Crossing the Steams 3.2.13: Adera
Welcome to another installment of Crossing the Steams. This week, I wanted to break the form a little bit and look at a non-Steam (for the moment) game, Adera. Adera is currently only on Windows 8 machines, either the desktop Window 8, or else on tablets with Windows RT. Despite only being on a few platforms, it’s an interesting game that has a few problems that hamper it a bit. Let’s begin:
Adera is a point and click episodic game in the vein of older adventure games. I liken Adera to a 21st century Myst game. You examine the environment, looking for clues and items to use. Then you get to puzzles where you have to use the items in your inventory, sometimes in a set pattern, in order to get past it and unlock the new area. Along with just this basic item hunt/use game, are the logic puzzles, and item search puzzles as well.
The item search puzzle is probably the most basic puzzle in the game. You’re given a static area full of random objects and a list of specific items to find. Some are out in the open but others are hidden in plain sight. You can just try and click on everything but this will result in the screen cracking for a moment and you’ll have to wait a few seconds for it to fix itself. Once you find all of the listed items, you’ll get one or two puzzle-related items and that is it.
The item-driven puzzles are a bit challenging, but do follow the rules of logic. It’s all about seeing what’s in your inventory and knowing how to use it for the interactive object. Early on in episode 2 you have to climb a tree but a bee’s nest is blocking it. You find in the environment an unlit torch, some pieces of wood, and some hay. To get past the nest you’ll need to build a fire, so you put the hay down, put the wood down, and light the torch from a fire vent a few screens over. Once all the pieces are laid out, the smoke will drive the bees away and you can climb up the tree. Or a puzzle in an early level involves you collecting lenses and a crystal to be used in a light puzzle. You plug the crystal in the one spot and the lenses in the five holes and the puzzle is solved. The nice thing about this is that when you have used an item, it disappears from your inventory completely. If you use it once but it remains in your inventory, then you’ll have to use it again later for a different puzzle. This helps keep the items floating around your inventory to about 8 items max, and lessens the choices for item combinations to semi-sane levels. The game also does you a solid and tells you how many items you will need for a particular puzzle. So once you pick up the first lens, or the first wood, or other stackable item, it will say “1/3” (or how many you really need). This lets you know how many of the items you can expect to find, and how many you might have missed and have to search for. Every item, sans collectibles, is covered in a purple sparkly color. This makes pixel-hunting a thing of the past. Well, assuming you aren’ trying to find every hidden item.
The logic puzzles are the real meat of the game. These are the puzzles in which you have to interact with an object and (usually) figure out how to unlock it, or repair it, or just interact with it.
To start with, Jane Sinclair (your character) has basically a magic orb that she carries. Occasionally she will note that the orb is glowing. This is your cue to press the orb button and do a little Tangram mini-game. You’re given a geometric form, along with several smaller pieces (triangles, squares, parallelograms and what not) and you have to place the smaller pieces in the correct spots to make the overall figure. Once you accomplish this, the item in the game world will be restored, letting you explore new areas or accomplish another puzzle. It’s not truly Tangram because you have more than 7 pieces sometimes, but its close enough. Adera also locks in a position of a piece when it is in the correct position, which is pretty nice.
This “locking in” feature occurs elsewhere in the game and is also useful. One puzzle in episode two involves you placing chunks of rocks into a sculpture on the wall. It’s basically like a jigsaw puzzle, only you don’t know what the sculpture is going to look like at the end. The game will lock in the pieces when they are in the correct position, to help give you some idea of what it looks like, and how the other pieces might fit into it. This locking in thing doesn’t happen with *every* puzzle, but it happens enough for it to be noticeable and quite handy.
The other logic puzzles are a bit obtuse at times, but the game does have a logic to it. It’s mostly the type of stuff you might find in other puzzle games. One puzzle in the first episode has three different colored marbles on three different colored plates, with one spot open. The goal is to move the same colored marbles to the same colored plates, using the one empty spot as a holding pen. Or another puzzle will have you clearing off matching pairs of symbols on a piece of paper. Once this is done, you’ll have a clue for a later part of the game. The puzzles can be easy or hard, depending on their construction, but you do have three things to help you out.
The first thing you have is an in-game journal. During big information dumps, it is recorded in the journal for quick reference. One puzzle in episode 1 has you trying to unlock a chest with a pictogram combination lock. You can find the solution to the lock in an earlier page in your journal if you look hard enough. The journal is also good for letting you know where to go or what you might need to be doing next.
The second thing the game has is a hint button for you to press. When you press it, you’ll either be told where to go next (in more overt terms), or else if you’re in a puzzle, it will show you the solution of the puzzle. You’ll still need to manipulate the puzzle in order to complete it, but having the hint system can help get you stuck out of an annoying puzzle, or just to see if you’re on the right track. The button itself operates on a timer, about 20 seconds or so, so you can’t use it all the time, but you can if you want to wait around for it to refill.
The last thing you can do is simply press the “Skip Puzzle” button. This button only shows up during an actual in-object puzzle, so not when you’re exploring, and just auto-solves the puzzle you’re on. The Skip Puzzle button shows up after about a minute of the puzzle being on the screen. With the release of the latest episode (Episode 3) the developers have included a difficulty menu, which adjusts the length it takes for hint/skip puzzle buttons to be activated.
