Imagine an alternate reality Earth, one where our technology has become much more advanced, yet all of our time is spent serving the gods through back breaking labor. This is the setting of Atlantis Evolution. Unfortunately, while the setting is unique and refreshing, the actual game is so repetitive and filled with so many frustrating moments that it’s hard to actually enjoy exploring the mythical lost city of Atlantis.
The game is set in 1904 and stars Curtis Hewitt who is, to put it mildly, having a rough time. After managing to survive a sinking ship, his life raft gets sucked into a whirlpool, which takes him to the titular underwater city. But this isn’t like any version of Atlantis you’re ever seen before. The entire city bears a strong resemblance to a religious cult, as all of its citizens spend their lives in servitude, toiling away to please their gods. There are guards patrolling the city in search of “deviants,” who are sent to facilities where they are turned into mindless, docile zombies. Eventually Curtis realizes that he not only has to find a way out of the city, but also has to save its citizens from their gods.
The actual story is fairly straightforward, and doesn’t feature much in the way of twists. It does, however, present an incredibly intriguing world to explore. The city of Atlantis is simply gorgeous, and features an interesting contrast between the haves and the have-nots. The workers toil away like Luddites, unable to use any sort of technology to aid their workload. Meanwhile, the guards look like something out of a science fiction film, complete with sleek armor and fancy ray guns.
It’s just too bad that the puzzles make actually exploring Atlantis a tortuous task. The game plays like a traditional first-person adventure game: you’re given a full 360 degree view of the world, and you’ll spend much of your time talking to other characters and searching for useful items. Most of the puzzles generally aren’t that difficult, though you will have to do a fair amount of pixel-hunting.
Where things really fall apart though, is with the all too frequent timed sequences. These often involve you being chased by guards and they simply don’t give you enough time to figure out what you need to do before you’re caught and have to start all over again. This means that you’ll be doing a lot of trial and error and a lot of repetition. You’ll be going over the same sequences many times until you can figure out just what to do. And in the meantime, expect to watch the same cut-scene of the guards catching you over and over.
It also doesn’t help that a number of the puzzles are almost counter-intuitive. I spent way too much time on one particular puzzle early on simply because the controls didn’t match up to what I thought they would. It should also be noted that Atlantis Evolution features the worst menu system that I have ever seen. The menus consist a number of unlabeled blue buttons, whose function is only revealed when you hover your mouse over them for a few moments. Saving your game or adjusting the volume shouldn’t be a chore, but it is in this game thanks to the horrible menus.
Things aren’t all bad though. Atlantis Evolution is definitely a nice, albeit slightly dated, looking game. While the characters are somewhat oddly proportioned, the actual world you’ll exploring is very interesting. The strange combination of technology that almost feels alien with archaic religious imagery is quite striking and the tropical setting is beautiful. The game also features some very good voice acting, though the soundtrack often feels out of place.
When it comes down to it, Atlantis Evolution really feels like a wasted opportunity. The setting and story hold so much promise, yet thanks to some frustrating puzzles and lousy design choices, it’s hard to really enjoy them. Instead of being able to thoroughly enjoy the fascinating world you’re given to explore, far too much of your time will be spent repeating the same timed sequences until you can figure out how to proceed. Like the mythical city it’s based on, Atlantis Evolution should probably just stay hidden.