Amerzone usurps the ultimate adventure game

Amerzone: The Explorer's Legacy
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Too often, adventure games compare themselves to the reigning God, Myst. And too often, new games perform far below Myst — far worse in fact.

Some might be inclined to declare Amerzone a good game in the Myst vein. I’ll go one step further. Amerzone takes first-person adventure gaming to the next level and could — no, Amerzone should — become Myst’s successor on the throne of adventure games.

Amerzone’s captivating graphics, compelling characters, complex, but solvable, puzzles and an excellent plot kept me playing for hours on end–nothing that any other adventure game has done since…well…Myst. (Sorry fans, but Riven sucked compared to the original.)

Setting itself apart from Myst though, proved easy for Amerzone.

First, in the opening graphics, a postman rendered in full 3D (no actors except for audio) shows up with a letter and begins your quest. You play a journalist sent by a dying man’s plea to return a mythical egg to the natives of Amerzone, now a country ruled by the iron hand of a Hitler-like dictator.

A look at the notebook. These 3D characters appear throughout the story in the natural flow of the plot. While appearing almost cartoon-like, characters still blend in with the exquisite backgrounds. And despite this game’s birth in France, the English version isn’t dubbed, the character’s lips move with an excellent dialogue. Even some unusual animals guide or hinder your play.

Secondly, the environment allows full 3D bubble interaction. Generally, the cursor remains stationary in the middle of the screen. Mouse movement causes the bubble you are standing in to move. You might want to slow down the options if you can get motion-sick because the room literally spins.

Gorgeous environmental graphics with subtle sounds keeps a player engaged. And finding usable objects turns out to be a challenge, since they too blend into the background.

Early on, the player is given enough information to know the ultimate objective. Although like Myst, Amerzone requires reading documents but it isn’t quite as overwhelming a read. And since you get to carry the documents with you, you’ll be able to refer to them. Yes, you will also need to check out the magnificent sketches to solve the puzzles.

Some puzzles come easy while others provide a greater challenge. Perhaps an Amerzone hint book is in the making. I had to resort to a Web walkthrough only once — not because I didn’t know what to do, but because I couldn’t figure out where to do it.

Some puzzles might be a little complex, but remember that characters–people and animals–play an integral role in Amerzone, so chat with them often and listen to what they say.

Another look at the notebook. I will express some disappointment about the puzzles. Toward the end of the adventure, things get a little too straightforward and the challenges become too easy. I won’t give away the final confrontation, but I found it much too easy to solve with the final moves of the game much too simple.

When I "won," the ending animation also seemed a little too anticlimactic.

The most challenging portion of Amerzone might be getting it to run on a PC system. On a GiN colleague’s system–a 266-MHz Pentium II with 64M RAM and a decent video card–the game sluggish performance sometimes caused long waits before accepting mouse clicks.

My system–a 500-MHz Pentium III with 128M RAM and a 16M AGP video card–also experienced very slow performance. Once, while I was playing, the game ended suddenly without so much as an error.

Microids, which released the game in the United States, lists the minimum computer as a 166-MHz Pentium, 32M RAM and a 2M video card. You just might be successful at getting Amerzone to run on such a system, but GiN does not recommend it since play proved substantially hampered with much higher end systems. And a quick note, I found play better if you began the game after a fresh reboot.

Sprung from the mind of European cartoonist Benoît Sokal, Amerzone plays nothing like a comic strip, but a lavish, intricate adventure that captured the soul of this adventure-gamer. And finally, I have a worthy replacement for Myst in the number one spot on my personal favorites list.

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