There comes a time in every game player's career when you stop and ask yourself: what drives us all to play these infernal things anyway? What actual pleasures do we obtain from all this monkeying around with keyboards and joysticks, apart from the obvious satisfaction of getting one up on your mate over a quick game of Quake? The most popular answer among sanctimonious non-game playing types always used to be that it gave spotty-faced geeks a sense of power unobtainable elsewhere in their pathetic lives, providing their only escape from routine sexual humiliation, bullying and social ostracism.
At least, that's what I think they were saying - it was a bit hard to hear with the noise of the toilet flushing around my ears. Well, anyway, now that games are the most popular form of media entertainment ever (or close enough), all those clever theories seem to have gone suspiciously silent... too busy playing The Sims ate we? It just goes to show there's no simple answer to these questions, though if you find yourself asking them there's probably something wrong with the game you're playing. Unfortunately, I found myself asking them all too often during the course of Project Eden.
Before you get the wrong idea, let me just qualify things by saying that Project Eden is a great game. Technically excellent, visually stunning, it features a finely balanced blend of third-person action and atypical puzzling, a raft of innovative weapons and gadgets and an appealing overall design style.
But somehow it falls short of its considerable potential. There's just something about it which doesn't quite sit right, a slightly intangible, difficult-to-convey something wrapped up in pacing, reward structure, atmosphere, personality - all the things that come to mind when dealing with the deeper issues of why we enjoy games. It's also the something that has prevented Project Eden from being the classic game it could have been.
If you've been reading your ZONES lately the premise of Project Eden should be all too familiar by now, but for those who came in late let's run through it one last time. OK, it's the future and the world is screwed. Everything's gone to crap because all the stupid people wouldn't stop breeding, and now the cities are so damn big and crowded they can't spread out any further. Instead they're going upwards, building endless new layers on top of the old cities until the lower sections are so deep that sunlight never penetrates. Up top law prevails and the rich sip futuristic blue drinks out of test tubes. Down below all you get are roaming gangs of mutants, new-primitives, cannibals and genetic monstrosities with more teeth than a zipper factory. The status quo is maintained by a heavily armed police group called the UPA - the Urban Protection Agency. They quash any trouble in the lower levels and keep things safe for the ruling elite. For some reason, the four UPA members under your control don't seem to have a problem with that.
So, you've got yourself a crack squad of UPA bully boys - Carter, Andre, Minoko and Amber. At any one time you take control of one member of the team, and switch freely between them like you would weapons in your standard FPS. In fact this analogy has some value in it - since each character corresponds with a unique skill that must be brought to bear to perform specific tasks, they can be thought of simply as a set of tools to be applied as each situation demands. Hot gas or poison fumes to negotiate? Call on Amber, the resilient cyborg. Computer need hacking? Switch to Minoko. Andre is your guy whenever a broken device needs fixing, and boss-man Carter has no real talent apart from a higher security clearance.
When not under your direct control, the other characters are pretty much idiots. They can be commanded to follow you or stay put, and beyond that all they can do is hold down a switch or defend themselves if fired upon. It's all part of a conscious ease of operation that has 'console audience' written all over it, but unfortunately also leaves the characters without much in the way of personality.
The game takes place across 11 expansive levels, each with a set objective. One level has you trying to determine what happened to the technicians in the Real Meat factory, another sees you trying to capture a mutant creature for analysis. As you proceed and unexpected obstacles are thrown in your path, you're assigned secondary objectives by UPA Control, who also send down any special equipment you require via UPA lifts. Each level requires you to solve a number of puzzles to achieve your objective, as well as tackle an increasingly dense assortment of enemies. Many of these appear as normal people or animals before they morph into their mutated, bloodthirsty alter egos. Quite why this is happening is up to you to discover, and needless to say it's not pleasant.
