J.U.L.I.A. review

The Good: Wide range of plentiful puzzles; thought-provoking mystery; likeable characters; beautiful graphics of varied planetary settings; diverse music.
The Bad: Limited exploration possible; one very annoying dexterity puzzle; occasionally melodramatic.
Our Verdict: J.U.L.I.A. is a unique and thoroughly enjoyable mission of remote planetary exploration and puzzle-solving.

A story about a deep space mission gone horribly wrong and a female A.I. orchestrating the attempted recovery may not be entirely original, but it’s usually a recipe for some compelling sci-fi fiction. Add to that some gorgeous graphics, promises of strange alien encounters, and a thoroughly innovative approach to gameplay, and my curiosity was thoroughly piqued about J.U.L.I.A., the “logical video game” from two-man team Cardboard Box Entertainment. Fortunately, I wasn’t disappointed, as it proved to be an enjoyable and unique experience, with a wide variety of puzzles, diverse environments to “explore” (though not in the traditional way), and a clever integration of text-based adventuring to support its futuristic plot.

In the year 2430 A.D., astrobiologist Rachel Manners is awoken from cryo sleep to find the entire crew missing and her interstellar probe damaged by a meteorite. Assisted by the titular J.U.L.I.A., the ship’s artificial intelligence, her first step is to repair the craft, then find out what happened to her colleagues. She soon discovers that they left decades ago to search the nearby planets without her for reasons unknown. Their mission was to make first contact with alien species, so Rachel must now follow in their footsteps (more or less) across the six planets in the current solar system, where she encounters different races and some disturbing clues about the fates of her shipmates.

It’s an interesting premise, and although science fiction fans might think the story a bit clichéd, J.U.L.I.A. proves anything but conventional in its execution. Rachel and J.U.L.I.A. are joined by Mobot, a hulking controllable robot that does all of the field work. Rachel and J.U.L.I.A. never actually leave the ship during the game, so it’s Mobot that explores the planets below, sending video feeds back to the probe to allow for remote guidance. The only other characters in the game are a few aliens and several dead bodies, although the latter is never graphic, merely suggestive, like lifeless legs sticking out from behind an obstruction. There is also an occasional narrator (whose presence is rather awkwardly never explained) who describes the scenes on the planets.

Aboard the probe, everything is controlled through a computer interface with functions that include ship repairs, Mobot upgrades, and the ability to harvest material from planets. When Mobot is sent to the surface of a planet, he (it? His voice sounds male, at least.) isn't controlled directly, apart from two planets that allow movement on a grid-based map. Since you can only see a specific still, grainy image from Mobot’s current perspective, the narrator describes the immediate surroundings and informs you whether there is anything to interact with. Like a sort of graphical text adventure, you can then tell Mobot what to do by choosing from the available dialogue choices. There are no right or wrong answers to worry about, as you’ll end up choosing all options eventually.

Puzzles in J.U.L.I.A. are plentiful and widely varied in both type and difficulty, although all of them are fair. Clues can be found scattered around the planets, and writing some of the information down is necessary, since there’s no journal to record it. There are no inventory puzzles per se, since there is no visible storage compartment. You can instruct Mobot to pick up items, but their use is available only through the text-based options in context. The many logic puzzles range from decoding a cipher to matching star patterns with a map to creating upgrades from blueprints by connecting circuitry with limited pieces. A few are repeated multiple times, increasing in difficulty as you progress, but the impressive diversity overall keeps the experience fresh as you move from one planet to another, continually confronting new obstacles.

For each puzzle, there is an available icon to explain the objective and give small hints on occasion. The only time the game provides more help is during a particular math puzzle, where it offers to do all of the calculations for you, leaving you to simply input the solutions. There is no in-between on this puzzle, so either you do all the mathwork yourself or let the game do it for you. On some puzzles there is a “give up” button, but this does not solve the puzzle for you; it merely exits to the previous screen so you can try it again later. It isn’t always possible to back out once engaged in a puzzle, though you can save and quit the game at any time. After the initial planet is explored, you can choose any of the six planets to proceed, but access on one planet may depend on progress from another, so the game is pretty linear overall, and puzzles have to be done in a certain order.

Continued on the next page...

