First posted on 22 April 2012. Last updated on 22 April 2012.
J.U.L.I.A. is a sci-fi adventure game developed by indie development studio CBE (formerly known as Cardboard Box Entertainment) from Czechoslovakia. The game features a good story, memorable characters, great looking cut scenes, wonderful music, and plenty of puzzles. All in all, it is a solid game that will likely please most fans of adventure games.
The game's story focuses on a trio of characters: astrobiologist Rachel Manners, J.U.L.I.A. (the ship's artificially intelligent computer), and MOBOT (an intelligent robot). The game begins when Rachel is awakened by J.U.L.I.A. from cryogenic sleep. Originally part of a team of explorers, Rachel now finds herself the sole survivor of a catastrophe and gradually becomes aware of a terrible conspiracy among the other members of the team that is somehow tied to their eventual demise. Solving the mystery will take Rachel all over the solar system as she collects information and resources from the planets and their mysterious occupants. Along the way, she will learn that there is a lot more to J.U.L.I.A. than meets the eye. Unraveling the mysteries and figuring out the fate of the crew—and the solar system—is the best part of the game. The developer has created an interesting story with plenty of twists and turns. At its climax, the story will have the player pondering some very deep issues about the nature of humanity and justice. The ending is particularly striking, since it requires the player to make a difficult choice. Without spoiling the story, suffice it to say that by this point the player will be very invested in the outcome of the game, making the final decision all the more effective from a storytelling perspective.
The game's interface is somewhat unusual, rather like that used for a casual game. While the cut scenes are spectacular, the rest of the game consists mostly of 2D panels. The characters' faces are shown in boxes as they speak, and the scenes with MOBOT are shown in a top down or side scrolling view. Instead of allowing the player to explore environments in 3D, a series of text options pops up from which the player can choose as actions. While some gamers may object to this low budget technique, I have found it charming and in no way detracting from my enjoyment of the game. Instead of wasting time wandering aimlessly around huge maps and areas, I can focus on the story and puzzles.
The game's puzzles are mostly self-contained logic puzzles typical of the genre, such as jigsaw puzzles, setting up circuit boards, deciphering codes, and pouring just the right amount of liquid into multiple containers. Each puzzle includes instructions and usually hints, though a few of them are still difficult. Probably the hardest puzzle in this game is the "boss fight" between MOBOT and a giant alien. The player must continuously adjust a set of crosshairs by turning a couple of knobs while also reacting quickly by pressing the right button when the alien performs a move. Unfortunately, it is possible to get to the very end of this long and frustrating puzzle and still fail, which then requires a complete restart. As well, the game features a somewhat tedious simulation sequence that seems inspired by the Mass Effect series. The player must scan planets and then scout over their surfaces to find and harvest resources. This boring sequence is repeated at least a dozen times, as if the developer is simply trying to inflate the length of the game. While none of the puzzles are especially brilliant or original, the majority are more fun than frustrating.
The game's best audiovisual features are the professionally executed cut scenes and the relaxing soundtrack. Whereas the game itself has a casual look and feel, the cut scenes look as good (if not better) than games with much larger budgets. The player gets to see MOBOT hurtling down towards planets, interacting with the flora and fauna, and exploring some pretty spectacular environments. The music is reminiscent of the electronic music of Tangerine Dream and Vangelis, with a good balance of relaxing chords and energizing rock.
All in all, I enjoy playing J.U.L.I.A., despite the annoyances of a few questionable puzzles and the occasionally poorly translated or delivered bit of dialog. I recommend it to fans of sci-fi and casual adventure games. It must be noted that the screenshots and trailers shown in the game's advertisement are taken from the game's cut scenes only, so that their quality is not representative of the rest of the game. Still, gamers who enjoy a good story and abstract logic puzzles will likely find J.U.L.I.A. to be quite satisfying.