Little Big Adventure
From the shores of la belle France comes the unusually named Little Big Adventure. But don't be put off by the title - this is not a "Jackanory" edutainment product or a Pee Wee Herman jaunt characterised by mechanical toys and a String of underage boys. It's the latest offering from Adeline Software, creators of the brilliant Alone In The Dark series. And it's on CD. Generally, we know what to expect from most cd games these days: a souped-up intro, some tantalising graphics and a smattering of finely tuned sound effects and speech - all of them aspiring to the "wow!" factor. Most of the time they make the grade, until you realise that somehow something seems to be missing... and then it finally hits you. The game. Where is it? Has it nodded off as a bored response to your continual "Ooohs!" and "Aaaahs!"? Or has it just gone round the pub. No. The fact is it hasn't scarpered anywhere because it was never there in the first place. You violently eject it from the cd drive and vow never to fall p'rey to the wonders of cd-rom again. Unless... you happen to get hold of a copy of Little Big Adventure, that is. Then you'll be super-glueing the damn thing into your drive (so as not to have to share it).
A legend speaks...
If you hadn't already guessed by now, this is an adventure title alright and it's BIG. VERY BIG. The action takes place over 12 mammoth chapters which house 40 different worlds. And each world is massive. So what's the story? Set in a futuristic age. LBA tells the tale of Twinsen, a member of the Quetch race. Only two other races inhabit the planet Twinson: the Grobos, which are like highly evolved elephants, and the Rabibunnies, essentially a breed of intelligent, streetwise rabbits. As a Quetch, Twinsen is the nearest thing to a human in the game, although his beautiful, ovoid face looks like it's been finely chiselled from a sideboard. For some inexplicable reason all three races managed to live in peace and harmony until the heinous Dr Funfrock reared his ugly head. Okay, so it's another ridiculous name, but 1 refuse to enter into a lengthy discourse about whether "weirdness" is a French national trait. Who knows he may even be into plunging party dresses, but one thing's for sure, Funfrock's been bad news since the word go. He seized power, created a police state and forced the inhabitants to relocate to the southern hemisphere of the planet.
You play Twinsen, the only Quetch who can save the earth from Funfrock's dastardly plans. At the start of the game Twinsen has already upset the status quo by daring to speak of the Legend of Sendell. Funfrock has a big problem with this Sendell geezer, though it's not made clear why at this point - his real name's probably Dullpants or something. Suffice to say that all citizens know their place and live by the rule "never say Sendell". So what's happened to Twinsen? Captured for his criminal behaviour, he's been banged up in a high security jail on Citadel Island. This is where the game opens (after the obligatory, and admittedly, swoon-worthy intro featuring the brilliant dino-fly) and your first task is to get Twin-sen out and back to his home and loved one, Zoe. Once reunited, and be warned you'll probably blub during this beautiful moment, Twinsen warns Zoe of Funfrock's evil frolics in the northern hemisphere... and, would you believe it, mentions a strange dream about "Sen...." (Phew, that was close.) Cue entrance of a lumbering grobo brute who grabs Zoe as you flee for your life. It's now that Twinsen's quest becomes double-edged, for he must rescue the lovely Zoe as well as thwart that good-for-nothing, gown-loving doc.
In yer face
Controlling Twinsen is a breeze as the interface couldn't be easier. Basically you use the arrow keys for direction commands - forward, backwards, left and right - and the space bar to effect a particular action. But one of the most novel features of this adventure is the fact that you can change your mood - and have violent mood swings without a drop of alcohol passing your lips. Twinsen can be normal, athletic, aggressive or discreet - all at the touch of a button.
For example, if you want Twinsen to smack the Funfrock filth in the mouth, you have to make sure you're in aggressive mode and then hold down the space bar. This is a particularly smart addition to the adventure genre, as part of the fun is working out which mood you should use to approach a given situation. Some are downright obvious, such as athletic mode to jump across a gap, or normal mode when you want to talk to someone. Others require a bit more thought. Take if you need to get past a guard, for instance, do you tune into athletic mode and bolt past him at a rate of knots, do you cunningly select discreet mode hoping to slip by unnoticed, or do you opt for being aggressive and punch him in the gob? Often it's just a case of trial and error, and usually it's a combination of modes, so you have to be pretty nifty at the old key-changing routines.
