Apr 9, 2012

J.U.L.I.A. Review

I am so glad I decided to not provide you with review scores reader dear; so absolutely delighted. Summing up J.U.L.I.A. in a simple score would have been utterly impossible. Even deciding on what I really thought about it turned out to be pretty taxing. Better though to start at the beginning.

J.U.L.I.A. is a science-fiction game, casting you as Rachel Mannors, the sole survivor of a space expedition gone spectacularly wrong. Rachel, an awkwardly 3D modeled yet decently voiced character,  is woken up from cryo-sleep by J.U.L.I.A., the spaceship's AI, only to discover she's all alone in a malfunctioning ship light-years away from Earth and apparently stranded in a solar system with dully named planets. What's more, something has gone spectacularly wrong on said planets. Something that eventually led to the death of the rest of the crew and the endangerment of alien life.
Truth be said, J.U.L.I.A., and that's the last time I bother with these fullstops, has a very interesting, if slightly melodramatic, plot. A proper science fiction story to be precise, that isn't afraid to touch upon important matters and never fails to be atmospheric. What's more, JULIA is one of those very rare games you can't simply describe with a screenshot and a genre categorization. You'll have to go on and play it (its demo at the very least) in order to fully understand its gameplay; you know, just like back in the old days, when reading a review and looking at some pics in a magazine simply left you bewildered...

At its core though the game can be described as a choose-your-own-adventure styled piece of interactive fiction with an interesting graphical GUI and a ton of mini-games thrown in. Needless to say, the text adventure-y parts of the game are by far the best. They are well written, brilliantly supported by the graphics and cut-scenes and -especially towards the end- by a fantastic map system. The problem though is that these section are pretty short and essentially without any challenge to speak of.
Most of the challenge is to be found in the aforementioned mini-games and, sadly, this is where JULIA's main problem lies. The vast majority of mini-games on offer are ridiculously easy and feel largely unconnected to the game's setting and the situations at hand. What's more, the difficult ones are usually both too hard and badly explained, making for a gaming experience that ranges between dull and frustrating.

On the other hand, I am really glad I played JULIA. Despite its shortcomings, it's a very brave, very ambitious and definitely innovative game with a strong focus on telling a story that's actually worth sharing. I do believe it's the first step in the right direction; a diamond in the rough, an impressive new way of approaching interactive fiction and an idea that has to be nurtured and supported, if only to give the devs a chance at perfecting their formula.

Verdict: A flawed but unique gem.

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16 comments:

  1. This has always looked like an interesting game, I've been following it's development for some months. Interesting write-up, and as you know I perfectly agree with you on not applying an arbitrary score for a game (except when I'm writing on a site that demands one), it just isn't rationale much of the time.

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    1. I know you agree; you are, after all, a most wise reviewer dear Captain. And review scores only seem to serve the likes of metacritic apparently.

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  2. As someone who recently had to score this game, it is really difficult.
    The game deserves a 2/5 just as much as it deserves a 4.5/5.
    In the end I was not at all happy with giving it a 3.5/5, simply slightly less unhappy then if I had given it anything else.

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    1. Yes, it really is a tough game to judge. And 3.5 seems reasonable, though it really, really, can't be graded...

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  3. A Captivating and tantalising review dear Gnome, a salivating premise... and I salute your decision not to score it!!!

    (Salutes Gnome...)

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    1. (salutes back)

      Thank you comrade minister!

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    2. Gnomarch!!

      (Salutes Gnome again...)

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    3. (salutes back and promotes)

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  4. looks interesting but great review

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  5. Wonderful review. After watching some walkthrough vids, I'm really glad I don't have to stick a score to this! Not my cup of tea, but great review none the less.

    Let's just add a shot of this n this, oh and some of this in my cup of tea.. Aaahh yes.. WAIT! It's now MASS EFFECT! I will play it now.
    ;)

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    1. Thanks Deitrix dear. Oh, and, yes, Mass Effect is pretty brilliant. Just finished ME2 and after I go through the DLC I'l be ready for ME3.

      Excellent sci-fi world there...

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  6. I do like scores, as my reviews tend to be breakdowns of components that I generally consider when reflecting on a title, but I certainly don't mind when others don't use number values either. This has looked like an interesting game for some time - one I've been meaning to but haven't played yet.

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    1. Well, I must admit that I've always felt that a review score might lead to the overall skipping of a review. Admittedly they can be very handy at times.

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  7. I've just played the demo and it left me wanting to go and buy the game right away (as soon as the price drops to be honest!). You know what, to say the truth I FAVOR awkward 3D models and that's a big part of the reason why I find the game compelling (now try to think of Sanitarium with better graphics, eeew) :) That, and the IF-ish parts. And the voiceovers (apart from the main narrator).

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    1. Quite loved thew i-f parts myself and really think they should be focusing on them. You also make a more than valid point with Sanitarium...

      As for the narrator's voice, well it was dreadful and more than awkward and I shut it off; mind you, due to a bug he still talks at some points.

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