Frogwares’ Journey to the Center of the Earth is the latest entry into the adventure genre. In a market flooded with titles rich in graphic violence and mature content, can a relatively wholesome game find a place? Read on and decide for yourself if this game is a contender.Journey to the Center of the Earth is a game packed with goodness. It contains stunning environments, intelligent puzzles that stretch your mind without becoming tedious, a good story and a memorable soundtrack and more than 40 hours of gameplay.Journey to the Center of the Earth borrows its title from a Jules Verne novel. If you have read the book or seen the movie, you will not notice too many similarities between the game and Mr. Verne’s classic. This is not a bad thing, as the result is an enjoyable adventure game that keeps your interest for the many hours of game play. Journey to the Center of the Earth begins with the main character Ariane, a photojournalist, involved in a helicopter crash. As Ariane looks for the pilot, a rockslide further damages the helicopter. She recovers a few items from the vehicle and explores her surroundings. Spotting a cave, you can not help but try to enter, and then the adventure really begins. In true Alice in Wonderland fashion, Ariane falls into a dark hole and wakes up in a strange land.Standing on the beach of an underground sea is a mysterious gentleman, who eventually reveals himself as a shaman. He is trying to repair his staff and this requires your help. The stone seated on the staff’s head needs to be repaired and you are sent off to remedy the situation. Once you complete this relatively easy task, you will be directed to a new destination and the eventual solution to a deep rooted mystery.The interface of Journey to the Center of the Earth is uncomplicated to use. Moving Ariane is accomplished using the classic point and click method. Double clicking results in a jog as opposed to a run. When the mouse moves over a “hot spot,” the cursor will change appropriate to the action allowed. For example, the appearance of a hand means you can interact with or pick up an item. Footprints represent the ability to move into a new area.Items that Ariane collects are automatically stored in an inventory bar that can be accessed by a simple right click of the mouse. Some of these items can be combined to alter or create new items. Thankfully, you can not accidentally use an item in the wrong place nor can you accidentally drop one. Any time Ariane discovers printed information, it is automatically downloaded to her laptop. This is accessed by clicking the mouse in a flashing blue “monitor” located in the left corner of the inventory bar. It is essential to pay close attention to the uncovered information as it usually gives clues as to how to progress through the game. The laptop also serves as a storehouse for the photos that you take. This is done automatically, meaning you never actually have to pick up the camera. Personally I would have enjoyed the opportunity to choose what I wanted to take pictures of.The puzzles in the game range from very simple to quite complex. A few are true exercises in logical thinking and require some note-taking and thinking on the part of the player. This may frustrate some, but ample clues are given in the game through character interaction and environmental exploration. My personal favorite is a take on a classic that requires you to determine which of 12 balls is different in weight from the other 11. The catch is that you are only allowed to make 3 weight comparisons on a balance type scale. I am sure that some users will be searching the internet for some help in a few areas of the game.The overall level design of Journey to the Center of the Earth is good. There were only a few times I felt that I was moving too far too often. Being one who hates running around in a game for no apparent reason, this was one fear that never came to fruition. When I was required to walk from A to B to C and back to A again, I found the environments so beautiful that I really did not mind. One problem that I did encounter, however, was that a few of the hot spots for moving between screens are hard to find. This had me getting agitated and leaving the game for a while. Since it is a point and click interface, there is no way to force your character to an extreme location to see if there is an invisible boundary or not. Fortunately these problem spots are so few that they do not add up to a frustrating experience overall.One other aspect that I find a bit forced is the fact that the character models seem to be dolls playing out a scene in front of a photorealistic backdrop. It is almost as if some character models were tossed in at the end. For example, although Araiane is not unpleasant looking, there was something about her that just did not work for me. She has a stunning face and attractive figure, but overall she does not look “real.” It reminded me of the humans in the “Toy Story” movies. Other characters look just fine, especially some of the animals you run into.Technically, Journey to the Center of the Earth is a very good game. The backgrounds are excellent, reminiscent of the “wow” factor I remember from Myst. When you have the opportunity to zoom in at certain locations, the attention to detail is staggering and the locations do not look like they were created on a computer at all. One of the locations I was most impressed by was a small photo lab that is in need of repair. Within it, you have the opportunity to use low intensity light and appropriate chemicals to develop a set of pictures.The sound in Journey to the Center of the Earth is a mixed bag. The voice acting is stale and unimpressive for the most part. Some of the characters lack any emotion whatsoever. If this was meant to add a dimension of mystery to the game, it did not work. Fortunately it is possible to read the dialogue and move through quickly by hitting the escape key after each line is spoken. On the positive side, the musical score is outstanding. The music that is playing throughout the game sets a definitive mood and I never grew tired of hearing it even after 40+ hours of play.Saving games is accomplished by escaping and clicking on the save icon, which is actually a little TV monitor in the options screen. You may do this at any time except when a cut scene or movie is playing. I recommend saving often. Although replay of this title is limited, there are 2 possible endings. If you are careful and save often, you can experience both endings without repeating the entire game.There are a handful of problems with the game. The most annoying experience I encountered was random game crashes, most of which occurred when I was trying to use the escape key to skip dialogue. There were a few times I lost about 10 minutes or so of progress, so save often! One other problem, aesthetically, was the fact that Ariane seems to behave like a dog looking for somewhere to lie down when she tried to move from one location to another that was close in proximity. This just adds to the unnatural appearance of the character. Finally, as previously mentioned, there are a few hot spots that are very difficult to locate. This can be quite frustrating, but it does not occur too frequently.Journey to the Center of the Earth is a breath of fresh air in the adventure genre. Considering the level of detail that has gone into its design, the exceptional musical score, an overall enjoyable pace, a good story, over 40 hours of gameplay and 2 possible endings, this a title worth owning. The fact that it retails for $19.99 makes an outstanding value. If you are a fan of the adventure genre this game is well worth your time. If you have never played an adventure title, or have had a bad experience with the genre in the past, drop 20 bucks and give this one a try. You may be pleasantly surprised

Paul Younger
Founder and Editor of PC Invasion. Founder of the world's first gaming cafe and Veteran PC gamer of over 22 years.

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