Signs Of Intelligent Life: J.U.L.I.A. Demo

By Adam Smith on February 28th, 2012 at 5:14 pm.

Go, Mobot, Go!

J.U.L.I.A. is an adventure game set in a distant solar system, as well as the name of an AI in that game. There’s a giant bipedal machine in it called Mobot, which is probably my favourite thing about the demo that I just played. The plot is about humankind’s search for extra terrestrial life, for which purpose a crew have been dispatched to the backend of nowhere and, wouldn’t you know it, when they arrived things went terribly wrong. As the last survivor of the mission, astrobiologist Rachel Manners must travel to various planets to discover the (probably) awful truth. She’ll also have to play a lot of minigames.

The story moves along at a steady clip and has more than a whiff of The Dig about it, which is no bad thing. Except, like the earlier game, in between the exploration there are puzzles that block the path forward in a fashion more frustrating than fulfilling. At least in pointy clicky bits in The Dig were involving, whereas the equivalent here are fully voiced tiny text adventures, with graphics on the side but no interaction beyond picking an option from a list.

As discoveries are made, I found myself wanting to know more and the intelligent approach to alien life is the game’s strongest attribute. However, and unfortunately it’s a big loud sigh of a however, the puzzles are far too frequent and hardly any fun at all.

Before you can even start exploring the first planet, which isn’t really a planet at all on first visit but rather a couple of rooms containing a computer and the small area around those rooms, before Mobot gets to stomp around down there via a textual interface, you’ll have to repair your ship. To do that, you’ll have to harvest materials from the planet itself. It turns out, harvesting ore involves moving a cursor across a map and waiting for it to turn green. It’s basically like wandering around your front room to find the car keys that your bastard housemate has hidden from you as he shouts ‘warmer’, ‘colder’, ‘freezing FNARARHAHAAHA’ and you end up being late for the job interview that would have been your gateway out of that hellhole. Maybe he’s become dependent on you and doesn’t want you to ever leave. I don’t know. I’m talking about space mining.

Theoretically, it’s possible to find the materials by watching colour coded graphs rise and fall, shifting the cursor about until the bars match the composition of the ore you’re after, but as if realising that nobody will have the patience for that, it’s been decided that the cursor will become a brighter shade of green the closer you are. So the bars are rendered pointless. Perhaps you’ll need to use them later on but, dear me, I hope not.

To the repairs then, which is what those materials were for. This minigame involves watching a video of some sort of gray tunnel, perhaps a maintenance crawlspace, and dragging the icons representing each material onto the correct part of the screen when prompted. If you’re too late the sequence will continue and you’ll get another chance, meaning that the only penalty is that it all lasts a bit longer.

Later on there’s a puzzle in which circuits have to be connected as shown on a blueprint. I actually enjoyed that one because it was a puzzle and I had to think rather than just responding to a prompt.

I’d much rather play a game that does one or two things well than one that does those same things well but adds in several other things that it doesn’t do well at all. J.U.L.I.A.’s demo contains the beginnings of a story that I’d like to see more of and the slices of text adventure are slight but nutritious. It’s all punctuated with time-consuming bits and pieces that I have no interest in though. Some of them are skippable, which is handy, but others aren’t and they don’t do either of the things I’d be happy for them to do: 1) make me feel like a space biologist, 2) entertain me.

The demo is available now and maybe you’ll see past the flaws and label me a sour-faced cretin from afar as you gleefully hoover up that ore. The game will be released on the 2nd of March at UK/Ireland retail as well as digitally at The Adventure Shop and Green Man Gaming.

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25 Comments »

  1. diebroken says:

    Had a look at this when I was browsing the usual set pc game publishers (a monthly hobby). It has just reminded me to pick up a copy of the Darkstar: The Interactive Movie

    • Dominic White says:

      NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

      Darkstar is awful. It’s like the worst parts of 90s FMV adventures all rolled into one. It also has a lot of the Mystery Science Theater crew on board, but it manages to be po-faced and boring 95% of the time, and just awkward the 5% of the time it’s trying to be funny.

      I watched Spoony streaming his way through it, and even with a walkthrough, it was one of the most painfully dull and drawn-out experiences ever. Even the (many) travelling animations when you move from screen to screen are a few seconds too long each.

    • diebroken says:

      Oh, well. Now I’ll just get it for the soundtrack, making the game as the bonus instead…

    • Richie Shoemaker says:

      I have Darkstar on my desk, wrapped and waiting to be pla… experienced

    • pydsgfjia says:

      Any info on what the actual gameplay is going to be? The concept sounds intriguing, and the demo was nice, but I need something more than slide puzzles and hangman. http://tigg.in/21e691

  2. MichaelPalin says:

    Nah!, I’m more a “things gone partially wrong” kind of person myself.

  3. Drinking with Skeletons says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but the description of mining sounds exactly like the mining from Mass Effect 2. Since that was almost universally despised, I don’t see why they’d copy it, but there’s no accounting for taste, I suppose.

    ALSO: Can you clarify anything about how the game handles alien life?

  4. Tei says:

    This looks a lot like Lost Colony, in a good way. Perhaps even more highpoly.

    Except is not a 3D game, but a collection of minigames to tell a story about space exploration.. humm.

  5. CaspianRoach says:

    I have the weirdest dejavu, I think I’ve already played this game or a game like this a few years ago. It was a flash browser-based game.

  6. kael13 says:

    Is it anything like the Journeyman games? Man I loved those as a kid.

  7. PitfireX says:

    THIS GAME IS INCREDIBLE!!!!!

    I haven’t used my brain this much in years!!!!!!! How come games like this cant get GOTY?

  8. Rikjs says:

    Looks like the website is donald.

  9. Inglourious Badger says:

    You had my rapt attention until “and play lots of minigames”.

    • noom says:

      +1 to that. I was actually quite excited until “minigames”

  10. Herbert_West says:

    Any info on what the actual gameplay is going to be? The concept sounds intriguing, and the demo was nice, but I need something more than slide puzzles and hangman.

  11. KaL_YoshiKa says:

    Wait, is that a blue Pkunk?!

  12. sinelnic says:

    All I can see past the flaws is a game that would have been bad in the 90s.

    I am sorry.

  13. staberas says:

    oh boy i played it, this game is a mixture of text adventure and various minigames..
    it looks interesting but the minigame part will get OLD really fast

  14. Tei says:

    Most of the minigames need more work. Lack joy. Are not fun, not something you want to do. Also, parts of the interface are too simple, like a alpha version of a game. It was interested in the mistery setup by the story, so score one in that department, but I skiped parts of the dialogs, that looked… skippable. I say the authors need to learn more before trying a game of this ambition. Also, mass effect 2.

  15. Lokik says:

    For some reason the music reminded me a lot about the remastered stuff from Ur-Quan Masters. Very nice soundtrack. The demo itself was OK. I wouldn’t pay more than 10 Euros for this though.

  16. Herbert_West says:

    This game blows.

    Mediocre story with completely nonsensical twists and parts (seems the developers not only never set foot into a life sciences department, then never even watched movie biologists.), annoying minigames that do not test intelligence beyond Simon Says level, and the whole thing can be finished in 4 hours or less. And all this for 25 euros?

    Gods no.