AMBER: Journeys Beyond
First posted on 17 February 2006. Last updated on 07 September 2009.
When most people think of scary movies or horror games, they think of blood—blood, guts, gore, and all things that we have accustomed to accept as scary. If the monster does not eat its victim with lots of gore, the movie is just lame. Obsolete. Finito. Thankfully, the game AMBER: Journeys Beyond goes beyond that—far beyond that. It is truly a scary game. There are ghosts, paranormal activities, and plenty of strange sightings enough to keep most fans of The X-Files happy. There is even a demented UFO fanatic with the deluded "they are coming to get me" mentality. The game has no gore, except for a few scenes with a dead body that is not at all gory. What makes this game scary is its lack of in your face fear. It is a minimalist game, with subtle hints of a suspenseful fright. If you believe in ghosts or like to be scared, then get a copy of this game and play it. Better yet, play it alone at night in a dark room with the sound turned up for an even more scary experience.
The story begins when you receive an e-mail from Joe, wanting you to check up on your friend Roxy who has not been heard from ever since she starts testing a paranormal activity detection device called AMBER in her old Victorian house up in the mountains. You drive up there to find her, when suddenly a strange light appears in the middle of the road. You swerve off the road and into a lake, but managed to drag yourself up back onto dry ground. You make your way to her house, only to find Roxy lying unconscious in the garage. The house is dark and pieces of her ghost detection devices are strewn about the otherwise deserted place. You turn on the light and start to slowly figure out what has just happened.
AMBER: Journeys Beyond is produced by the husband and wife team of Frank and Susan Wimmer. The production, while not groundbreaking, is far above average. The graphics convincingly portray what needs to be portrayed very simply. The soundtrack is creepy and eerie yet ambient and soft. The sound effects are all used to good results, such as the slow creek of a wooden floor, the distant voice of someone screaming, or the realistic sound of an invisible hand writing the words "Join Me" on a fogged bathroom mirror. Many scenes in the game depict a sense of impeding terror without actually showing it. In some places there is a shadow of someone trying to climb through the window, disappearing as soon as you look at it. Most of these are enough to make you jump, and the excellent voice acting only adds to this fear. The graphics are very realistic, such as an entire ghost realm that is drawn completely in black and white like an old photograph or a ghost realm that includes an underwater scene drawn with a rippling effect added to the surrounding screen. Other places are extremely surreal, such as a tiny castle in the middle of a frozen lake, an endless hedge maze, and a pocket watch that controls the flow of time. Although the game may appear dated today, its design is certainly ahead of its time.
The game revolves around the ghosts of the people who have once lived in the house. You begin your exploration by activating the AMBER's Paratechnology Suite that consists of a control panel, a visor, and a look-alike personal digital assistant device. Throughout the game you find various clues about these ghosts, such as short pieces of creepy videos or animations that suggest their presence—a knife suddenly floats around the kitchen before burying itself into the floor or a bedroom slowly floods with blood causing the chairs to slowly rise to the ceiling. With an eerie soundtrack added, the game truly creates a creepy and intriguing experience.
The game interface is intuitive and extremely minimal. The inventory simply shows an imprint or an outline of an object at the bottom of the screen. The environment is easy to navigate, allowing you to go off a path into the woods or even drive a car underwater. The puzzles are mostly inventory and logic based. There is even a puzzle that appears at first to be a maze, except that each path ends up at the exact same crossroad at the end. The game has almost no character interaction. While there are a number of characters in the game, all of them are dead with the exception of Roxy who is unconscious. For the few human characters there are in the game, Full Motion Videos are filmed with real actors. Much of the exploration in the game takes place through 3 separate astral experiences by the player that tell the stories of the 3 ghosts before their deaths. In each of the ghost realms, the ghost makes offhand remarks that provide small clues to the situation. The puzzles are all well designed and fully integrated in the storyline. Experienced gamers, however, may not find them particularly challenging. The game is somewhat short, boasting at most only a week's worth of game time even to an inexperienced gamer.
This is an intriguing and fun game. The plot is well written, filled with many interesting characters. The puzzles are closely tied to the storylline. The graphics are spectacular with over 250 animations. All these elements create for a creepy game that captivates the player. On the other hand, the limited gameplay and unchallenging puzzles may repel some experienced gamers. If you enjoy extremely hard or esoteric puzzle play, you are better off spending your money elsewhere. The ending is somewhat anticlimactic and may be a little disappointing to some.
AMBER: Journeys Beyond is among the most underrated adventure game titles of all time. It is a good game for beginning adventurers. If you are interested in the paranormals or just looking for a good quality adventure to pass the time, this game is for you. The game may have its ups and downs, but it is still worthy of a try especially if you can find it in a bargain bin. So, do yourself a favor and experience AMBER: Journeys Beyond—may be then we can convince the Wimmers to make another of the same.