The Sacred Rings (PC) review
"There is nothing like a good adventure game. Unfortunately, Aura 2 is nothing like a good adventure game."
There's nothing like a good adventure game.
Being thrown into a mystery can be thrilling. Pitting your wits against those of the developer, in an attempt to crack the clues, and solve the puzzles they throw at you can, when handled correctly, offer a level of satisfaction that you can never get no matter how many of the Combine you slay.
Or, becoming embroiled in a fantastic story, one in which you live the main character's life, offers rewards that other genres can not possibly match. Particularly if that story is well written. Characterisation, humour, detail ; They all help to create the world in which the player is to live for the next few days. The word that developers strive for is 'immersion'. A player becomes immersed when they enjoy themself enough. When they care enough. When they can disconnect from their own mundane existence, and be someone else for a while. When this happens, it is dynamite.
In The Sacred Rings, the story itself is a canvas on which Streko Graphics hang their world. That is to say, the story is really just background. It is mentioned at the start, and then sort of buried, only to pop back in during the ocassional cut-scene. I assume that this is to allow the puzzles to take centre stage. The player takes on the role of Umang, and the game starts with Umang waking up in a strange house. The house turns out to belong to Nikifor, who asks you to find a way to open a door for him, then promptly falls asleep. Note, he does not tell you which door. This sets the scene quite nicely for the rest of the game, as for 99% of the time you are playing you are alone, and are generally vaguely confused as to what you are supposed to be doing, or where you are supposed to be going.
When you start wandering around the house you can't help but feel like you have been here before. You haven't, but you have been somewhere a bit like here before. Sadly, there is no way to NOT say that this game is very much a Myst wannabe. From the one-step-at-a-time nature of movement around the Manula valley, to the 'match the symbol to the lever' puzzles, you really have to concentrate to not think of Cyan's classic. Click that button, set that dial. You have done this kind of thing a dozen times before.
There is nothing like a good adventure game. Unfortunately, Aura 2 is nothing like a good adventure game.
There are actually no glaring faults with Aura 2. Being a sequel, the backstory is all there. The world is already well-defined. I never played the original, but the opening cinematic told me everything I needed to know. The graphics play their part quite beautifully, being wonderful pre-rendered scenes. The interface is straightforward, with the cursor changing to give me the visual cue as to what I can do next. Nicely, you can look around many of the game's locations with full free motion, but this is muted by the 'feet planted firmly on THIS spot of ground' mechanic.
Walk forward, step back, take a closer look/interact. All boxes checked.
Only ... walking around this game feels limited. Sometimes I want to take a step backwards, but I can't. Instead, I have to turn around. It's minor, but it starts to grate.
Sometimes I want to interact with an item, but I can't. At least, not until I have hovered the cursor over the exact pixel that I need to. This is, to be fair, a fault endemic of the genre, so I can't complain too loudly. But, it is another minor flaw.
Sometimes, I just don't have a clue what in the hell I am looking at. This is generally because I either have yet to discover the book/scroll that explains it to me. However, sometimes it is because even though I posess the required document, I have yet to actually read it. This is not a fault of the game, this is a fault of my own impatience.
Or, is it?
The real reason I did not read everything I found was because sometimes there was just too much of it. Lack of detail is an unforgiveable crime in adventure games, and Streko Graphics can certainly not be accused of this. However, I found myself more concerned with discovering the puzzles than I was with reading reams of information.
I found myself not caring about the Keepers.
I found myself not IMMERSED!
This is the big problem with Aura 2. An adventure game that doesn't grab the player is an adventure game that won't be played. Add in to this the aforementioned minor flaws, and ... well, let's just say that the thought of killing Combine became more tempting.
I soldiered on, though, since I was not completely hating my time in the game. And, as I said already, the locations really are quite breathtaking. Conversations with other characters are mercifully short and to the point, so that the vast majority of your time is spent exploring, and trying things out.
And then I got captured. Without any hint of warning. Game over. Back to the title screen!
WTF? Instant death? Didn't Lucasarts kill that retarded concept off 20 years ago?
Suffice it to say I was UNthrilled. Unthrilled enough to stop playing the game right there and then. Fuck replaying my last half hour of game, fuck all the effort I had put in so far, fuck Streko Graphics! In a fit of pique, I uninstalled the game right there. This, to my mind, is the enemy of adventure. This is the carnal sin. This is the one thing they SHOULD NOT STILL BE DOING!
Aura 2 can only really be recommended to fans of the genre, then. Those of you who look at a weird squiggle on some parchment, and desperately need to know what it refers to can truly get your jollies from this one. The puzzles are fairly difficult, but they are not mind-bendingly unfathomable. The graphics are first-rate, and everything is clearly defined. One welcome feature is that sometimes, when you have finished with an item, you can no longer interact with it. This is good, you know when something is no longer needed. But, since you need to save every few minutes, just in case you DIE, this feature is not enough to rescue the game.
For the rest of us, killing Combine makes for some pretty good therapy!
Freelance review by Lee Weedall (May 24, 2007)
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