Not only are the puzzles entertaining, they’re often well integrated into the plot. Some are run-of-the-mill adventure puzzles, such as opening a locked door by connecting wires, but others are quite unique, including learning an alien language by matching lines. One repeated minigame is resource harvesting, which consists of moving the cursor across a display of each planet’s surface to match a graph of material composition to another that represents the actual raw material below. However, the cursor also turns a more vibrant shade of green when near a resource, so it’s significantly easier to simply watch the cursor instead of the graphs. There are also some time-sensitive dexterity puzzles, but most of these are manageable and any you fail the first time allow you to repeat the sequence over again. Only one challenge is incredibly annoying, where you have to keep a constantly moving target inside a specific area for a period of time. If you allow it to drift outside of the target area for too long, the minigame ends and Mobot dies. Yes, it is possible to kill Mobot in a few places, but if that happens the sequence simply starts over with no penalty.
The graphics are gorgeous in J.U.L.I.A., though many scenes are split up into multiple smaller images on the screen, with the rest devoted to Mobot’s heads-up display. Each planet has a vastly different look or distinctive feature, from an icy world with temperatures far below freezing to one with rocky spires towering above the clouds and a lush jungle planet filled with strange alien architecture. The textures make each scene look real, from the rippling water covering one planet to the desert sand on another that makes you feel parched just looking at it. The cutscenes are beautiful and detailed, including Mobot motoring around underwater and Rachel’s probe travelling to different planets, while the aliens look suitably extraterrestrial and are different enough from each other to easily differentiate between them.
Characters are usually seen only in a small dialogue box when speaking, other than when Mobot appears in cinematics. Subtitles are used throughout the game and can’t be turned off, but dialogue can be skipped through by clicking the mouse. Lip synching is virtually non-existent, and occasionally lips will continue to move even after the voice has stopped. On a couple of occasions, the subtitles say something completely different than what the voice actor speaks, changing the whole premise that doesn’t make sense in context. All of the voice actors are solid, including the machines. Mobot is voiced by a computer (the TextAloud program), but still manages to sound like a human reading a computer part. There are plenty of other sound effects that fit the diverse environments (even birds chirping!), and the music varies wildly from technical machinery beeping in tune to tribal chanting and Eastern strings.
The story deals with some moral issues, such as our propensity to compound mistakes by covering them up and whether alien lifeforms have just as much right to live as human beings, and at times it is laid on a bit thick. The game constantly mentions that Rachel is the last person alive, emphasizing what that entails for her until you reach the point of “been there, done that, let’s move on.” One very dramatic scene is held for so long that it stops being heartwrenching and starts being annoying. Other than this small complaint, however, the story is an interesting journey into humanity’s first contact, exploring the notion of whether we are truly ready yet.
Rachel begins the game with an attitude about being the last person left behind, but soon settles into a fairly bland role mainly as a story facilitator. By the end, however, her reactions and decisions based on everything she has learned become an important focus of the story. J.U.L.I.A.’s often human-like exclamations seem jarring coming from a computer, though this is explained by an emotion chip that lets her experience empathy, and this proves an important point before the end. Mobot is surprisingly personable, seemingly keenly aware of his own mortality despite being a robot. The alien races vary from a primitive god-worshipping tribe to advanced aliens that can directly use Mobot to communicate, and it is interesting to learn about their culture and what they believe.
The game offers a warning when you’ve reached the last opportunity to save your progress, which is nice since there are two different endings depending on a crucial ethical decision you make, so you can easily go back and see the other ending after exploring the first. You should arrive at that decision somewhere around 5 or 6 hours in, depending on how fast you manage to solve the puzzles, though I found the time really went by quickly. Plenty of varied puzzles will appeal to players looking for a challenge, and the story of humanity’s dealings with others and itself will draw you into its sci-fi mystery, while the decisions you’re forced to make will resonate long after you’ve left the game behind. There are really no games out there quite like J.U.L.I.A., and anyone interested in something a little different will be rewarded with a fun experience that’s well worth the time and effort.
|United Kingdom||March 2 2012||Lace Mamba Global|
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