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Lora's Adventure Game Reviews: Journey to the Center of the Earth

Journey to the Center of the Earth (Game release date: 2003)
This imaginative graphic adventure compensates for interface woes and glitchy puzzles with a glimmer of interactivity and the cutest animated dinosaurs ever.

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Highlights: Cute dinos, interesting mystery plot, alternate endings, imaginative gameworld Lowlights: Broken puzzles, lack of detail, tons of badly written dialogue, poor controls

If you liked Syberia, odds are good you're going to like Journey to the Center of the Earth. This is another pretty, imaginative, slow-paced graphic adventure featuring prehistoric animals, a bland heroine yearning for a more exciting life, and a lot of nonsensical inventory-combining puzzles. The interface is even about the same. What Journey to the Center of the Earth has that Syberia did not is a glimmer of interactiveness--input into Ariane's priorities that can result in two substantially different endings. What it lacks is Syberia's soaring artistry. You will never lose yourself in Journey to the Center of the Earth and forget that you are playing a standard point-and-click game rather than watching some oddly absorbing art movie. And you're likely to get sick of the pixel-hunting and endless clicking of irrelevant objects on unexaminable hotspots to see whether something unpredictable happens. Still, the set design is lovely, the mystery draws you in, and how many graphic adventures offer a bifurcating plot?

Plus dinosaurs. I'm a total sucker for dinosaurs.

Style: Journey to the Center of the Earth is a third-person puzzle-adventure game with a 3D point-and-click interface. You control a single character. The plot is a mystery adventure and there are science fiction and fantasy themes. The game is untimed and no manual dexterity is required. Combat and leveling are not elements.

Series: Journey to the Center of the Earth is not part of a series, but the game designers are evidently working on another adventure game modeled on a Jules Verne novel, 80 Days.

Finding Journey to the Center of the Earth: This is a relatively recent game and can still be found in some software stores (particularly in jewel case format.) Here it is for sale on Amazon.

Getting Journey to the Center of the Earth to Work: This game unfortunately has a lot of gameplay bugs (see Pitfalls below,) but I didn't have any difficulties getting it to install or run. It isn't technically compatible with Vista (hardly any games released before 2007 are), but will even run tolerably there if you use XP compatibility mode.

Hints For Journey to the Center of the Earth: You can check out my low-spoiler page of Journey to the Center of the Earth hints if you like. There is also a good hints page at UHS which reveals only one hint at a time, so you won't accidentally learn the answers to future puzzles while scanning for the one you're stuck on.

Pitfalls In Journey to the Center of the Earth: You won't be able to play this game without consulting a walkthrough, at least if you have the English version, because there's unfortunately a serious error in one of the game's puzzles (the Initiation Lane puzzle with the soundwaves, moving leaves, and floating island.) An important clue has been left out of the totem half of the puzzle, leaving a gamer with only trial and error to determine which pairs of totems make which sounds... and there are fifteen possible combinations, each of which requires a dozen clicks to test. Then, once you finish identifying the correct combinations through this tedious process, there's no way to reset the puzzle, so you have to restore an old game to use the knowledge you've gained. And as if all that weren't enough, there's ALSO a bug in the Valley of the Spirits that causes Ariane to become stuck on the pathway, AND one of the sound diagrams on the Floating Garden columns in Initiation Alley is wrong. When (not if) you become stuck here, just consult this page for the solution rather than wasting hours of your life performing menial exercises to compensate for what is simply a broken puzzle. Trust me. You'll thank me. This is also an audio puzzle, but the aforementioned walkthrough will let you solve it even if you can't hear well.

There is also one potential game-stopping glitch. In the Village of the Giants, be sure to pick up mastodon hair BEFORE entering the village, and don't put any shells into the magic pool without putting the mastodon hair in immediately afterwards. Leaving the living shell in the pool and returning to it later to add the mastodon hair can cause a game bug, forcing you to replay the boring giant errands all over again.

Game Length: 20 hours, plus however long you spend beating your head against the broken puzzle before giving up and consulting a walkthrough. That's a bit short for a graphic adventure, especially considering how much of its gameplay is spent navigating.

Age-Appropriateness: Journey to the Center of the Earth is rated E (for everyone 6 and up). This isn't really a game aimed at children, and some of the puzzles would be too frustrating for kids playing unassisted; but there's no sex, violence, or bad language in it, and there are dinosaurs everywhere. My sons couldn't get enough of this one. Let's just say I kept backup savegames right before the occurrence of some of their favorite cutscenes.

