One of my very guiltiest pleasures is playing old adventure games that fell off the radar. Some of these, I experienced during the adventure game heyday and some – well, some have come to my attention with hindsight.
Because, of course, hindsight is 20/20 and you can separate the good from the bad with the sort of clarity you cannot possibly have on the game’s day of release.
Take last week’s game – King’s Quest 5. At the time, it had a veritable wall of magazine space devoted to it for various reasons: the hand painted backgrounds, the fully orchestrated soundtrack, the fact that it came on CD-ROM and, of course the…in-hindsight-terrible and cringe worthy voiceovers.
The thing you have to remember about the 90’s? It was a time of technological experimentation.
Especially for the French.
While America was churning out me-too games that had a heavy European basis for their fantasies, the French went in all sorts of other directions, from the seminal [but forgotten] Captain Blood to the surreal and mostly-wordless Another World. Each of these took gaming in slightly different directions: for Captain Blood, it was the space opera writ large. For Another World, this meant a hostile but fantastic alien planet that was out to kill the player.
Cryo was a French development house that seized on this innovation in play-styles in all sorts of different ways. They believed in great visuals, beautiful soundtracks and – most pertinent to this write-up, taking the adventure game format and bending it just a fraction so that it ended up in a slightly different place.
For Lost Eden, that meant taking the idea of dinosaurs, setting them into a world that contained reasonably developed species of humans and letting the two roam around in the same universe.
In this particular version of the world, humans and dinosaurs were – at one point – great allies, but that friendship ended when it became clear that humans didn’t want to live alongside dinosaurs, they wanted to enslave them. Not surprisingly, when a group of rogue dinosaurs goes on the loose, mistrust between the old allies means a lack of cohesion and, slowly but surely, the dinosaurs begin to win the war.
You – as Adam – enter the picture at this point. Not content to sit back and wait in your fortified home, you start travelling the world, seeing the state it’s in and deciding to act. For, of course, you are not your Father, a man willing to be safe in his lair while the world burns.
Graphically – for the time, at least – Lost Eden is beautiful. There are many reasonably rendered [for the time, at any rate] static scenes that immerse you in the world of the game. Some places have pleasant “movement” transitions – where, say, you go from one part of the map to the other, spurring a montage of your trek from the old place to the new.
In 1995, these pre-rendered scenes were a bit of a revelation: older games just moved your piece on the board from where you were to where you were going, but Lost Eden fills the time between with little interstitials of dinosaurs lumbering along as they carry their human cargo.
Lost Eden is almost impossibly kind by ancient adventure game standards, giving you a “free tip line” to the “dinosaur gods” really early on. Death isn’t much of a setback and most of the puzzles are on the easy side – so long as you’re observant, there shouldn’t really be a moment of Lost Eden that is beyond you. It does have some flat-out bizarre-world adventure game logic, of course, but for the most part, the game is willing to guide you – allowing your progress to be directed by your companions: a group of people you assist throughout the story.
The pacing and copious hints make me think it was designed for a younger audience – an audience that might have played educational adventure games, but that weren’t quite up to the brutal death-by-forgetting-to-collect-a-crucial-item that Sierra games were so fond of.
A case against the game’s simplicity could be made quite easily – especially in the mid-game where you’re doing one particular set of actions over and over and over again, just in different locations, but two things save the gamer from burnout: those interstitials are kind of little rewards – that and the beautifully digitised [for the time] landscapes are a joy to behold.
The central conceit of Lost Eden is finding friends and working with them to rout the evil menace – and while that central aspect does get a little tedious, it’s always interesting to hear what your companions have to say.
About the only real place where I could really find anything to criticize is the interface. Until you understand how to work with the inventory, [which isn’t exactly intuitive] it’s a little frustrating. Especially if you have a big inventory of items. You see, Lost Eden treats your inventory as one big, long list that is always on display at the bottom of the screen. It’s not clear, but this list scrolls left and right. The first time you “lose” an item in your inventory is completely horrifying.
Then, there is the options menu. Most of the options are just fine, but knowing how to even get to the options menu is a bit non-intuitive. While some windowed applications had come out at this point, clicking on a menu bar wasn’t always standard. Lost Eden was designed without “standards” in mind, so you generally have to click on your team, click on Adam and then make your options menu selections. And this leads me to what is – probably – the greatest User Interface fault happening here: There are only three save game slots on the PC version of the game. And you cannot name your game. They’re generic Save Game 1, 2 and 3. There’s also an auto save, just in case, but the game is /mostly/ harmless and you’ll almost never die.
There are other, smaller, user interface sins going on in this game, but because mouse-based gaming was in its infancy, it’s easy to forgive these little problems. Besides. All of this review up to this point is completely second fiddle to the AMAZING soundtrack created by the INCREDIBLY talented Stephane Picq. Drop whatever you’re doing right now and go and dig for the soundtrack so you can listen to it. It is just that good.
So much so that I’d almost just recommend the game as a vehicle to listen to the soundtrack. In 1995, slipping this disk into my CD-ROM player, I was convinced that – somehow – Cryo [who were pretty small fish, really] had somehow struck a deal with Michael Cretu, of Enigma. It blew my mind.
So, should you play it?
The plot is madly interesting, but the characters are fairly wooden. There’s a “great journey” happening here, but it’s never seriously reflected in the cast. Moreover, that stretch in the middle is painful. You get a list of steps to perform – a list of steps that never varies – and then you have to repeat those same steps several times over before you can progress. The graphics are beautiful – for the time – but it’s easy to see problems with them from a modern perspective, but absolutely all of this can be forgiven for the soundtrack. But then, when it’s Mister Picq at the helm, you’re guaranteed a sonic burst of excellence.
Note: I did a let’s play of the game and you can watch it here