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

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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