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Der verborgene Kontinent -
Jules Verne - Journey to the Center of the Earth
Release date North America/France: 10/2003
Release date Germany: 11/2003
Publisher North America: Viva Media (Tivola)
Publisher France: Micro Application
Publisher Germany: bhv software
USK: for all ages
A review by slydos 10th December 2003
"The Hidden Continent" is not the first adventure by Frogwares from the Ukraine, but the first adventure in 3rd-person-perspective. In addition it is not their last adventure after Jules Verne, because "in 80 Days Around the World" is already in production.
The story in principle leans against Jules Verne's idea of an underground world, but is otherwise totally independent of its antetype, if you refrain from the entrance of the world near the Icelandic Sneffels volcano.
Our adventure takes place in the present and our heroine is the young photo reporter Ariane, who completely unplanned - caused by a helicopter crash - comes near a crevice, which kidnaps her on a hidden underground continent.
There she discovers breath-taking landscapes, buildings, plants and animals and meets members of the two races that live there. What a story for a reporter - the story of her life! But there is still her sympathy with the inhabitants, who don't want to be discovered at all. A large discrepance to her reporter ambition and at the same time she is involved in a political conspiracy, where she has to take a firm stand. She doesn't only have to explore this strange world, but also untangle the complex network of lies and truth to reach her decisions. Actually the exciting story branches out after approx. 2/3 of the game-time dependent on Ariane's decisions and there are 2 different, quite logical ends.
"The Hidden Continent" is sold on CD with German manual in a mini box with flip-cover. This small box versions were so far only usual in North America. Now we've got this more economical and more space-saving kind of packaging too. I like these kind of mini boxes very much, as they offer a lot more space for additional screenshots under the flip-cover.
The 27page German manual is not only very clear, but also four-colored illustrated, with concept art and offers an excellent introduction to the anyway very simple handling. For the first 10 minutes there is even a small introductory help inclusive screenshots.
One needs approx. 700 MB on hard disk for the installation. Through the main menu we can adjust game settings, exit, load and save a game. The graphic settings are automatically adapted to the abilities of the video card, but can be manually adjusted too. All pre-settings of the game concerning graphics, volume, sub-titles, speed and brightness of the screen can be changed at any time during the game again. At the beginning we see the helicopter crash in an awakening video sequence and can start the game at the accident scene.
"The Hidden Continent" is totally mouse-controlled. The cursor can take over 4 further shapes of function beside the standard form: hand for manipulations, head for dialogues, camera for taking photos of objects and storing it in Ariane's laptop, footprints for changes of scene or view. A doubleclick lets Ariane run faster.
Here we have the first of the two remarkable weak points of the game: the footprint-cursor as hint, where a scene can be left, is not marked throughout at every point. One can control Ariane's movements often also with the normal cursor. The footprints are often not even visible or only limited to a range of a few pixels, so that they can either be overlooked or mistaken for the surrounding footprint zones. Often they lead against the normal walking direction, so that one must click for example on the lower left area even if one intends to follow the road to the lower right area. Sometimes they hide behind the inventory, which opens at the bottom of the screen. There are some places, where Ariane could be stuck and only be freed under most vehement clicking on all possible or impossible spots. And there are problems to move the heroine where one wanted her to go, so that she leaves e.g. the house instead of walking into another corner of the room. Annoying, as surely avoidable! It clouds the otherwise really pleasant and very comfortable self-explaining controls.
The interactive areas, like objects or characters are indicated nearly without exception by a change of the cursor's shape. One doesn't have to take notes, as all important information, numbers, drawings, documents are transferred by photo to Arianes laptop and are available there at any time. If the laptop found a new source of information, it sends an audio warning and an optical signal until the information is retrieved by the player. Beside a document archive and an encyclopedia the laptop houses Ariane's photo archive and administrates the emails, she receives from time to time.
