See if this sounds familiar. In Aura: Fate of the Ages, the latest offering from The Adventure Company, there is this mysterious group of Keepers, and they control these Rings that allow them to create Worlds. If you switch a couple words, like “books” for “rings,” then you would have the basic description of Myst, which is fitting here because Aura is a very Myst-like game (I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the word “ages” appears in the title). Fortunately, though, it’s not a complete clone, although it doesn’t exactly do anything new, either.
In the background story for Aura, it turns out that some of the Worlds contain Artifacts, and if a person were to have the Rings and Artifacts at the same time, that person would become super powerful and gain immortality. So of course a rogue Keeper decides to go for it, and then your job in the game is to visit the Worlds and grab the Artifacts first. However, in another nod to the Myst games, the plot is mostly ignored, and it just serves as a device for you to visit strange and exotic lands, and figure out how to make a whole lot of machines work.
Aura’s engine should be familiar to anybody who has played many adventure games, and especially adventure games from The Adventure Company. The game’s world is made up of discrete locations, and at each location you can rotate the camera to look around. At certain “hotspots” you can click to move to a new location, and at other hotspots you can zoom in your view to get a better look at something, or pick up an object and add it to your inventory. Unlike the Myst games, there are some inventory puzzles in Aura, and so you’ll not only have to manipulate machines, you’ll have to do some pixel hunting to find objects as well.
The puzzles in Aura work pretty well. There are some easy ones and some tough ones, but I’d characterize them all (with maybe one exception) as doable. Mostly the puzzles have to do with pattern matching. That is, you see how something should look in one part of the world, and then you have to re-create the pattern in another part. That means you have to pay attention to your surroundings, and it helps if you can keep screenshots of what you see. To help you out a little, the game keeps some notes for you, and some patterns are kept in your notebook.
But the puzzles have two problems. Firstly, they’re all or nothing. For example, at one point you see four columns of four wheels, and you have to turn the wheels to the correct positions to get a bridge to elevate. Well, the bridge has four parts, so it would have been nice if getting one column correct would have raised one part of the bridge, but no. You have to get all four columns correct for anything to happen. That means it’s difficult to play around with the puzzles to figure them out. You have to figure out what the puzzle is about (not so easy with some of the machines) to have any hope of solving them.
The other problem with the puzzles is that they’re a little bit dry and distant. I liken Aura to working on a crossword puzzle book. Sure, I enjoy solving a crossword puzzle from time to time, but I don’t find them enthralling or anything, and I wouldn’t spend a day on them. The same is true for Aura. You pretty much have to move through a long line of machines to get to the end of the game, but the machines aren’t very interesting, and since there aren’t any characters to care about, and no story to wonder about, Aura isn’t the most exciting adventure to play.
Still, Aura is well made, it looks nice, and some work went into its puzzles. It’s a much better game than, say, Jack the Ripper, and it seems like a worthwhile option at its $20 price tag.