Adventurers, eh? They never set out to get involved in stopping plots for world domination. Usually they're just the average guy or girl on the street, living life as best they can. Somehow they meet a strange person and in the click of a finger find themselves fighting Nazis, saving Holy Grails, defeating evil of all shapes and sizes, finding lost cities...the list goes on and on. Sadly the number of poorly done adventure games is almost as long. So where does Flight of the Amazon Queen fit in? Is it comparable to Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis? Or perhaps - I shudder at the thought - another Secret Mission? Let's have a look.
The game casts you in the role of Joe King (ho ho ho). No, I don't know what the obsession amongst games designers with really bad puns is. A well-animated introduction sequence sets the scene, and soon we learn that Joe is a pilot who is flying Hollywood star Faye Russell to the Amazon for a movie shoot. Think Willie in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and you've got Faye's character down pat. But I digress.. the story then, through twists and turns aplenty, reveals a crazed scientist's (Dr. Frank Ironstein) plans to turn Amazonian natives into unwitting tools of his plan to take over the world. Cue much maniacal laughing by said villain. Oh, and an appearance by dinosaurs. The game has a good, rounded and quirky plot that adheres well to the classic three-act structure. I wasn't bored with the quest at any point from a narrative point of view. That, my friends, is a good thing.
The adventure begins for the player in a magician's dressing room, with Joe ready to follow orders. Only problem is, the door's locked and it's a long way down through the window. It's a good puzzle to start the game with and the one-room beginning scenario helps to get players acquainted with the controls - and to some extent the sense of humour this game has. For every eccentric plot twist, there is an equally eccentric puzzle. Flight of the Amazon Queen sees such useful devices as 'comedy' breasts added to your inventory for a puzzle somewhere in the game. Thankfully, the tasks required of your brain are always rewarding, and there are some tricky moments to be found. Several puzzles kept me guessing for a long time, struggling to think how comedy breasts might help my predicament. The focus really is on adventure in this game; don't worry about any wandering into the territory of full-on action. Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine this ain't.
The graphics are pleasing enough on the eye without inspiring awe. Some are reproduced; hallways make cameo appearances in completely different buildings. Boxes in warehouses magically duplicate a few metres away from each other. But I cut corners as badly as the next person; I even started this sentence in a grammatically incorrect way because I'm lazy. So Interactive Binary Illusions (IBI) can be forgiven for reproducing the graphics in the game. After all, a nice job is done of animating the characters and making them visually unique. There isn't a location or person in the game that makes you think another few hours in the art department would have helped them. Backgrounds are always relatively alive, and there are enough occasional small details for the overall effect to be pleasing to the eye.
However, I really liked the cut-scenes in Flight of the Amazon Queen. Fitting in with the fairly fluid development of the plot, they drive the story forward rather than being redundant showpieces. The cut-scenes also bear the classic hallmark of misspent game design; most of the money seems to have gone on them. That's not a bad thing where this game in concerned, because a reasonable enough amount of money has been left over for the other equally - if not more - important areas of the game. The blurb on the back of the game box promises that the cut scenes will "add dramatic depth". Do you know something amazing? They do. Whilst fancy cut scenes don't make or break a computer game, they help swing the vote either way, and with Flight of the Amazon Queen that's a big plus in its favour.
Unfortunately, a slightly smaller minus can be found in the game's controls. They are arranged in the 'classic' adventure style; a row of icons such as push, pull and talk to. Maybe it's just that I've gotten used to easier forms of pointing and clicking. Maybe I've now learnt that keyboard controlled gaming isn't so bad. Or maybe it's just that dragging the mouse down to the icon bar every single time, then clicking again just to get something done is slightly irritating. I'd have liked some neat little tricks such as double-clicking to jump to a location rather than watching Joe King traipse from spot to spot. There aren't any neat tricks like this with Flight of the Amazon Queen's controls. Don't get me wrong; the controls are nothing to tear your hair out over, but they're certainly more annoying than they could have been.
There are plenty of locations and characters. From the aforementioned dressing room and escaping from it, to several locations once in the Amazon, there is always plenty to see and do in the game. The map has been well thought out and is populated with varied and almost always interesting characters. It's fair to say that there aren't many games that will see you bartering with an Amazon-jungle based store owner who has an offensively ugly beard. The entire scenario; from the plot, to the locations and the people within them is something I enjoyed about the game a great deal. Mind you, I'm the sort of person who likes tacky, offbeat stories. I even think Killer Klowns from Outer Space is a fantastic movie.
If you're still reading after that last sentence, bless you. Let me continue. Whilst the characters in the game are mostly unique, part of whether they end up being likeable or compelling is down to the voice acting cast. What sort of job did they do in this game? Well, the kindest thing to write about the voice cast of Flight of the Amazon Queen is that they achieve their aim. The actors come in, do their job, and leave. Adequate performances all round, some heavy on cliché (the mad doctor, anyone?) but overall neither impressive nor poor enough to make you reach for the mute button. As usual, a text-only option is available but the voice acting on this game is inoffensive and you'll probably end up leaving it on to see more life breathed into the game's characters.
Sometimes if you go and see a film, you come away humming a song that you heard during it. Well, I don't and I try to avoid people who do. But the point is the music was memorable; it was integral to the story and you can't get it out of your head. That doesn't happen with Flight of the Amazon Queen. Bland is the kindest of words I can use to describe the soundtrack that stumbles along in the background. There seems to be an undercurrent of just being average running throughout the sound on this game. It's as if the designers realised that a poor soundtrack and voice over would drag the game down, but they weren't prepared to spend more than was necessary. Music, voice-over and sound effects just get there - a "C grade" if we must revert to High School ratings - but they won't inspire.
That seems to be the gist of this game; some things are well done and win you over. Others leave you cold and unmoved. I prefer plenty of the former and less of the latter. After all, I mentioned Indiana Jones three times in this article. Truth be told, it's because he does this type of game like no-one else can. What about Flight of The Amazon Queen? Is it good or bad? Let's look at it in terms of a second-hand vehicle dealership. You know when you walk in there that what you're about to get is only ever going to be lower in quality than a brand new, gleaming product (for example - oh - any of LucasArts' adventure games). But is this game the Mercedes or the scooter of the gaming world?
It's somewhere in the middle. It's nice enough to look at, and whilst you're with it it's enjoyable enough. However, the longer you stick with it, the more you notice the irritating controls and the underwhelmingly average attention to detail that has been put in. Before I drown in metaphor and images of computer games as cars, I'll bring a swift end to this nonsense; Flight of the Amazon Queen is a good game. There. Did it.