Handling of the inventory is most simple. A right-click opens and closes the scrollable icon bar at the bottom of the screen. If you move the cursor over an object, a describing text is also shown. One can select objects with a left-click, use them at the screen or with other objects or again put them back into the inventory. Ariane gives only rare comments, if an object cannot be used. It sticks to the cursor until one puts it down again.
Comfortable also saving and loading games. Through the main menu (with ESC) you can access the save/load menu. Here one can store an unrestricted number of savegames with screenshot, time and date. One can scroll through the savegames just like through a film reel, load or save and then return to the game. Overwriting (with safety inquiry) is possible, but actually not necessary. One leaves the game through the door of the main menu and gets back to Windows without any delay.
A further positive feature is the quick cycling through dialogues. If one started a dialogue by mistake, one can skip it by clicking on the sub-titles e.g. to avoid greeting phrases. Without the above described confusing controls of Ariane, the easy handling would have pleased throughout.
Pleasing throughout are however the opulent mouth-watering graphics. We have 3D-characters here (approx. 30), cavorting on beautiful 2D-backgrounds. These backgrounds are full of gorgeous details, colorful, and do not hide themselves in darkness. Main locations are divided into numerous scenes and views. There is a mushroom forest, a drilling platform in the sea, a pittoresque town and the soth-sea-like land of the giants, to mention only some.
The camera angle adapts well to the requirements of the scenes, shows Ariane often from the side in close-up, if she has to examine the environment more exactly or also - rather unusual - from above or diagonally from above, to get an overview, or in full shot, if the effect of a landscape should be emphasized. Sometimes we move tiny Ariane in front of a mastodon drove through the savannah or watch and control her from bird perspective across an artificial island. The changes of perspective are often surprising and stage-managed wonderfully however never confusing.
Ariane and the other - partly unusual - characters move fluently and adequate. However it is noticeable that they usually remain at the same place and sometimes act a bit mechanically, e.g. the gate guard. There is only little facial expression outside the (approx. 30) impressing film scenes. Fortunately they didn't forego to insert some extras like pedestrians walking by or just sitting on a park bench, apart from the characters, with whom Ariane can interact and that makes the scene simply believable. Besides there are animations, e.g. a flag in the wind, animals, water, the regular commuting metropolitan railway, fish in the aquarium, which create an impressing alive atmosphere eked by extremely realistic sound.
Ariane is a slender model character, with for my taste too short and flat hair. Nevertheless the few hair blows in the wind, while she's running. But you practically can't find naturally animated hair with 3D-characters anywhere in other games. So a hairstyle was abandoned, what a bummer! Marvelous the orchestral music, which sounds both in the main menu and in selected places within the game. It makes you feel positive and imparts that there will certainly be no standstill.
Excellent also the German translation and synchronisation. Especially positive that we already one month after the English and French language version can acquire a fully located German version. This also satisfies impatient fans, that would otherwise betake a foreign language version.
Most of the texts like sub-titles, menu- or inventory-texts and all documents in the laptop are error free and suitable translated into our language, also all text graphics.
Ariane does not hold long conversations. She has a certain selection of topics, to be selected in each case through a window. Sometimes the dialogue runs off automatically. The quantity of text however remains manageable and cannot be compared with "The Longest Journey". Sometimes Ariane reflects her situation, for example "Can I ever forget all this?".
Nevertheless this directs me to the second weak point of the game: Ariane makes too few comments. About most objects, she takes up, reads or gets to know she has simply nothing to say. She gives the gamer nearly no explanation, why an object cannot be used or something is not functioning. Unfortunately the developers also didn't create hotspots for items which cannot be used. So one gets no information from Ariane about the environment. Example: Ariane can take up a lot of things, which she cannot use immediately. But she e. g. enters a room 5 times, in which pliers lie well visible on the ground, but she can't take them up (they are not clickable). One expects at least a comment about it, but she remains silent. The 6th time she pockets the object without any comment. It is rather unsatisfactory, that the main character doesn't express her thoughts or one gets at least a text hint. That is by the way one of the similarities to the praised "Syberia", where also only 'useful' hotspots cause a comment.
