A puzzling project.
Imagine a future where overpopulation has led to only one solution for mankind's need for space - going vertical. It seems that the land is pretty much a moot point, so for years and years people have been building up, up, up, so high up that generations have passed and what lies on the lower floors is considered history. Now imagine that something has gone awry and people are dying and you have to go back down through the floors to find out what's happened, who's responsible, and who can still be saved.
Guess what? You're not imagining anything. You're playing Project Eden, a singularly difficult game to review because it serves a specific function wonderfully, but delivers nothing else. You see, this is a puzzle game masquerading as a squad-based action game set in a labyrinth of meat grinders and pipes and industrial equipment.
You control four members of some crack squad of good guys. The characters each have specific skills that must be used to traverse the game's legions of puzzles. Your leader, Carter, can open certain doors; Minoko can hack into computer systems; Andre can fix broken stuff; and Amber is immune to environmental damage since she's a big cyborg.
Each skill (except for Amber's) applies to a distinct looking panel or terminal that clearly indicates which person is needed for the job. Very simple. The actual execution of the skills is even more straightforward. Since Carter is clearly retarded, all he has to do is touch his panels and they work. Minoko is slightly less stupid; she has to click on a circle the moment a little moving dot orbiting it enters a specific region. Andre is the smartest, as he has to watch a little notch move down a meter and click when it's in the appropriate segment.
The skills don't develop, and their actual implementation is marginally creative and a little frustrating (especially Andre's). However, the conjunction of the skills in the face of a huge, multifaceted puzzle is where Project Eden shines. As opposed to solving one lame puzzle every so often, the player is faced with elaborate, sustained puzzles that are usually composed of several smaller, inter-related puzzles.
The puzzles are tied into the environment, creating a nearly seamless integration. The result immerses the player into the problem at hand and gives the puzzles themselves greater depth and importance.
However, this sense of immersion is routinely broken. For one thing, nothing really happens when the puzzles 'end'. There are good bursts of continuity in which the player gets sucked into the game, but these always come to a stark finish with little to show for the last puzzle. These gaps are where a story or skills or should develop, but alas, Project Eden is lacking in both.
The levels themselves generally contain a center around which is situated all the big puzzles. The effect is eerie; though the levels seem huge, you can always find your way around and you always wind up back at the same place. Since your progression through the world of Project Eden is vertical, the center of the levels is almost always an elevator, which contributes to Project Eden's segmented feel. As opposed to a fluid progression, you get levels, literally.
While there is some action in Project Eden, there are few weapons, the enemies are unimpressively stupid and they take a lot of punishment. Your characters aren't very agile either, so most fights involve "rolling," which is accomplished by ducking and strafing. You roll out, pop off a couple shots, roll back in, and repeat several times until your foe is no more.
Every once in awhile the enemies will chase you. This can be kind of fun because you've got to run around while trying to shoot a quickly moving target, and in third-person view mode (you can toggle between first and third) the visual effect is convincing and well animated.
The graphics in general are solid. Tthe outdoor environments stand out, while the indoor portions get a bit bland and generic, often times just feeling like an average corridor first-person shooter. But the overall look is smooth.
Project Eden's story progression is sparse. For a team that has to work together to stay alive (even though you're essentially immortal), no one ever has anything to say. Nobody talks. Ever. There are little cut-scenes where the story unfolds, but these are isolated and segmented like everything else in the game. Speech in Project Eden is exclusively a vehicle for relating new mission objectives. Character development is exclusively relegated to the thirty-second cut-scenes. This game is pure intellect, zero soul.
The lack of music is passable and contributes to the game's heavy, melancholy mood, but the presence of sirens and alarms is not. A grating, repetitive, blaring alarm only adds to the frustration of several of the puzzles and contributes to an atmosphere of helplessness. It's just not pleasant.
Speaking of frustration, you die all the time. Every time one of your characters die they're resurrected at one of the several resurrection machines throughout each level with no penalty or loss. Death is cheap in Eden, and so is life.
And so is the fact that none of your characters can jump. You have to trot/run (it's confusing, but your players start off trotting, then start running after about ten steps) through all sorts of obstacles, and timing the transition and taking the two different speeds into account is hard and irritating.
Changing between characters is a breeze, but controlling a character you aren't using isn't an option. There are no orders other than "Follow me" and "Halt," so telling a character you aren't using to take cover or simply duck is an impossibility. The inability to influence characters you aren't using undermines the whole squad-based aspect of the game, reducing the "team" to four people with one mind.
Naturally, Project Eden's multiplayer is a few frags short of a bloodbath, with its limited weaponry and general lack of violence. You can play cooperatively with friends, but the person who has to be Minoko is gonna get awfully bored sitting in front of a computer console for a couple hours.
Despite its pitfalls, Project Eden is a decent puzzle game and will genuinely tease your gray matter. While a nice change of pace from fragfests like Red Faction, though, it shouldn't be considered a complete package. Instead, Project Eden delivers a nice diversion for those who like to sit back and solve some quiet puzzles without having to deal with an engrossing story or hectic action. Its lack of good story, character interaction or fluid action holds it back from being the best project it could be.