Before we go any further, let's just get one thing straight. It's impossible not to mention Tomb Raider when you're talking about Project Eden. Not only because the same team is responsible, but because Tomb Raider was the title that popularised the idea of having an idiotic flying cameraman chasing your character around a 3D world in the first place. And in many respects Lara's first outing remains the benchmark for the third-person action genre. OK. so you can switch to first-person in Project Eden at the tap of a button, but I can assure you that not many people will use this option as default. The game simply works better in the third-person. Of course there are countless other differences between the two games - where Tomb Raider had platforming elements, Project Eden doesn't even have a jump function; where Lara was the quintessential solo adventurer, there are four of the buggers in Project Eden, where Lara had massive jugs... and so it goes. What I'm trying to say is, despite the many points of departure, I'm not going to tiptoe around the Lara connection just because it's an obvious association. It seems far more worthwhile to explore the comparison in a thorough and shameless manner to see what light it can shed on Project Eden.
That said, let's start with this whole third-person thing. Technically. Project Eden cannot be faulted. The camera system is one of the best we've seen, coping with tight environments without difficulty, never snagging on environmental objects, zooming in and out without becoming intrusive. This is part of the reason the third-person view, originally written into the game as a tool to help the design process, is the perspective of choice. Occasionally you'll need to switch to first-person when targeting small switches or during combat, but you'll revert just as quickly to chase cam.
However, the thing with third-person action games is that they should be third-person for a reason; they should take advantage of the benefits offered by the viewpoint. The difference between seeing your character and being your character is significant. Seeing allows you to identify with a character to a far greater extent, and allows them to express far more personality through their movements on screen. Lara would clearly never have become an idol if you couldn't see her; the three characters of MDK2 would have lost their unique appeal if you couldn't observe their behaviour; Onfs Konoko wouldn't have had the same sexy charm, and so on. Essentially, the third-person perspective opens up the possibility of forming deep character identification and strongly appealing personalities, and this opportunity has been missed in Project Eden. The characters rarely speak outside of cut-scenes, their identical uniforms and moronic behaviour flattens their impact - they are simply not likeable enough. And this is all the more bizarre coming from the creators of one of videogaming's greatest icons. One thing that Project Eden does do successfully is create a deeply immersive atmosphere. From the first level you are thrown into a richly detailed future nightmare, where skytrains whizz overhead, fires bum unnoticed in abandoned buildings, and deep precipices fall away on all sides. It's totally enveloping, filled with foreboding and fear, and not a little disquieting. As you descend deeper into the city, things get even nastier. Merely impoverished city dwellers are replaced by cannibalistic man-beasts and unspeakable twisted sinewy things. Wandering dogs transform into snapping alien atrocities, all mouth and no skin. It's not particularly pleasant, but Project Ederfs success in this regard can also become its weakness.
On the question of atmosphere and immersion, we turn again to Tomb Raider. Pivotal to the compelling nature of that game was the immersion in the gameworld and the constant push to discover wondrous new environments. Admittedly it's far more difficult to create that sense of wonder these days, but still... Project Ederfs level design is always impressive, yet never truly breathtaking. Its horrific, suspenseful ambience is unrelenting, offering little in the way of reward for progress or respite from its dark clutches. With Lara, you would negotiate a series of dark caves and, well, tombs, only to discover an ancient temple, a fantastic waterfall, or some other such delight. There's none of this sense of tension and release in Ederfs grisly future shock, and the game becomes less compelling as a result.
Play it in short bursts and you probably won't notice, but it's another niggling factor that detracts from Ederfs otherwise solid gameplay. Hopefully by now you see what I'm getting at. All the elements are there for a fantastic action/adventure outing, and the disappointment arises not because the game is bad - it's acually excellent - but because of some vague feeling not connected with the usual issues of design and execution. There's also been a disappointing lack of progress made in the gameplay since the preview beta code. Many of the worrying issues discussed in last issue's preview are still prevalent. The lack of athleticism displayed by the characters still grates in many places, like when you fall to your death as a result of not being able to perform a two-foot jump, or when a complicated set of puzzle elements results in a bridge extending across a gap that a one-legged dog could negotiate given the appropriate interface. The enemy Al, while competent, has also failed to live up to its hype, offering an assortment of dull assailants that merely duck and dodge more than usual.