In "the Hidden Continent" there are no timed sequences, no dexterity elements, no dying or GameOver, no labyrinth, no sliding puzzles and no dead ends.
So you sure ask yourself, how the indicated gaming time of 30 to 40 hours comes about! The time is actually no exaggeration. First we have a long and complex story with more than 100 puzzles of the most diverse kind and degree of difficulty. And the puzzles are not always as simple, e.g. the logic puzzle at the beginning is a real brainteaser. There is no slow rising of the difficulty level, hard puzzles are randomly scattered. More and more places become accessible and must be searched again and again for suitable objects. In addition Ariane and the players must remember what they've seen, because objects can partly only be taken up when they are actually needed, what doesn't mean that Ariane doesn't also hoards things, which she may need much later. So there's a lot of walking in this game. But it's to some extent helpful that sometimes places are not accessible that were already visited before, to avoid a longer errantry.
Beside the inventory-/object-based puzzles there are mechanical, decoding puzzles, weighing puzzles, Tangram puzzles and Hanoi Towers. The surely most difficult code puzzle can be found in the middle of the game. Here a certain sequence must be identified and transferred correctly which demands a lot of running around. Making it more difficult is that one has to start the long puzzle from the beginning again when clicking on the wrong spots. I painfully experienced that, because after each partial code you have to click on the tongue of a stone idol so that a certain sound can be heard. Since the sound always came with some delay, I thought the tongue had to be clicked twice, what of cause wasn't correct...
The game is quite nonlinear between different key-situations within subplots, i.e. puzzles can be solved in different order. That can be done so far that one even must not solve all possible puzzles, to successfully end the game. After playing the game I found out about that while reading the walkthrough, similar to "Gabriel Knight 3", that I had simply ignored some puzzles without noticing it.
A part of the puzzles is based on finding entrances (foot-icon cursor) to well hidden room corners or other areas. Also a (smaller) part of the necessary objects is better hidden than the others. One also cannot rely that similar puzzles can be solved in a similar way too. Sometimes one must combine a series of objects in detail and in the correct order, sometimes you only have to combine 2 objects and the rest results automatically. That is perhaps not 100% logical, but prevents that routine arises. In this sense not necessarily an adventure game for beginners, who want to sniff into the genre and want to get a story told without big obstacles.
I had to register a crash during a video sequence. That can be prevented however, if you pay good heed of the warning in the manual, and don't run other programs in the background. Otherwise the game ran without bugs and problem-free.
"the Hidden Continent" has everything what makes a good adventure game - an exciting story with surprising twists and turns, excellent graphics, music, sound and dubbing and many different, partly very challenging puzzles. As for "Syberia" I criticize the missing interaction with objects that are not necessary for advancing in the game and the controlling problems with the main character, otherwise the rating would have still been higher.
Total rating: 82%
Adventure-Archiv rating system:
- 80% - 100% excellent game, very recommendable
- 70% - 79% good game, recommendable
- 60% - 69% satisfactory, restricted recommendable
- 50% - 59% sufficient (not very recommendable)
- 40% - 49% rather deficient (not to be recommended - for Hardcore-Adventure-Freaks and collectors only)
- 0% - 39% worst (don't put your fingers on it)
Minimal system requirements:
- Pentium III 500 MHz
- Windows 98/2000/ME/XP
- 64 MB RAM
- 16 MB 3D graphic card
- DirectX 8.1
- 700 MB on hard disk
- Windows XP
- P IV 1,6 GHz
- 512 MB RAM
- 16x DVD-ROM (Artec WRA-A40)
- nVidia GeForce 2MX400 64 MB graphic card
- Sound card DirectX-compatible
Click on screenshots to magnify