Mmmm, tastes just like white bird.
Once upon a time, three idealistic lads decided to take a trip to the Amerzone, a jungle in an undisclosed region. As their paths split, one decided to steal the egg of the white bird, which was sacred to the natives, and take it back home to study. He never returned.
Thus begins Ubisoft's new Myst-like adventure, Amerzone, a slow, quiet, satisfying gaming experience. You play the part of a young journalist who happens across this egg-napper, now an old man. He pleads for you to take the egg back to the Amerzone to set things right, and consequently you set off on your journey.
The graphics in this game are simply incredible. Every detail is included in rendering the scenes, ranging from the sunlight filtering through the jungle canopy to the mist that hangs over the swamp. The game uses a full 360-degree view, so you can look in any direction and gaze at the beauty of the backdrops. The only problem with the visuals is that the backgrounds are just that: flat backdrops. There is hardly any motion in any of the scenes, save the occasional door opening or machine working away. Given, this is more than Myst had - I just expected more improvement so many years later.
The sound is also well done. From the creaking of doors and echoing footsteps to the ambient noises of the jungle, everything sounds just as it should. Even the voice acting (which, unfortunately, is in short supply) is good, much better than the video game standard. The actors are actually convincing, sounding like the jaded adventurers they're supposed to be.
But the most interesting part of the game is the world the developers have created. Combining '30s art deco design with (semi)modern elements, Amerzone supplies a very vivid game universe, incorporating a strange combination of technology and nature. Though this may sound clich'd, you sometimes believe you are really there. Much of this is done by adding little things that aren't necessary to the game. For example, you can look closely at much of the fauna of Amerzone, even though it won't help you in your quest (and there are some weird animals there).
But of course, you must all be wondering about the gameplay itself. Are the puzzles too hard? Too easy? Too obscure? The answer to all these questions is yes and no (helpful, eh?). Many of the puzzles are very appropriate, with clues in the right places to give you the not-too-obvious answer to your problems. A little reading and a little observing will often do wonders. But there are a few puzzles, mostly towards the end, which have unclear solutions, and some which just seem to require some random clicking.
Also, parts of the game center on your ability to search out various objects lying around that are difficult to see in the super-detailed scenery. And yes, this game, like most first person adventure games, occasionally suffers from the hard-to-find-hot-spot problem. Because of the 360 degree view, if there is only one exit, it isn't always obvious. Amerzone is best suited for patient explorers who like to look at and poke at everything. Those who are more goal-oriented may find some puzzles a little frustrating.
However, there is one small disappointment lurking out there for you prospective adventurers. It is not possible to go every place that looks like it can be explored. For example, there's a ghost town in the game that has many doors, stairways and so on. But only a very few of these are actually clickable. Most of them are just part of the background environment. Other games, like Riven, solve this problem by making the world fantastical, the paths obvious, and steering the player away from those areas that are impossible to reach. Since the people at Microid wanted to make the game look more like the real world, they had to include all those extraneous things that would make the town look real. Unfortunately, they couldn't include all of the locations in the amount of space they were given (the game already takes up 4 CDs). Perhaps with a little work they could have designed it better. Still, it's only mildly frustrating and it doesn't hurt the game much.
Amerzone is a high quality game with a good story, excellent graphics, and a convincing soundtrack. But it's not without its flaws. Although it's better than most other Myst-like games, it still suffers from some of the basic problems, like the occasional confusing puzzle and hard-to-find hot-spots. For fans of Myst who have despaired over the recent lack of adventure games, who just can't look at one more violent, big-gun shooting mess, Amerzone is an attractive, solid entry in an old genre. Quick-twitch Quake junkies need not apply.