Journey to the Center of the Earth
First posted on 10 September 2011. Last updated on 10 September 2011.
The game is available at GOG.
1In the digital release that I played, a few of the harder puzzles that were present in the retail CD-ROM release had been removed.
About the author
Jess Beebe is an artist, writer, and a fan of classic adventure games. She has just recently attempted making adventure games of her own. Her latest creation is Adventure: All in the Game, a sequel to Adventure: The Inside Job. Both games (available for download for free) are meant as homages to the genre, honoring well known adventures as well as bringing some lesser known titles into the spotlight.
For more information, visit Adventure: All in the Game.
The title Journey to the Center of the Earth may lead you to believe that this is a game based on Jules Verne's science fiction story of the same name. However, the similarities the game has to the story are largely superficial. Rather, in this game, you play as a journalist named Ariane who arrives at one of Iceland's volcanoes by helicopter. Unfortunately, a violent earthquake strikes shortly after the helicopter lands. Though the helicopter is destroyed, its pilot is nowhere to be found once the quake ends. When Ariane leaves the wreckage in search of the nearest town, she suddenly finds herself in a strange new world full of gigantic mushrooms, living dinosaurs, and descendants of people thought to have vanished mysteriously decades ago.
Ironically, Journey to the Center of the Earth starts out as a journey with Ariane trying to find a way back to the surface of the Earth. However, as the game's plot unfolds, she finds herself caught up in the affairs of the people living in the isolated world beneath that of her own. The discoveries are not all quite as they seem, and as Ariane learns more about what goes on in this subterranean civilization, the more she realizes that she will have to make a choice between it and her career.
The scenery in Journey to the Center of the Earth is beautiful and diverse, from a tranquil beach strewn with the remnants of an ancient campsite to a village where all the dwellings are constructed out of living trees. The characters are rendered in real time 3D that has aged fairly well (though it is a little odd how Ariane rarely shows an expression other than a half smile in the game's cut scenes).
However, with as many locations as there are in the game, at the same time there is a noticeable dearth of hotspots. There are many places where there is nothing on the screen that can be looked at or interacted with. Many of the exotic plants, prehistoric creatures, and ornate machinery often seem to serve as little more than decorations, and very few of them are clickable. Further, many screens take a while to cross even with Ariane running (by double-clicking the left mouse button). Moving through such empty locations over and over can get a little tiring.
Additionally, some hotspots are not even active until much later in the game. While I can see why this is done from a design perspective (items are only made available when the player needs them, thus preventing the inventory from becoming too cluttered), it seems like it may be much less frustrating to have items appear only after they are needed or to have Ariane say that she does not need the items if you attempt to pick one of the items up before it is required.
The interface in Journey to the Center of the Earth is simple. Left-clicking directs Ariane to interact with an item, talk with a person, or walk to the cursor's location, depending on what you click on. Right-clicking toggles the inventory, which appears as a row of items at the base of the screen, on or off. A very useful addition to the inventory is Ariane's computer. When you move the cursor over an item such as a note, a book, or a diagram, the cursor will change to an icon of the computer. Clicking on the item will then make the computer analyze and store it for later viewing. This is very helpful for storing information discovered as the game progresses, and occasionally the computer will receive email messages from the outside world as well.
Unfortunately, the game's interface can be clunky at times. Exits on a screen may not be obvious at first glance, and when they are obvious, it takes a lot of moving the cursor around until you see the pair of footprints that indicates an exit appear beside the cursor. Some locations are inaccessible for no apparent reason and will not become accessible until you have solved a puzzle that does not have any obvious connection to the location in question. Also, in my own play through, I found 2 places where Ariane got stuck repeatedly on a single spot on the screen. I was unable to get her to walk anywhere else, forcing me to restore a previously saved game.
There are also many occasions where clicking on a hotspot does not produce any response from the game. Conversely, when you actually receive a response, it is sometimes a very vague reply from Ariane. For example, if you click on a patch of small mushrooms (which you can only collect with the aid of an inventory item that Ariane gathers earlier), she will say that she "must have forgotten something", not giving any reason why she cannot take the mushrooms.
The music in the game is very minimal. Often the only audio to be heard on a screen is the sound of water running, insects buzzing or birds singing. The music is so sporadic that it is often slightly startling when it appears.
Journey to the Center of the Earth's voice acting is passable, but at times the lines have a feel to them that make it painfully evident that this game is actually a port with English localization. Some of the exotic names are pronounced differently by different actors. Moreover, there is little strong emotion in any of the dialog spoken by them—Ariane herself sounds only mildly surprised to see a living Tyrannosaurus rex less than fifty yards away from her. Even the writing that is not narrated has a slightly awkward look to it at times. In fact, there is an occasion where the name of a dialog topic that has not even been translated into English.
There is no shortage of puzzles in Journey to the Center of the Earth. Though most of them are pretty simple and straightforward, occasionally a much harder puzzle will show up. However, some of the more difficult puzzles1 are made difficult by camouflaged hotspots, hard-to-comprehend machinery, or even poor English translation (when a character asked me to find a "box of wood", I found an empty wooden box and was searching everywhere for wood to fill it with, not realizing that the game meant a box made of wood, not full of wood).
It is worth noting that there 2 two possible endings in Journey to the Center of the Earth—a short ending and long ending. Though the long ending ends on a much more positive note, it takes such a long time to get to that ending and it is much harder to reach that the effort may not justify the reward in hindsight.
All in all, though Journey to the Center of the Earth has beautiful graphics and unique settings, there is not that much else that adds to the game's appeal. There is no enough time spent solving puzzles and interacting with the world and too much time talking and walking around in the game. If you are looking for a game with challenging puzzles, this game may not be your cup of tea, but if you are content to simply drink in the surroundings of a game with a lot of scenery, this game may be worthy of a try.