that a lot of strange looking games have been hitting the market place. The ease at which small developers and even simple but talented enthusiasts can release titles upon the various market places has greatly increased. With the addition of so many marketplaces and easy access to development tools and knowledge bases the current the Indie game scene has never been as strong. These titles are created predominantly by gamers for no reason other than their love for both games and the belief in their own idea. They are the very opposite of corporate greed and design by committee and despite not being able to compete against the sheer spectacle of the big triple ‘A’ releases they find a spot within you that is welcoming and friendly and they coax it out to play.
With my love of Indie game developers and their constant efforts to innovate, enthral and recapture much that has been lost in the current cycle of big titles, It pains me to both play and report on a game that does neither.
J.U.L.I.A. by Cardboard Box Entertainment is a space adventure game based aboard an interstellar probe that was sent in search of extra-terrestrial life. You control the actions of Astrobiologist Rachel Manners who after being awoken from her cryo sleep by an emergency upon the ship, quickly establishes that she is alone. With the aid of the ships artificial intelligence J.U.L.I.A., you begin unravelling the mystery of the missing crew.
The game is primarily narrative driven and decisions are made from text options over static screens. The dialogue itself is delivered by voice actors with animated visuals. Think Starcraft’s unit portraits and you get the idea. I can say that the story is the only aspect of the game which had a positive impact. I caught myself mulling over the games story and where it would likely go, while at work, commuting or whenever my brain found itself some quiet time. In that respect the game succeeded. Unfortunately you are frequently assaulted and dragged from the story by a series of extremely poor design decisions.
What immediately struck me when I first began playing was the art style; there seems to be no coherency. Menus would appear as blocks of flat colour with the obligatory edge chamfer, which makes things look more sci-fi. While certain mini-games and segments of the story would be conveyed by rendered animation. This strong sense of disjointedness carries over to every other aspect of the game.
The sound also suffers greatly. There are moments were I became increasingly frustrated as voiced dialogue became drowned out by the tumult of music and lyrics being sung. Later, I was randomly introduced to a narrator. The game had set no prior precedence to there being any voiced narration yet rather confusingly I found myself listening to another voice which I didn’t recognise. Between these distractions and the random mini-games I felt more distracted by the game than drawn in.
The mini-games suffer from the previously stated problems. The art style and randomness of the games is almost enough to leave you bewildered enough into not noticing how derivative they are.
As if this wasn’t enough there were moments were emotions of anger and frustration were mixed with confused laughter as I was introduced early on to your exploration robot named Mobot. This hulking robot is voiced using easily available text to voice software meaning that he sounds uncomfortably like Professor Hawking. There are arguments that could be used to defend this use of the software as Mobot is a robot. However a simple alteration would have left it feeling less jarring. There is however no argument for leaving spelling errors in the text. So that when Mobot does speak he reads out the errors that were typed.
It has pained me to review this game, not because of a lack of patience or understanding but because the story had triggered an inherent desire to learn more and the game fought to dissuade me at every turn.
3 indeterminate acronyms out of 10