The Secrets of Atlantis: The Sacred Legacy Review

The Secrets of Atlantis: The Sacred Legacy is the latest game from veteran developer Atlantis Interactive Entertainment. AIE also created Atlantis Evolution, but aside from the name there is little comparison. While Atlantis Evolution takes place in the future, and involves space travel, The Secrets of Atlantis takes place in the past -- 1937 -- and the primary means of travel is the legendary zeppelin Hindenburg. Howard Brooks, the hero of the story, is returning from an engineering conference in Europe. But aboard the Hindenburg, he is knocked out, and quickly discovers that he is, unknowingly, at the heart of an age-old secret for which he possesses a key artifact. This discovery is the start of a journey that begins at the Empire State Building in New York City, and moves to Macao, India, and Mesopotamia. Along the way, Howard acquires two traveling companions, both intimately involved with the same quest that he is on.

TSoA is a story-based adventure game, containing all of the expected elements of such -- travel to exotic locations, exploring unknown places, solving challenging puzzles, meeting interesting companions along the way, and watching as an intricate tale unfolds.

The game is played in the first person (as Howard), although frequent cut-scenes show Howard and his companions as they move through the story. The interface is a simple point-and-click, with all of the standard operations (360-degree panning, selecting and using inventory objects, moving puzzle objects around, etc.).

Although the 3 installation CDs fully install to the hard drive (requiring almost 2GB of space), the game security still requires a CD in place to play. However, no disc swapping is necessary during game play.

Players of previous offerings from AIE will be familiar with the outstanding graphics in the game. In virtually every scene, there are rich textures and intricate detail, lending an air of realism to the environment. And the many characters encountered in the game are rendered and animated well, also. (See the screenshots in the sidebar for some representative examples.) In addition to having many people with whom to interact, attention was even given to reasonable lip-synching.

There are many character interactions throughout the game. As Howard progresses on his quest, he encounters many people who provide help (and, sometimes, hindrance) for his activities. In addition, the story line -- and the action itself -- develops as a result of conversations with these various individuals. Conversations take the form of selecting from one or more icons indicating topics of discussion. As in all such games, the most optimal results come from selecting all possible topics of conversation, with all possible characters. And, in fact, many of these conversations are, themselves, triggers for further action. It is not unusual for all other activity to be "stonewalled" until Howard discovers the correct person to speak with, and the proper topic to talk about. The voicings of the characters are also done quite well, and were not caricaturized, as in some games.

As might be expected from a game that focuses so intensely on the development of the underlying story, the conversations -- and the game itself -- become quite linear. While there is a certain degree of "random exploration" available to Howard (particularly in the beginning of the game), as the game progreses, there is more often very little to do -- a very limited footprint to explore, very few characters to speak with -- until just the right thing is said or done. Only once that next trigger is found will new avenues open up and the game move on. This is a double-edged sword, as it is virtually a necessity for the clean development of the plot, and yet can leave the most avid explorer/adventurer somewhat frustrated looking for that one trigger.

The game gets off to a bit of a slow start, but builds remarkably from there. As it moves from location to location, it allows the player to travel to exotic places and become involved in the intensity and drama as the story unfolds -- keeping the player interested in the game and the story.

The many cut-scenes throughout the game are extremely well done, and add another element of realism to the story. The rendering of these animated scenes is as good as the artwork throughout the rest of the game.

The saved games are limited to 10 slots, although in this particular case I did not find that to be a problem. Even though there were situations where the main character could "die," the game would then restart at a point just prior to whatever action caused his untimely demise, thereby giving the player a chance for a "do-over," without requiring the frequent game saves that some adventure games demand.

The puzzles in the game combine inventory-style and logical puzzles. In fact, some of the logic puzzles require that inventory objects be gathered before the puzzle can be solved, but then the solution is a logic solution. For the most part, the puzzles integrated into the game well, and were not disruptive to the flow of the story. As far as puzzle difficulty, I found that the puzzles in TSoA ranged from mostly very manageable to one or two somewhat non-intuitive, more difficult puzzles. Sometimes the puzzles involved a bit of running around back and forth, looking for clues or inventory objects elsewhere, then coming back to try and solve the puzzle again. One particular puzzle did become slightly annoying only because it took a simple concept and turned it into a timed puzzle. If not completed within the (very limited) amount of time given, Howard would die, and the entire sequence would repeat again. These are not my favorite kinds of puzzles. But even the "old standard" puzzles (e.g., sliding tile, knight's move) -- which are encountered in the game -- are implemented in a way that makes them new and different, and provides additional challenges.

The pure inventory puzzles were sometimes disappointing. Without sufficient clues to make them intuitive, solving the puzzle sometimes turned into a case of "try every object in inventory on this particular 'hot spot' to see what works."

The background music, and other sound bytes, were done quite well. The musical score did an excellent job of setting (and maintaining) the mood of the game at any particular time. Especially well done were the parts that brought additional tension to the game -- perhaps at a time of high danger, or when closing in on a long-sought target, for example.

While most of the movement within the game was quite smooth, I did experience one particular technical difficulty. Many of the scenes contained background animations that were continuously active. When this happened, I found that the normally smooth panning, for example, would get a bit "jumpy." And in the most extreme cases, I might move the mouse and not see any immediate response, only to then see the entire scene "jump" to the new location after I had taken my hand off the mouse. In one or two cases in particular, it made navigation through a specific scene very difficult, and very "touchy."

The ending to the game is, to say the least, unusual. And, I believe that most would say, unbelievable. While the rest of Howard's journey was quite credible, the end game suddenly became just the opposite -- involving mystical powers, an ancient temple, even Noah's Ark. The final puzzle is one of the more challenging in the game.

The game could have been lengthened a bit without too much more actual game development. There were many places along the way that you could see, but not reach -- areas that would have added to some of the more random exploration in the game. It would have been nicer to flesh out the game a bit more, in terms of extending the areas to explore within each of the geographic locations. Overall, the game provided about 15 hours of game play.

The ending very clearly implied a sequel (although it is quite playable, and enjoyable, as a stand-alone game). Other than the fact that there were significant issues left hanging, the final dialogue -- hinting that Howard has more to do yet -- ends by saying "The adventure had just begun." This will be good news to those who enjoyed TSoA-- of whom I am one.

In summary, the game was a delightful excursion, at a point in recent history, through several enchanting locations. With wonderful artwork and an excellent soundtrack, players looking for visual or audio stimulus should enjoy TSoA. And most adventure gamers who enjoy a good mix of puzzles should also find the game to their liking, as well.

-- Frank Nicodem