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Game Info


Mac, PC, Linux

Science Fiction


Game Page »

United Kingdom March 2 2012 Lace Mamba Global

User Score

Average based on 12 ratings

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Katie Smith
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TheLongestJourney TheLongestJourney
Mar 2, 2012

I enjoyed the demo and am glad to hear the rest of the game is good too. I really hope I win the contest!

Mar 2, 2012

I’m enjoying it now, TLJ.  Ditto!

Mar 2, 2012

Im sorry but Ive played this game for 2 hours and Its worst game Ive played in 10 years. Seriously, I was more enyoing Phantasmagoria then this monstrosoty.

Mar 2, 2012

PS: Ive lost all my respect to adventuregamers.com after Ive saw 4 stars on this.

Mar 2, 2012

Well, it takes all kinds, doesn’t it, avatar4?

I’ve been…I won’t say amused…call it intrigued by some of the reactions to this game I’ve seen on the forum.  So many people have been jumping up and down about the need to support indie developers as well as approving “interactive and/or art experiences” and here comes an independent developer who makes a nice looking game which, to me, seems like a labor of love, and they put it down for being more of an interactive experience than a game, with puzzles that aren’t ‘hard enough’. 

There was a ‘game’ recently that didn’t have any.  Perhaps if J.U.L.I.A. had dispensed with them altogether, it would get more approval.  There is absolutely no figuring human beings out.

Mar 2, 2012

I didnt want to be disrespectful to indie developers but Gemini Rue was a great indie game, greatly written, atmospheric, fun and better than a lot of commercial games.

The first and I think the worst thing about the JULIA that struck me was the horrible cheesy writing. Maybe Im to harsh but Ive basicaly expected something more (4 stars). Puzzles are easy, but its not a deal breaker for me. Its that horrible writing.

I must admit, I didnt know that was indie production so my reaction wasnt bias, I just judged game by different (commercial/high budget titles) standards but dont forget how good was Samorost or Gemini Rue.

Mar 2, 2012

PS: Ill give this game 2 more hours.

Mar 2, 2012

avatar4, I didn’t think you were biased, just that it wasn’t your speed.  All that other stuff wasn’t aimed at you.  Any game is going to have people who like it and people who don’t and, to me, all that matters is whether ‘you’ enjoy it or not, whether it was made by some guy in his garage or a team like Frogwares, 

I hope the next two hours is better than the first few.  Really.  I don’t like wasting money on a game I don’t enjoy either.

Mar 2, 2012

Alright, I’ll give this one a try, let’s see if Avatar4 is right. My guess is that he is, seeing I have yet to play a game, of any sort, which even comes close to a good book or movie, or moves me like amazing music does. I think we all give games a “pass” because they are games, but why should one lower one’s standards? Regardless I’m forever hopeful that one day I’ll find a game that is as thought provoking as “Der stteppenwolf” or moves me the same way Mozart’s requiem does, until then I’ll muddle through.

Jackal Jackal
Mar 2, 2012

Apples and oranges, marvio. Maybe you don’t, but other people value games because they provide an interactive experience that other media doesn’t. J.U.L.I.A. would make a pretty lousy movie or book because it’s not meant to be either of those.

Mar 2, 2012

Its not I dont like the game (well, I dont, maybe tomorow I will), I was just shocked (and pi&$ed) that they gave it 4 stars.

Mar 3, 2012

I agree. I have finished the demo, and the writing’s pretty bad. Characters are totally unbelieveable.

It doesn’t matter JULIA wasn’t meant to be a book or a movie. I’m taking it for what it is, and it’s definitely not as thought provoking or moving as Mozart or Steppenwolf. Actually, it’s less thought provoking and moving than your average Hollywood flick. It’s just totally amateurish, and it’s a shame the world’s biggest and best adventure site is so forgiving.

Mar 3, 2012

The way I see it, adventure game developers won’t get any better or hire some genuinely good writers because games like this get glowing reviews and the reviewers praise the story. You’re actually doing the industry disservice by being so forgiving.

But, on one point I don’t agree with marvio. Some games, however rare they may be, are actually quite good story-wise. And exactly because of this, inferior games should be reprimanded. For example, compare JULIA and The Dig - they’re eons apart.

Sry for the double comment.

Jackal Jackal
Mar 3, 2012

I wonder if some people also judge the quality of a movie’s story based on its trailers. Disagree with our reviewers all you want, but there’s a reason we review full games and not demos.

