Genre: Sci-Fi/Futuristic Thriller
Release Date: June 3, 2011
Note: Originally published 11 Aug 2011
A New Beginning should be a slam dunk. It should be a veritable feast for adventure lovers. And in many ways, it’s just that. But alarming shortcomings in key areas keep this great-looking game from being the top-flight title that it should be.
Let’s talk about the good stuff first.
To begin with, this is one good-looking game. I mean, seriously good-looking. The format is third person and the gorgeous comic-book-style visuals really pop on the screen. The character models are detailed and convincing, and every location has a rich feeling of atmosphere and detail that will remind you of some of the best third-person adventures of the past.
The visual presentation is also excellent, using comic-book panels and animation to create a kinetic and compelling flow of story and information. Good use of dynamic parallax in particular helps bring the superb 2D art to life.
If you were walking by someone playing this game, you’d stop and ask him/her about it. It’s that pretty.
Next, the plot: Who can resist time travel stories? Well, I certainly can’t. Time travel is a time-honored theme in adventure games. Who can forget the wonders of Timelapse or even the more low-rent delights of Beyond Time and Ark of Time?
The plot setup is grim but exciting. At a point several centuries in our future, mankind faces obliteration due to ecological collapse. In a desperate move, several teams of scientists use time travel technology to retreat into the past and try to change the events which led to their current dire situation.
The game takes you on a globetrotting adventure, giving the artists a field day depicting all sort of environments that range from pristine and unspoiled to eerily devastated. This visual variety adds a great deal of enjoyment to the gameplay experience.
More good stuff: The game also has good, solid puzzles. They are very traditional third-person adventure puzzles, mostly inventory- and dialog-based. Pay close attention to what the characters say (including the one you are playing) and you shouldn’t have too much trouble solving the puzzles. One word of warning: the puzzles do reward the patient pixel-hunter. This can cause an occasional puzzle solution to feel a bit more obscure than it probably should.
Another fun thing about the game is that you get to play two characters. The first is an unhappy scientist whose work on environmental engineering could hold the key to mankind’s salvation. The second is a young time-traveling scientist who must convince the environmentalist to help her. This adds to the dynamic feeling of the rich plot, in a way reminiscent of the Broken Sword series.
The game is also meaty: It’s broken into chapters and the story the game tells is substantial. You get the feeling it would make a good novel or science fiction movie. The story feels like it matters; you really get a feeling for the high stakes involved.
And did I mention the music? It’s gorgeous!
In fact, everything about the game suggests big budget, classy production . . . until the characters start opening their mouths. If only the dialog and voice acting were up to the high standard set by the game’s visuals, story, music, and presentation.
The game suffers from every cliché sin that worst foreign games commit.
First, the translation into English is quite poor.
There are also points where dopey writing really undermines the good elements of the story. Here’s one example: Early in the game, the character you’re playing faces a dire situation with another character. She’s hurt, badly. She needs immediate medical attention, which he can provide. But before he can administer this help, he gets a phone call.
Which he takes. (Seriously?)
Who’s on the other line? His therapist, of course, who really, really wants to talk. You know, about your character’sfeelings. Now, in any remotely real-life or real-life-adjacent situation, you wouldn’t answer the phone to begin with, but if you did, the moment you realized it was your therapist you’d immediately hang up. Instead, your pinhead character wastes precious minutes yammering with the doctor, too polite to exit the conversation abruptly. It’s the kind of device that might work in a farce, but in a life-and-death situation it just seems tone-deaf and stupid.
But there’s more. There’s a key character who is so aggressively awful and unpleasant that it makes you want to turn off the game. He’s an authority figure who’s so hostile to the player character that it’s not only difficult to listen to, but it makes utterly no sense in the scheme of the story. If you were putting a team together for a mission the entire world was depending on, would you really staff it with people you had open contempt for? That’s just silly - and obnoxious. And it brings a shrill tone that no game needs. How annoying is it? It reminded me of the first ten minutes of Ring II (a game the developer actually apologized to me for).
Finally, the voice acting is atrocious. Not only did the production hire bad actors, but they clearly recorded their dialog in isolation, without any context from the surrounding lines adding clarity to the performance. There are consistent line readings with the stress on the obviously wrong word or phrase. This makes listening to the dialog awkward and unenjoyable.
I’m sure JA+ readers are sick of hearing me say this, but there’s no excuse for bad acting in games. None. Zilch. Nada. When you lavish attention and talent on the visuals and story line of a game, but then dismiss the acting portion of the game as an afterthought, you undermine all the good work that went into the good parts of the game. It just makes no sense to me. Actors are always desperate to work, and any city where you’re making a game has a community of actors who would LOVE to be in a computer game. And if you don’t believe me, developers, I’d be happy to prove it to you any time. Give me a couple of weekends and a studio and I could produce a better set of vocal performances than this game provides in my sleep.
However. I’m willing to admit that, given my acting background and movie fixation (I’ve written a newspaper column about the movies for the past twelve years), it’s possible weakness in this area of a game could bother me more than it might bother other players.
So if you’re willing to overlook weak dialog and appalling voice acting, and focus on the very real and vivid strengths of this title, you might just have a great time with A New Beginning. But then again, you might not.
Final Grade: C (take the script and voicework problems out and the grade would change to an A-)
OS: Windows 2000/XP/Vista/7
Processor: 2GHz Single Core / 1.8GHz Dual Core
RAM: 1GB RAM (Vista/7: 1.5GB RAM)
Sound card: Compatible with DirectX9.0c
Graphics: OpenGL 2.0-compatible, min. 256 MB graphics memory (ATI Radeon or Nvidia Geforce recommended)
HDD: 3.5GB free disk space
DVD drive, mouse