As you'd expect, along the way you pick up various objects and power-ups to aid you in your quest. Fortunately, there's no annoying on-screen inventory cluttering up the graphics - again it can be accessed simply, this time by pressing "Shift". This calls up a grid-like table into which anything you happen to pick up is neatly slotted. To use a particular object you either call up the inventory, go to the item you need, and press Return, or even better, you've managed to memorise its specific key command from the text below the grid. Inventory items take the form of things like a holomap, identity passes, ferry tickets and the indispensable magic ball (your principal weapon in the game until you swipe something far more destructive from your evil nemesis). Any extra lives or hearts, money, keys or magic points are displayed on the different moods screen. Using these is automatic, there's no faffing around: if you come to a locked door and you happen to have a key, the game will call it up intuitively. Gathering objects or power-ups involves finding them first by standing in front of a desk, crate, or rubbish tip for example, and then pressing the space bar to see if it will release any goodies. Communicating with other characters requires the same procedure. Merely walk up to the Babar look-alike, Quetch city gent, Rabibunnie femme fatale, or whoever else takes your fancy, and press the space bar. As you start talking to them, you'll hear a varied cast of actors deliver the digitised speech, and the text will also appear at the bottom of the screen. Characters are good for gleaning information and will tip you off about your next best move. Often you can extract more than one piece of info from the same character, if you approach them again. However, my one minor quibble is that unlike LucasArts adventures, Monkey Island II and Sam And Max, a character you've recently spoken to shows no visible signs of recognition: there's none of the old "Oh it's you again, I've already told you I know nothing about bush babies" type stuff. They just simply repeat the phrase they told you before, or if you're lucky, a new one. As I said, this is really a minor point since it's probably taken ten squillion bytes to produce said multitude of voices, but when included, it's a nice touch that makes you feel warm inside (sort of).
For I.BA Adeline has developed a sophisticated, multi-task life engine which allows a variety of different character responses to a given situation. Each character has been coded with a series of orders - some having priority over others - with the number of orders being virtually unrestricted. This gives them the facility to adapt to any situation, and since their movements are controlled by "fuzzy logic", it means that they will always change their route when they move between two different paths, adding a greater degree of realism.
The Wow Factor
Needless to say the Wow Factor gets very boring when you're sharing the game with friends. Yes, of course, you've noticed how Twinsen swivels a full 360 degrees just like a real human being. But look at the way he's tiptoeing around the place, it's sooooo brilliant. And gosh, the sound is just like being there, isn't it? It's incredible. Yes, yes, yes. I should know. I'm the one whose cat darted through the window at the sound of swishing waves. The graphics are amazing -just take a look at the screenshots. They're ray-traced, 3D isometric beauties - all lavishly rendered in Super vga. The backgrounds and buildings boast lovingly textured surfaces and, as for the animation, it's breath-taking. A kind of cross between Flashback and Alone In The Dark, but far more fluid and realistic. It really comes into its own during the cinematic level-linking sequences: the sight of a seasick Twinsen is just too moving for words. The unusual graphic style is also sparklingly original: its curious blend of cartoony, bizarre characters interacting in familiar locations, such as prisons, taverns and libraries, is uncannily effective. Oh, and there's also a handy zoom mode for those vital close-ups.
This magical graphic world is undeniably enhanced by the sound. There's digitised speech for the characters: slow, cumbersome drawls for the Grobos, high-pitched garbling for the street-smart Rabibunnies. Changing moods also affects the sound. Normal mode bears the sound of strutting footsteps, athletic mode comes complete ray-traced, 3D isometric beauties - all lavishly rendered in Super vga. The backgrounds and buildings boast lovingly textured surfaces and, as for the animation, it's breath-taking. A kind of cross between Flashback and Alone In The Dark, but far more fluid and realistic. It really comes into its own during the cinematic level-linking sequences: the sight of a seasick Twinsen is just too moving for words. The unusual graphic style is also sparklingly original: its curious blend of cartoony, bizarre characters interacting in familiar locations, such as prisons, taverns and libraries, is uncannily effective. Oh, and there's also a handy zoom mode for those vital close-ups.