Mar 3, 2012

@marvio: i can’t even begin to understand why you’d compare games with books/movies/music. Totally different media type. Also, if for you no game even comes close to a book/movie/music, then maybe it’s time to choose a different hobby my friend.

One last note: I dont’give games a ‘pass’ because they are games. It might sound crazy to you, but i play games because some of them are really entertaining (which is the reason i read books, watch movies, listen to music too).

Mar 4, 2012

Having just finished the game, I gotta say I liked it too. It seemed to me writers just tried to tell a certain sci-fi story (even if it wasn’t a great one) and it was an interesting experience.

Though one thing I don’t agree with the review is voice actors being solid, Rachel’s reactions (especially when she’s angry or afraid) were just too weak and far from being believable.

Mar 4, 2012

I played the demo for maybe 3 minutes or so. And why is this? I’m colorblind. So this game is sadly not for me. It looks interesting, though, great story, great voiceacting, and yet it does not give people like me the option to auto-finish the planet harvesting. I know I can look at the cursor, but since I’m colorblind and the planet’s surface is sort of green-brownish, I really can’t disinguish this green from the cursor’s different shade of green.

Still, the game seems interesting as it deals with subject matter that adventure games normally don’t deal with.

Mar 6, 2012

Don’t get me wrong Jackal, I understand a game is a GAME, and at the end of the day it has to be a good game! (man that’s a lot of “games” there Smile )
But in this particular niche of ours, for better or worse, story has been one of the main “selling points”, am I wrong here? Because an adventure without a solid story is just a collection of puzzles, and that’s a completely different, albeit valid, kettle of fish.
If that;s so, then I am unwilling to lower my standards of story telling because of its media choice; How many times have you heard people talking about a movie like this: “Oh, the book was much better…”, and you know what? They are right! Why should I expect any less from a movie than a book? Some logic applies to games.
Also note that this in no way impedes a game from being a pleasurable experience, it may just be a very good game, but again, I have always been left wanting more from the story telling perspective, and I don’t see the harm in pushing developers to strive for it. That’s all Smile

Just honestly ask yourself:“Have I ever been moved so deeply by a game as to constitute a life changing experience?”
Because sure as hell I have been by music, literature and visual art. I just want games to do the same, and the painful thing is that because of its interactive nature a game could do even more than any one of those by themselves, because indeed it utilizes every type of art I can think of, and has this, or could have,  intense interaction between artist/art and audience. So my frustration is more of one of lost opportunity; Games can be the ultimate art form, the potential is there, but in 30 years of development nobody has taken it to where it should be.
So, like I said, until I find it, I’ll muddle through Smile

stepurhan stepurhan
Mar 6, 2012

Not every piece of music, literature or visual art is going to move you deeply, and genuinely life-changing experiences from them are going to extremely rare.

But, whilst I can’t comment on the impact of J.U.L.I.A. in particular, if you’ve never had a game move you deeply, then I would suggest you have simply not been playing the right games.

That is probably a discussion best taken to the forums if you want to pursue it further though.

Mar 6, 2012

– stepurhan,

I’ve had this same discussion at the forums Smile Believe me, I don’t expect every piece of art I come across to be “Life changing”; for example I don’t listen to 80’s hair metal for its high art Smile It’s just fun, and obviously there’s a place for all kinds of different takes in art.
But with games, I don’t know, maybe I have played all the wrong games, who knows? But I have played an awful lot of them, and to this day I haven’t found the one, or a small collection of games I could point to that made me pause and re-think some pre-conception, or made me self aware of a certain feeling, whatever it may be, you know?
I am playing J.U.L.I.A. right now, a couple of hours into it, and one thing I can tell you is that just on the very specific sound technical side it, not to mention any other, it should not have gotten such high score… There are “POPs” all over the place on the voice overs for crying out loud! do me a favor and buy yourself a pop filter? Use a sock on top of your MIC, something!

Mar 7, 2012

Maybe you’re just too damn smart Wink I’m playing Alan Wake right now, and it made me think what’s my darkness and what’s my clicker, and how do I use the clicker to fight the darkness Smile So, it’s kinda inspirational. Though I consider myself fairly inexperienced and stupid when it comes to facts of life, so maybe it’s just me…

@Jackal, you don’t have to play through the entire game to see the characters are badly written. I can’t say the story’s bad without playing through the entire thing, though, but the characters are such an important part of the whole experience. And if they suck, well the game can’t be that good, and you can be fairly certain the story itself is not that good.