Graphically, the game has a nice, crisp look to it. It’s not the most mind-blowing graphical show piece game, but everything is well detailed and there are some great designs for the main character, and all the semi-magical clockwork things going on make the game fun to explore. I’d say the only minor (but intentional) issue is during the item hunt game or when you’re trying to hunt down for a collectible, it can be very hard to pick out what you’re looking for. It’s an intentional look (I assume), but it can still be frustrating when you’re scanning a screen for a few minutes hunting down something that is obfuscated in the scenery. Still, that’s kind of the nature of the game.
The audio is done pretty well. The voice acting for Jane, Ali Hillis (of Liara, Mass Effect fame) is probably the standout. She does some superb work in making the character not some shallow one-dimensional idiot. She adds layering and pathos to the role that makes you actually want to care about what happens to her and to see her quest through to the end. There isn’t a huge amount of other voice acting in the 3 episodes, but what there is, is solid enough. The music is also well done, relaxing and setting a good mood for you to want to puzzle solve. The sound effects all fit as well, except for one that stood out hugely. When you start the game up, and “Adera” flashes on the screen, it plays a little 3 note chime. That is the EXACT chime from the XBLA/PSN game “Outland”, when you hit a switch and a locked door opens. I was recently playing Outland and that tone sounded and Adera instantly popped into my head. I’m not sure if they’re using the same audio engineer or sound database or what, but it is kind of funny.
Truth be told, installing and playing the game is the biggest problem with it. Some game-crippling bugs have popped up here and there that have caused….issues. The problems usually pop up after a new episode is released which is a bit odd. When episode 2 was released, it broke episode 1 for a while. If you went to the beginning of the game, after you already beat it, you were re-tasked to build a bridge that already was there. If you tried to go over it, the game would crash. They eventually released a patch that fixed this, but it broke another area in the game. Another puzzle reset and if you clicked on it, you were stuck there. You couldn’t exit out of the puzzle, but since the game thought you were already done with it, you couldn’t skip it either. Even buying/installing the games is problematic at points. When I went to buy episode 3, it took about 10 minutes and multiple retries for my payment to go through. Once it did, the game proceeded to re-download episodes 1 and 2, and then it started with 3. The game also has a problem with Alt+Tabbing out, with regards to the Start bar. If you just use Alt+Tab it can be fine. But if you so much as touch the start bar (to go back to the game), the game will just shut down, and you’ll have to reload. These above instances range from minor to game-breaking, but if you just play the game normally, you’ll probably be ok.
The last little problem happens with Episode 3. Episode 1 is a free download in the Windows 8 store. It’s about 2 hours long, give or take. Episode 2 is 5$, and is also about 2 hours long (depending on if you get stuck or not). Episode 3 is 5$ and about 40 minutes long. That’s…not good. The rumor is that they split episode 3 up (into episode 4 coming soon), to get the episodes out quicker. If that’s true that’s fine, but then they should also charge less for the episode. Episodes 1 and 2 had about 30 screens and about 15 puzzles (if not more). Episode 3 had about 15 screens and about 7 puzzles. It felt kind of cheap once the “To be continued” message popped up.
There isn’t a lot of replayability in the game, just because once you’re done with an episode, that’s kind of it. The biggest thing there is are hidden collectibles littered in the episodes. There are different types of collectibles ranging from Bioluminescent life, to coins, to totems, technology and more. The game does a really nice job of keeping you informed of what you’ve collected/what you’re missing in a collectibles menu in the game. Finding this stuff is tied to achievements you can earn. Some achievements are also story based, or focused on specific goals in the game. Most of them are easy, but it does provide an incentive for you to replay the game to 100% everything.
On the whole though, Adera is a great game to play and figure stuff out in. Adera is not as complicated as older puzzle games, with their byzantine logic and what not. It’s more casually focused but this lets you actually appreciate what the game has going for it. A few technical problems do pop up on occasion, but the looks, the sounds, and the gameplay more than make up for it. It is well worth a look at, if you’re on Windows 8. Actually, Adera is the sole reason why my PC has a dual-boot setup right now. While it’s unlikely to come to Steam, it’s a nice dream. If you do have a Windows 8 machine though, it is the top game to check out.
Graphics — 8.5 It’s not a demanding game, but I really love the artistic style of the game. Jane looks like a believable character, and all the nature/city stuff is fantastic.
Gameplay — 9.5 To me, it’s virtually perfect. Easy enough to understand but can be hard to suss out the solution. Useful gameplay systems can help you figure (or skip) puzzles.
Audio — 8.5 The music is solid enough, and the voice acting is phenomenal (especially considering only 4 or 5 actors). The only weird thing is the reused sound effect from Outland.
Ease of Use/Installation — 5.0 Some game-killing bugs hamper the game, if you try and collect everything. They do patch it, but it takes time. Installing takes a fair bit of time, but is mostly functional.
Replayability – 7.5 A healthy chunk of collectibles litter the game’s landscape. Most of them fit into the feel of the game. Xbox 360 achievements are also included.
Other Steam News
Well, three games are due out next week. On March 5th is Tomb Raider, a 3rd (if not 4th) reboot of the series, making Lara a younger and more vulnerable character. Also on the 5th is The Showdown Effect. This is a 2.5D platformer game with a ton of action and humor. Kind of looks like a more fun version of Shank. Finally, on March 6th is Dollar Dash, a top-down burglary/stealth game from the looks of things. Next week I’ll take Jet Set Radio