This magical graphic world is undeniably enhanced by the sound. There's digitised speech for the characters: slow, cumbersome drawls for the Grobos, high-pitched garbling for the street-smart Rabibunnies. Changing moods also affects the sound. Normal mode bears the sound of strutting footsteps, athletic mode comes complete with jogging noises and pants, aggressive mode packs in a lion's share of grunting and the wonderful discreet mode is graced with the kind of tense, piano playing used to accompany silent films. Funfrock's clones and henchmen all have distinctive sounds, which help you work out when they're lying in wait. Add to all this a haunting soundtrack and you're left with a bewitching potpourri of CD effects.
But is it weird?
Well, yes it is weird in that inimitable Gallic way. But it's appealingly weird flowers squeal when you tread on them, Zoe giggles in true starlet fashion, and never wastes an opportunity to give Twinsen a drawn out smacker on the chops - that sort of thing. As for humour, it's not openly comic in the same manner as, say, a LucasArts adventure. The dialogue isn't loaded with wisecracks and it didn't make me laugh out load. Yet LBA has an innate sweetness that is both charmingly warm and funny - and this has much to do with the game's many quirky features. The gameplay itself has weird twists too, with the non-linear element being a massive plus point. Often there are various ways of tackling the same predicament, and this places LBA high in the longevity stakes. It's basically a brilliant blend of arcade and adventure action (a sort of pc Zelda) peppered with a savoury amount of brain-blending puzzles; challenging while never quite allowing you to get stuck and throw in the towel. Another plus point are the four wonderful vehicle simulators in the game, such as the snowboard and dino-fly, which add an extra dimension to the gameplay. Sometimes it takes a while to get beyond a certain stage without being killed, but the game automatically saves positions for you, allowing for a certain amount of risk-taking.
In short, Anglo-French relations will never be the same after this game. Anyone fearing a Channel Tunnel invasion will be instantly appeased. Forget rabies and Vanessa Paradis, if this sort of quality cd software is coming over in droves, let's annex ourselves to France.
Moon-like woodentop faces, tufted hairdos and play-doh bodies characterise the Quetch race. Although our human equivalents, they are not at home in watery environments. Walk Twinsen into water, and he drowns. Put him on a ferry, and he turns green and unearths the contents of his stomach.
Tall, lean and herbivorous Rabibunnies are smart, fast talking dudes (and dudettes). Always impeccably dressed, the female variety isn't adverse to using her feminine wiles on the odd enemy in order to help you. Unnervingly hyperactive, they have a strange, unsavoury habit of scratching about in dirt.
Clumsy but cuddly Grobos resemble French screen darling, Babar. Wobbling blancmange-like throughout the game, they are sometimes in need of your help due to their disturbingly low IQ. Well-meaning Grobos can also lend you a helping hand but their slow, drawn-out speech can drive you to distraction.
Download Little Big Adventure
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Everything and everyone seems to be going 3D at the moment, and what's more, the French seem to be behind most of it. Whilst the buzz word on everyones' lips in the US right now seems to be "interactive movie", the French are pursuing what they undoubtedly do best: developing games with technically outstanding graphics, witty scenarios and characters that are always larger than life. With Alone in The Dark 3, Ecstatica and Little Big Adventure (IBA) all due for release in the next couple of months, this Christmas could quite easily be dubbed "The Battle of the Polygons" as the big three fight it out, leaving the French developers laughing all the way to le banque with no expensive Hollywood fees to pay and an almost guaranteed buying public in search of gameplay rather than big names.