However, improvements have also been made. The way you go about repairing broken switches and mechanical devices is now much more intuitive. The repair screen flashes up and you simply hold down the action button in an attempt to halt a sliding repair pointer at the correct point on a sliding scale. Miss your mark and you'll either do nothing or make the damage even worse, resulting in a wider target area for your next pass. Once again it's very simple, but as with all of the puzzle elements in the game makes a certain amount of sense. The emphasis on energy conservation has also been tightened up. The Eden team share a collective resource, and provided the team has sufficient remaining energy, killed members are automatically regenerated at the most recent checkpoint. Only if the whole team dies or loses all its energy does the game actually come to an end. It works nicely and keeps you progressing at a steady rate, with the main punishment for wasting energy being that you'll have to backtrack through the level to a recharge point.
While we're on a roll, let's dispense with the nit-picking and get back to some of the other things that make Eden an excellent and distinctive game. For a start there's the weapons and gadgets. Mobile flycams and robotic rovers, used to scout out inaccessible areas and flick hidden switches, are not only pure fun but offer some welcome variation to the puzzle-solving. The multiplayer rover-racing minigame is also a nice touch, being great fun and surprisingly quick. There are some truly innovative weapons in your arsenal as well, most notably the Timeshock and Extractor devices. The Timeshock changes the nature of time in a specific area, slowing down individual enemies or everything within a blast radius, handy for buying time in a heated battle. The extractor draws energy from opponents, simultaneously weakening them and replenishing your own stores.
The nature of the puzzles is also worth mentioning, as they offer both a variety and intricacy rarely seen in an action game. While they inevitably lead to a certain amount of frustration, there is enough of a balance between logic and trial and error to make them generally satisfying. All the other things we've been praising Project Eden for in past coverage also remain pleasing. The control system is unique and manageable, with the over-the-shoulder aiming facility proving indispensable.
The storyline is rich and intriguing, and the horrific morphing enemies impressive both technically and aesthetically. The verdict? Project Eden is a solid and hugely entertaining game. However, last issue we said that if it could sort out its manifold niggling problems during testing then it might rise above the pack and become something truly amazing. The bottom line is it hasn't. While it contains lots of great ideas and has been put together with exceptional expertise, there are simply too many limitations and elusive flaws that prevent it from being a classic along the lines of Tomb Raider.
Download Project Eden
In the eyes of most gamers the name of Core Design will always be synonymous with one game, the seminal classic that spawned a cultural icon and sex symbol to millions, Rick Dangerous. Er... Tomb Raider. The creative team behind the original and best Lara Croft adventure didn't waste their time on any of the subsequent sequels; instead they've been slaving away to bring you their next opus, now nearing completion, Project Eden. E3 gave us the best insight yet into the details of this futuristic squad-based action/adventure, and we're now keener than ever for it to go gold.
One thing that became clear is that Project Eden is not about to turn the genre on its head, instead aiming for solid and familiar gameplay, yet suffused with loads of minor technical breakthroughs and flashes of ingenuity. The advanced camera system, for example, allows you to flick freely between first-and third-person perspectives, as well as enabling full 360 degree aiming in third-person mode. The result is the ability to loose pot shots over your ' shoulder while fleeing madly from enemies, without recourse to a Lara-esque lock-on system. And in a move that's sure to set a precedent for every subsequent FPS, you can finally see your own torso when you look down in first-person mode.
The gameplay is just as overflowing with ideas, offering a blend of strategic puzzle-solving, tactical use of equipment and straight-out shooting, along with a narrative depth to rival Half-Life. The strategy arises from the management of your four squad members, each of whom have skills and strengths vital to your mission. The single-player game is basically in place, and appears set to offer a hugely atmospheric and compelling experience, if slightly bent to a console audience. The multiplayer aspects are an even more mouth-watering proposition, with squad-based co-operative play and deathmatching planned, which will be geared far more towards the PC fraternity.
