Sunday, March 9, 2008

Flight of the Amazon Queen

Our father that art in heaven, hallowed be they name, thank you for letting Flight of the Amazon Queen finally be over. I have been playing this game literally since a few minutes after my last post. I took breaks for sleep and work, obviously, but I've just been slogging through this wretched piece of adventure-gaming history in virtually all of my down-time for the past week. I had been looking forward to it, but anticipation quickly turned to dismay, and dismay didn't take long to turn into agony.

At its essence, Flight of the Amazon Queen plays a lot like its demi-sibling, Beneath a Steel Sky. They were released by the same company, I think they use the same engine, and since they're both adventure games, they both conform to the standards and conventions of that genre. Unfortunately, while Beneath a Steel Sky is a pleasure to play, Flight of the Amazon Queen magnifies its flaws and creates a bunch of new ones, while neglecting to have any of the positives of the former.

The story isn't a dark dystopian view of the future, which is fine. I don't demand dystopias in all my diversions, and a change of pace sounded great. But the story for Flight of the Amazon Queen is also retarded, which is less than fine.

You're an airplane-pilot for hire who is supposed to fly a movie-star to the Amazon jungle; unfortunately, you crash-land and to escape, you have to rescue an Amazon princess from the clutches of an insane German scientist named Dr. Frank Ironstein, who is plotting to turn all the women of the Amazon tribe into dinosaur cross-breeds and use them to take over the world. He plots to do this with the aid of a magical crystal skull, and a DNA dino-raygun which he has developed. It sounds laughable but fun; it's implemented in such a way as to be laughable, but also mind-numbingly stupid, without an ounce of fun.

The writing itself sucks, but the voice-acting is painful. I was screaming for mercy from the vilely-fake Jersey accent the protagonists uses within minutes. And it just kept going... and going... and going... like some Energizer bunny of dialog suckiness. Your main rival's accent is supposed to be Dutch, but instead sounds like the worst Sean Connery imitation you've ever heard. The best voice-work in the game comes from the Germans, because even though they're supposed to sound like over-the-top caricatures, they're still the most accurate and least flat portrayals. And they're not any good either, for the record.

For all intents and purposes, you can't skip any of the dialog. And Joe King (more on the bad humor, next paragraph) has something to say about everything. Maybe when this came out, voice-acting was so new that it was cool even when it sucked. I've been listening to bad voice acting in video games for over a decade, and this is the worst voice acting I've heard, except for Blue Stinger on the Dreamcast. Painful things you can't skip are par for the course in this game.

Ridiculously juvenile humor is a constant. Twelve year-old boys would have cringed playing this; it must have been written by seven year-olds. I was involuntarily grimacing every minute or two; groans were so constant my room mate asked me if I was okay, a few hours in.

You spend a lot of time going back and forth in the same environments. By the end of the game, I was going back and forth between reading Kotaku and RockPaperShotgun, and playing the game. I would click on the exit, then alt-tab to my browser to read while I waited for the character to actually get there.

Yes, I could have sped up the game, but I didn't know until the end that there was never anything time-sensitive; in most adventure games, you sometimes have to slow the game down because there are real-time interactions that result in certain death. In this game's favor, as far as I know, it's impossible to die. Every adventure game should adopt that philosophy, and most of the good ones did. Playing at its default speed sucks, regardless.

Even playing at a higher speed, you're re-treading the same screens so often that it's just boring. They tried to do a bit to ameliorate that in the jungle portions of the game, by having a central point from which you could get to the main areas. But they messed it up by designing the locations poorly.

For example, take the crash site. It's where you start the jungle portion, and you'll be returning to it quite a bit. But getting back there always requires you to go through two screens that only have something to do on them the first time you visit them. Every time you have to go back to the crash site, you have to walk through those screens. Why? For no reason whatsoever, except that they didn't think the layout through at all.

The credits listed around 30 QA people - I can't believe they actually played the game all the way through; anyone with a brain would have been annoyed by the needless treking about that could have easily been fixed. They would have been annoyed by the horrible dialog. They would have been annoyed by the stupid humor (unless they were less than ten years of age). They would have hated the game, and made constructive criticisms that could have been used to make the game not suck.

The puzzles are, for the most part, not only painfully obvious but painfully contrived. Normally, adventure-games are so obtuse that they have you banging your head against the wall, so kudos to these guys for not going down that route, but they went way too far in the opposite direction. Example: girl says she needs perfume. Cue cutscene, where a character just happens to throw her perfume in the lake, for no good reason, and stalk off.

That happens constantly. Just once in a while, it's totally forgivable. You have a neat idea for a puzzle, and can't make it flow smoothly, so you make a coincidence. I'm fine with that. But every frickin' time? There are just too many utterly laughable coincidences taking place. Again, the writers must have been pre-teens to think that wouldn't make the experience a lot less immersive.

If you're an adventure-game fan, and you've exhausted all other free options, feel free to take this one for a spin. It works, and it's longer than Beneath a Steel Sky. That it's longer only in an artificial way because it makes you go back and forth between the same old environments, and that it has the most juvenile story-telling I've encountered in an adventure game not coded by Roberta Williams, make it a game I could only recommend for an obsessive-compulsive player of the genre. All others, steer clear. Very clear.

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