Little, big and lookin' good
LBA quite simply oozes style and looks utterly fantastique. The developers (who, incidentally, were responsible for the first Alone in the Dark game) have spent ages getting the look and feel of the game as polished as possible, combining both Gouraud-shaded polygon characters and Super VGA-rendered backgrounds to give the game a slick, fast-paced and overall realistic appearance. The plot, however, is pretty standard, comic-book stuff and basically follows the route of "chosen bloke must defeat nasty bloke and save the world", or for those of you who want the full story: a dastardly, power-crazed nutter called Dr FunFrock has conquered your planet and removed all the inhabitants to the southern hemisphere. You play a character called Twinkel who has been imprisoned by Dr FunFrock for spreading the legend of Sendell, a deity whom your people believe will one day select a mortal to rid the planet of the evil dictatorship. One night, whilst asleep in your cell, Sendell comes to you in a dream and tells you that you are the chosen one. You must escape from prison, resume your kidnapped girlfriend and save the world.
In a game such as this, animation is all, and if it's really special, everything is animated. LBA promises to be very special and it's not even finished yet. However, what really sets LBA apart from the rest is the way the game operates. The animation is driven by a sophisticated "Multi-Task Life Engine" that introduces an element of "fuzzy logic" into what is usually, by its very nature, a rather linear genre. It's what every programmer has been trying to achieve for years, and it finally looks as though Adeline have cracked it. To put it simply, each character obeys a series of orders given by the encoders. These orders may concern reactions to dialogue. Twinkel's behaviour, the object that Twinkel possesses, the other characters that have confronted him etc., and as each character, enemy and object is managed and controlled by means of a very detailed life sheet, the various parameters used allow an infinite number of behaviour patterns, so that attitudes and especially the reactions of the characters encountered are extremely realistic. What you end up with are characters that live, breath and act almost independently.
Almost A1 AI
And it doesn't end there. You can also set the behavioural mode of Twinkel to either "normal", "aggressive", "athletic" or "furtive" and it does genuinely affect the way your character acts in various situations, thereby opening up a massive new dimension in gameplay. For example, if Twinkel enters a room that is being patrolled by a guard in "normal" mode, or if Twinkle is running, the guard will spot him, fire at him and a fight will ensue. If, however, Twinkel enters the room furtively on tiptoe he will not make any noise (the noise of his footsteps will actually disappear on the soundtrack) and if he keeps to the shadows and out of the guard's view he will be able to sneak past the guard without being noticed at all.
What this all means in terms of game-play is an almost infinite gaming environment inhabited by characters that "live" and interact with the player and each other in a virtually unrestricted fashion. They will perform their tasks whatever happens, but in doing so they adapt to events going on around them. For example, if there is an obstacle in their way they will go round it instead of remaining blocked and walking on the spot. Unlike other games where the characters follow a set routine, the movements of LBA's characters are managed using fuzzy logic when they move between two points, which means they take a different route each time.
Yep! Apart from being tres/ormidable in the gameplay department, LBA is very easy to use and character control is positively top notch thanks to a minimalist key control approach. Adeline have taken great care to ensure that the character is easy to manipulate, both in the different actions Twinkel performs and in the choice of objects to use. For example, when you pick up an object you must put it in your inventory in order to use it. After this, the object is used as required automatically, since it is in Twinkel's inventory for the rest of the game and as he knows how and when to use it. Similarly, the choices of answers in the dialogues have been kept very basic to keep things as simple as possible. However, as the life engine enables characters to know which objects Twinkel possesses, who he has spoken to and how far into the adventure the player has progressed, there is always the possibility of several different dialogues for the same situation depending on how the player has been playing the game.
Little Big Adventure also reaches the parts other games cannot reach in terms of weapons and player combat that's fast, realistic and very fluid.
There are a number of different weapons to be found as well as various Gouraud-shaded vehicles that Twinkel can "borrow" to get around more quickly. Oh, and it almost goes without saying that it's gonna be big. Quite huge in fact, with 12 immense chapters, over 40 environments (each containing around 50 buildings) and over six different races to interact with. So big in fact that it will take around ten hours to finish and that's if you only perform the most essential tasks!
With its positively groundbreaking, nonlinear "life-engine", superb animation, realistic combat sequences and taxing puzzles. Little Big Adventure certainly looks set to cause a stir when it is released in November, ensuring that when it comes to 3D isometric games, nobody does it better than the French.