Some of us at ZONE are reserving judgement on this one, but it certainly appears to have all the right ingredients. At the very least it will propel the genre forward technically, but if it all comes off it could offer a superbly balanced gameplay experience.
hen we first heard about Project Eden, we thought it was going to be a nature simulation. But from what we've seen of it so far, we couldn't have been more wrong. Designed by the team that brought us Tomb Raider, Project Eden will be set in the future, when massive overpopulation causes major social divides. With the slums increasingly rife with crime, the government decides to set up the Urban Protection Agency to try and keep the peace.
One of the things that excites us most about Project Eden, is that it's going to be both a first- and third-person shooter. By this we mean that, depending on your preference, you can choose which view you wish to play from. So whether you're an Unreal Tournament or MDK2 lover, you'll be more than catered for here.
You'll control a team of four well-armed and highly skilled UPS agents, each with their own special skill, ranging from computer hacking to demolitions. As with Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force, you'll only control one character at a time, while the computer looks after the rest of your unit. However, you'll be able to hop from one member to the next, which will be particularly important in missions where your team has to split up to solve certain puzzles. Also, if you've got access to a LAN, then you and three of your friends will be able to control one character each and play co-operatively.
Core also deserves a huge round of applause for potentially solving the problem that so many third-person shooters suffer from. Instead of having to always face your enemies during gun fights, you'll be able to run away and shoot over your shoulder at the same time. This is made possible by a mouse controlled aiming circle, which you direct independently from your keyboard-operated character. We've seen it work first hand, and it looks like it's going to be a pretty easy and effective control system to use.
Project Eden is still some way off, but going by what we've seen so far, Core may well have another big fat hit on its hands. While it's unlikely to have the impact Tomb Raider had on the gaming world, it's still sure to turn plenty of heads upon its arrival. We'll keep you posted.
All is not well in the Garden of Eden (both literally and figuratively). After the population grossly exceeds the area of land on which to live, city engineers have started creating buildings that go up and up into the sky. With the richest and most affluent being allowed to purchase the dwellings closest to the sun and the clean air, the scourge of society dwells in the lowest regions of the cityscape where the downtrodden and diseased live. Your team of Urban Protection Agency members (UPA) descends toward one of the lower levels in order to investigate missing technicians who were sent to repair the malfunctioning equipment at the "Real Meat" company.
But what starts out as a routine missing person's investigation makes a wild turn down the unpredictable hallway of hell. You see, it's been awhile since anyone has been down this far and strange things have been happening...
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
Not too many years ago, Eidos Entertainment burst on to the scene with a little game called Tomb Raider. The game was a marvel, with its killer controls, beautiful graphics, and stunning atmosphere and of course, the character Lara Croft. Well, Eidos has had a lot to live up to, with its flashes of brilliance (Fear Effect 2, Commandos, Deus Ex) and its dismal failures (Tomb Raider 3, Akuji: The Heartless). Now we are given another third person perspective adventure game, only this time you control the four members of an UPA squad, hell bent on getting themselves out of the mess they're in.
Once the game is booted up, you are treated to a pretty decent intro where you will see one of society's wealthier children accidentally drop her teddy bear off an observation deck. Down, down, down it goes falling deeper into the older buildings. As the teddy falls you can see the conditions worsen and the sun getting dimmer and dimmer until, finally, it hits the bottom. There, a half-mechanical/half-god-only-knows hand grabs the bear. This intro is what I like to call 'foreshadowing'? (your key to quality gaming), as this hand is obviously there to bring about a sense of dread. Well, from that scene I can honestly say I was pretty pumped about the game. The whole idea of an upper utopian society and a lower disturbed society isn't a new concept. Just look at the Judge Dredd comic books and you can practically see where the game designers got their idea. Not that this is a bad thing, mind you; it's definitely a cool and novel direction.
Starting off, you can select which member of the squad you would like to control. There's Carter, the leader, Minoko, the computer whiz, Andre, the engineer and mechanic and Amber, the 90% cyborg, strong woman. As you may suspect being a team of highly trained specialist will come in quite handy. More than once, Minoko will need to access a computer or Amber walk through a hazardous material laden area. Part of the appeal of the game is that you can select any member of your team and either sends them off into different areas or lead the whole lot through the maze of corridors. Plus, when a gunfight breaks out, all the characters that you are not controlling will automatically start shooting at bad guys. Albeit, the bad guys always seem to want to kill the character you are controlling first.