Jackal Jackal
Mar 7, 2012

That’s quite the string of guesswork. The fact that actual character development is a notable part of this game proves just how dangerous it is to make early assumptions, even about that. The writing can get a bit cheesy and heavy-handed, as the review points out, but hey, if that’s the only criterion for a good story (let alone game, which is much more than story), I’d have never watched a single Star Trek episode. Wink Marvio, interactive storytelling is a much, much different animal than any media whose only job is to tell its story. Other writers have absolute control over narrative pacing, flow, direction, etc. In games that’s all a shared responsibility between designer and player, and it’s all filtered over many more hours due to the demands of “gameplay”. A conversation (merely one example) obviously doesn’t have nearly the same impact when it’s split into dialogue trees. That’s why titles like To the Moon are so much more emotionally powerful, because they sacrifice pretty much all else to the story. But then those always come with the caveat that they aren’t much as “games”. I actually share your impression overall. I’ve never really been moved by a game in nearly the same way as I have from books or movies. I just recognize the inherent retrictions of a game, which has to entertain us on two fronts rather than just one. The best games do a pretty good job of both, but still not to the level of its non-interactive counterparts. Anyway, getting off-topic here, so back to J.U.L.I.A. Smile

Mar 8, 2012

    I get what you’re putting down man, I guess our only disagreence is that you seem to think that because games have to juggle a lot of different things it becomes a compromise, and there’s validity to that point for sure. In my view those same things is what makes the potential so great, and why sometimes I get frustrated. Smile
    I’m continuing with J.U.L.I.A. , I gotta say, it’s not getting better, quite the contrary, gulp; I absolutely see what you’re saying about Star Trek, although the original series doesn’t cut it for me, but in the end the pay off is worth it, so I’m willing to give them a pass on heavy handed/cheesy dialog.

Eternal Adventurer
Mar 8, 2012

Wow, so maany comments and all mixed reactions,, this game should be nominated for the most controversial rating given by staff. Myself playing the game, got stuck on that upgrade puzzle. will try later.

Giles Habibula Giles Habibula
Mar 10, 2012

Fascinating discussion. And yet civil! Makes me proud to have joined up here, even if I mostly lurk. Do keep the discussion going. I’m currently on the fence with this game, and have been reading all of this with much interest.

Apr 4, 2012

Oh my god marvio. I dont want to be mean but how is that your even a gamer at all if you have never been awed by any of them. I think your either full of it, stuck in some horrible living cliche or you just arnt playing the right games. A well written and well presented game is so much more than any movie or book because it just engulfs you in the world and if one of your fav books is Der stteppenwolf you should be able to find something in some game out there that inspires you. Myst/riven/grimfandango/heavyrain,siberia. Things can still be beautiful without being as deeply serious, melodramatic and hopefull tragic as stteppenwolf too.

Adventure Adventure
Apr 11, 2012

Much as I appreciate the idea of 2 people making a game and being able to release it this is an absolutely terrible game.

I won’t elaborate on the graphics and sounds as it would be unfair to the creators—I realize this isn’t a AAA title.

The real issue is that the gameplay is mind-boggingly tedious and incoherent and the puzzles are a boring rehashing of disparate flash games. On top of that the UI is the worst I have seen in an adventure game, maybe any game. This is not hyperbole.

I tried. I gave it a fair attempt and made it perhaps 3 hours into it until a game breaking bug made it impossible to advance any further. I loaded a previous save and couldn’t bring myself to go through it again.

I’ll give it to the devs, they did actually finish a game and release it. But there were just too many shortcomings to make this anything but a tedious shore.

william wilson
Jun 4, 2012

This game is by no means an adventure game. It’s more like a puerile and clichéd interactive story interspersed with a bunch of trivial, easy minigames.
It all boiles down to just selecting a few prepackaged actions (with no chance whatsoever to go wrong or to miss something, let alone to get stuck) in order to proceed through the ridiculously childish plot, having to listen to improbable dialogs and to solve silly, trite, puzzle-games on the way.
Besides, not only it is far from any scientific plausibility or artistically meaningful outcome, but it is not fun at all.
Far be it from me to put down the indie genre, but this title even with a little encouragement just can’t be rated more than two stars.