J.U.L.I.A. Among the Stars Review (PC)

An invaluable lesson to learn in life is to avoid making assumptions where possible. It's as important in the world of computer games as it is elsewhere, because to make an assumption about the 'adventure' game called J.U.L.I.A would be to instantly think “adventure, therefore point and click”. And although you do a lot of pointing and clicking, it's not at all what you'd expect, and you've got to wonder, sadly, why it wasn't.

When you load the game up, you're probably expecting a Monkey Island-style adventure, especially when the game's website invites you to “step into the spacesuit of Rachel Manners,” but instead what you get is a curious mixture of text adventure, puzzle mini-games and menu simulator. Set in space, the story revolves around a young lady who looks a bit like a tanned Yazz, an exploration droid called Mobot and the titular character, Julia the ship's computer, who won't have the honour of having me waste time punctuating her name any longer.

A picture is worth a thousand words, and in this case, all of them would be entirely misleading

Yazz (or Rachel, as she's properly known) wakes up from hypersleep to find herself trapped alone on a spaceship that's been sent out from Earth to explore the stars and so on, like Star Trek but with no green-skinned women in sight. Julia pipes up to explain what's going on, saying she's had some memories lost or destroyed, and so you all toddle off down to the planet below to find out what's going on down there.

Usually this would involve moving your character around and examining, using and/or randomly trying things from your inventory on other things in a fruitless attempt to progress. But in J.U.L.I.A, you are only ever presented with menus and text-driven interfaces, interspersed with various puzzles to solve. It's an unusually retro approach to modern adventuring, which makes the whole experience a strangely impersonal affair. The only 'characters' you see or converse with are just talking heads, and it doesn't help that they're not exactly voiced brilliantly. There's one moment where Rachel shouts in an anger that chills the blood with its horror, so badly is the rage vocalised.

Just like Mass Effect, this has a snore-inducingly dull ore mining mini-game. Sigh

Without the personality of animated characters, backdrops and the usual point-and-click accoutrements, what we're left with is just a collection of menus linking different puzzles together. Even the text sections are scarce in their inclusion, making the game more a puzzler than an adventure. If one's initial assumptions had been correct, this might have given the development team license to create some evocative alien worlds to explore. Instead, you get a few stills to glance at, which is nowhere near as good.

As for how it plays, the puzzles are challenging enough to keep riddle-o-philes amused for a while, though better explanations for just what you're meant to be doing in them wouldn't have gone astray.

Other than that, there's little else to say. It's a puzzle game dressed up in fancier clothes, making more of an effort to bridge the gap between conundrums with a fleshier story than most similar titles have. Despite the lack of life the menu-based engine has, there's always an intrigue to stories about being found alone in space that makes the player want to discover more, and so it proves here.

It's a brave developer that eschews visuals for the power of text these days

Even so, there's always that “shoulda been a contender” aspect to the proceedings, that if they'd just gone down the more traditional adventure game route, they'd have had a far better title on their hands. Full credit has to go to them for trying to do something different, but it doesn't quite work out for reasons outlined above.

Other than the acting side of things, which is always an issue with smaller budget titles, there's little 'wrong' with J.U.L.I.A, it's just more of a case of what's right isn't right enough. If that makes sense. And in these times of austerity, perhaps it'd be best to satiate your love of puzzles and space isolation drama by picking up a 99p crossword book from your newsagents and filling them in while watching Pandorum or Event Horizon or something like that.

Favourite Game Moment: When Rachel bellows “Juliarrrrr!” out in a 'rage', the unintentional comedy of the terribly acted moment beats anything else in the game hands down.

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By garry_profilin (SI Veteran Newbie) on Mar 27, 2012
mining for ore, i'm sold! great review
wanted this game to be better, oh well might still check it out