Atlantis Evolution, from Atlantis Interactive Entertainment and The Adventure Company, came out about two months ago. Sometimes when I get a game that late, it turns out to be good a good thing because it means I get to play the game with a patch (or two or three) under its belt, and so I get a better playing experience. But adventure games rarely see patches, and so all I had to show for my wait with Atlantis Evolution was the knowledge that it was getting panned by other critics. A quick look at gamerankings.com showed it with an average score of 52%, which is pretty bad. (By comparison, Alida, my least favorite adventure of the year, is actually doing better, with 54%.) So it wasn’t exactly with great anticipation that I installed Atlantis Evolution onto my computer and started playing it. But, lo and behold, I found it to be goofily fun.
In Atlantis Evolution, you play a photo-journalist named Curtis Hewitt. After cataloguing the wilds of Patagonia, you’re sailing back to New York to turn in your work, when there’s a storm and a whirlpool, and you get sucked into the “inside surface” of the Earth, a stone’s throw away from New Atlantis. There you find that the peasants have been brainwashed by their evil gods, and that the only way you’ll receive any help is if you work with the “deviants” on the island. Of course, the deviants won’t help you for free, and eventually you’ll have to bring down the gods so the peasants can go free.
At a guess, that’s probably not the premise you were expecting. There aren’t any mysterious ruins to explore, and you won’t find a series of funky machines with a lot of knobs and buttons that you’ll have to figure out how to use. Atlantis Evolution really is about leading a peasant revolution, but the story moves along quickly, and it’s sort of silly and campy (intentionally, I think), and so the premise ends up working well enough.
How strange is Atlantis Evolution? At numerous points during the proceedings you encounter a mini-game. That’s not exactly novel in itself, but get this: the games are all from the early 80’s, with old favorites like Pong and Defender and Frogger, and they don’t have anything to do with the story. So at one point you need to re-target a computer, and you play Scorched Earth. At another point you need to get a disc out of a terminal, and you play Towers of Hanoi. I was sort of sad that Centipede and Missile Command didn’t make an appearance, but otherwise I thought the idea was bizarre enough to be fun. Others might only agree with the bizarre part.
Outside of the mini-games, Atlantis Evolution uses a first person perspective, where you’re allowed to rotate the camera to get a better view of your surroundings -- and of course to hunt around for inventory objects as well. During these times, Atlantis Evolution tends to repeat a cycle where you get a small area to explore, where you find an object and a puzzle in the area, and where you then discover that the object happens to be just the thing required to solve the puzzle. Then you go to a new area with a new object and a new puzzle, and you repeat. For example, at one point you’re in the jungle and you find half of an owl mask, and then you enter a cave and find the other half hanging on the wall. When you combine the two, a passage opens giving you a new place to explore.
There are also a couple of annoying sequences, one where you have to navigate a maze and another where you have to sneak around guardians at a dock (if I never hear the phrase “halt, deviant” again, I won’t be sad), but largely Atlantis Evolution is easy and comfortable to play. If you die, then you’re automatically taken to an earlier point so you can try again, and if you do something incorrectly (like if you fail in a mini-game) then you’re allowed to repeat the activity until you succeed. That means you won’t need a plethora of saved games, and, because of the casualness of the puzzles, you won’t need to frequently peek at a walkthrough, either.
Overall, I liked Atlantis Evolution well enough. It was silly in all the right ways, and the graphics and the voice acting got the job done. So if you like strange but straightforward adventures, then you might enjoy Atlantis Evolution. But if you want more of a serious game with serious puzzles, then you’d probably be best looking elsewhere.