Lora's Journey to the Center of the Earth Review: (Pretty Good)

Plot and Quests: The plot is generally very good and deserves special recognition for having two significantly different endings based on choices the player makes. Most of the individual quests are dull fed-ex affairs ("Please fetch me object X from the other side of town,") but there are a few memorable exceptions. An off-putting lack of detail in parts of the plot keep it from being as compelling as it could be.
Puzzles and Mental Challenges: Primarily inventory puzzles (of the "what inventory item can I use on this door" variety.) Most of these are nonsensical and rote. There are several more complicated mathematical, spatial and logic puzzles in Journey to the Center of the Earth which improve the challenge level significantly. Unfortunately, several puzzles are marred by poor translation, poor execution, and bugs (see Pitfalls, above.)
Characters: You play a pre-assigned PC in Journey to the Center of the Earth, a photojournalist named Ariane. Her conversational options are fixed--you don't have the option of choosing her reactions to things the way you can in more interactive games like The Longest Journey--but you do get to make a life-changing decision for her at one point in the plot. The humanoid NPCs are uniformly bland, unlikeable, and horribly voiced, but the animals in this game deserve special mention--a few of them manage to project more personality than the people do.
Gameworld: Journey to the Center of the Earth is set in an underground world inspired by Jules Verne's novel of the same name, but it's imaginitive, fresh, and not at all dependent on the book. Some of the sci-fi elements are a bit contrived, but never intrusively so. The main flaw in the gameworld is actually the people inhabiting it. Except for the conspirators, none of them ever do anything for a logical reason; they all simply stand around robotically repeating whichever pointless favor they want you to do for them, like the characters in Ultima IV or something.
Gameplay: Most modern graphical adventures are pretty derivative in the gameplay department. The constraints of the genre right now guarantee that you'll either do a lot of boring backtracking because the game let you do too many geographically diverse tasks in a nonlinear order, or be artificially prevented from taking an action until you've finished something unrelated, or know exactly what's going to happen next at every juncture of the game because of the game designer's visible attempts to avoid the other two scenarios (the "screwdriver's still in my pocket" phenomenon.) Journey to the Center of the Earth is the only graphical adventure I've played in recent memory to suffer from ALL THREE of these flaws at once, though, frequently refusing to let you try a sensible course of action until the computer thinks it's the right time for you to try it--thus forcing you to backtrack twelve screens and minutely recheck the scenery to see whether an action cursor has mysteriously appeared there yet. It gets very tedious very quickly.
Interface: The navigation controls in this game are flawed and frustrating. There are no movement shortcuts, so you spend a lot of time watching Ariane jog; worse, the cursor that's supposed to show you where exits are on a screen does not work in dozens of locations, so the only way to be sure whether it's possible to leave a screen or not is to manually jog her to each side of the screen and back, which is a grating waste of time. The 'camerawork' is also exceptionally poor--the perspective on a scene tends to pointlessly shift back and forth. This is annoying enough when it happens during a conversation, but when you're jogging Ariane down a long road and the camera angle keeps jerking around to face you 90 degrees in some other direction, it can be really disorienting. In a few locations, like Adam's hut, it's easy to completely miss a viewscreen because the perspective yanks back and forth whenever Ariane takes a step. On the bright side, the conversation and inventory interfaces are intuitive and easy to use, and Ariane's laptop provides a good additional way to interact with the world.
Ambience (Graphics, Sound, etc.): Except for Ariane's own action sprite, the graphics in this game are lovely; the music is atmospheric, the dinosaurs are fantastic, and the lost world is evocatively designed. What prevented Journey of the Center of the Earth from reaching past 'pretty' to 'immersive' was the lack of detail. Clicking on an interesting-looking object never revealed anything new about it, no closer look, no comment from the narrator, no interaction with the object. Even when an item is important to the plot, you still can't tell what it is until after you've picked it up (something you're often not allowed to do for a long time, or without gloves or some other object, which you have no way of guessing without knowing what the object you're trying to pick up is in the first place.)

Lora's Recommendations: I recommend Journey to the Center of the Earth to patient fans of the graphic adventure genre, especially those with children who like to play along with them. If a seamless playing experience is important to you, though, this isn't the game for you. The difficulty level isn't high, but even once you've already figured out what you need to do next, it's often unintuitive figuring out how to make that happen--and there are a couple of frustrating interface and puzzle-design glitches to be navigated that as good as guarantee you will need to consult a walkthrough at some point. If you're tolerant of such flaws, Journey to the Center of the Earth will reward you with an interesting plot and the cutest little dinosaurs you've ever seen.

If You Loved Journey to the Center of the Earth: Then you should immediately play Syberia and Syberia 2, if you haven't yet; the haunting mood, memorable characters, and phenomenal artwork of those games are sure to appeal to you. You should also check out The Longest Journey, an evocative graphic adventure even more interactive than Journey to the Center of the Earth and without any of its gameplay flaws. If you don't mind a darker, creepier theme, the horror adventure The Black Mirror is also beautifully drawn and paints a compelling mood. Finally, if what you loved most about Journey to the Center of the Earth was its magical mood and puzzle-solving, you may want to check out the immersive puzzle adventure Myst IV: Revelation, or even the original Myst Trilogy, from which Journey to the Center of the Earth has clearly derived some of its inspiration.

For a more detailed critique of the game involving spoilers, plot holes, and impacts Journey to the Center of the Earth could have on the adventure-game genre, please see my Backseat Game Designer page. Enjoy the game!

North American nations * Maliseet * Small wood carvings * Native * Indian ancestry

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