Speaking of gunfights, combat in this game was a bit lackluster. Essentially, after having selected your weapon from a slightly annoying menu interface, you must use a free-floating Heads Up Display (HUD) to target your enemies. This HUD is controlled by the right analog stick and can be a bit strange to get used to, as there is usually a lot going on in front of you. All four characters start out with a Pulse gun but will eventually find other weapons of destruction. Thankfully so, since the locals you run into get progressively meaner and more difficult to deal with. Personally, I thought there should have been a wider range of initial weapons. Amber is this hulking monster of a cyborg; it would have been cool if she started with something a bit more beefy, like a mini-gun or howitzer (note: neither of the previously mentioned weapons are in the game, I just wished they were). Yes, the introduction of sentry guns was a nice touch but I guess I just wished for more. This is an Eidos game -- I've been spoiled with cool weaponry in the past and it has been something I count on from them.
While adventuring, the aforementioned HUD is also used to access items, doors, locks, etc. That's good because it helps get the player into a groove sort of thing regarding the characters' movements and usage. But what I need to address is the fact that sometimes the clues or other critical points in the game are so minute that it can be a real pain in the butt to figure out what to do next. In some cases, it's too hard and will leave you feeling frustrated. Some people would call this a challenging game. Well, there is a difference between challenging and too precise, which is exactly what happens. More than once I ran around a relatively small area not being able to figure out what the hell to do next when by some act of mere luck, my HUD pops up because I happen to be positioned in the perfect place to now access a lock that I had stood in front of nine times previously. People who take anger management classes would do well to not play this game. Project Eden is not the worst to control that I have played, but it's far from the best. Nothing brings a game score down faster then unfriendly control schematics and menus.
One of the coolest aspects of this game is that you can rig up your PS2 so that four people can play. Each pick a character, and you attempt to play through the entire game in a type of co-op adventure. Only problem is that the screen then becomes divided by four and the clues become that much harder to find. It would help if you owned a 65-inch projection TV, as that is what I would consider an appropriate size for split screen action. There is also a death match mode you can play, but I found this too bland and no fun at all, almost as if the game makers were told to add it in because 'death match'? games are in. Pfffffttt, play the co-op mode, that's where the multiplayer fun is at.
Well, Eidos isn't afraid of an explosion, that's for sure. The trademark higher quality graphics are apparent and I really enjoyed the cut-scenes a lot. Characters look a little too predictable, although I thought Amber looked pretty cool with her streamlined android 'bullet'? look. Other NPCs that you talk to are a bit drab, but the mutants and other baddies look effective enough. Some are more threatening looking than others, but still a good-looking monster is so much more fun to shoot at than a stupid one. I think the graphic standout of this game is the environments. I personally enjoyed the seedier side of the slums. Things look bad and get worse, which is exactly what I had hoped for. Sadly, I must report that this game suffered from the dreaded 'lag'? problem occasionally when things got too busy on screen.
The voice acting in the cut-scenes was just okay; nothing to write home about. As for the ambient music and weapon sounds during playtime, they were a bit better. I enjoy hearing sounds coming out of my surround sound system and this game gave those rear speakers a little fun. Nothing quite like HALO, mind you, but still, the fact that this game is even pumping noise to all five speakers is a testament to what can and should be done in action games.
I've been hit with the one-two punch. Twice in a row now, I have been given games that had all the potential in the world to be really cool, but failed -- Batman Vengeance and this one. A neat idea having a city where the socio-economics are broken down so structurally. With nasty goings on occurring in the recesses of the city, I honestly wanted to love this game. But, it really didn't live up to what I thought Eidos should have made. If you read our scoring breakdown, you will see that games in the 70s are usually genre specific. Well, this game is not only genre specific, but it's also a disappointment. Some will play this game and want to start a cult based on it; others will wonder why I scored it so nicely. Rent this one first or wait a year and pick it up for $9.99.