Awesome storyline... the adventure genre isn't dead yet!
The atmosphere is absolutely incredible... this is the first adventure game in over ten years than can come close to Loom when it comes to atmosphere. Beautiful graphics, perfect sound underscore, and a great storyline. Our hero, Kate Walker, is sent to the French Alps to conclude the overtaking of a toy factory and by doing so immerses herself into a mystery that takes her far east into Russia, encountering automatons and mammoths on the way.
The atmosphere is rich and sad at the same time. It reflects the timelessness of a post-war Europe slowly fading away into modern times. Old people reminiscing, abandoned factories, polluted rivers. A very moody and gray game, but it has an undeniable romance to it.
The interface is very smooth, the graphics and sound brilliant. I've heard some complaints about performance - I use an AMD Athlon 2800+ with 512 MB RAM and had no problems, so I cannot comment on that. Thus I give it full grades on the technical side of things.
A nice touch: during the game, you are often called on your cell phone from your boss, your mom, your boyfriend, your slutty co-worker. It has no real relevance on the game, but it's a very well done nice touch. I am reminded of the old Star Trek episode "The Conscience of the King", where Kirk and the antagonist reminisce about a happening on a far planet, and the audience gets so involved in that scene without a single picture being shown. The same here: we get a very good and lively account of things from the half a dozen or so phone calls during the game without ever seeing a scene or one of the people we talk to.
I never got too attached to Kate, our hero... she's very bland but turns more colorful during the game. The being bland is a GOOD thing though because you get less focused on the character and more on the developing storyline... I believe this is what the creators intended. It's completely unlike some of the older adventure games, where the game was designed around Roger Wilco, Larry Laffer, or Guybrush Threepwood. Here the story is the focal point - and what a story it is!
Well, it was very linear. The puzzles were either too easy or too complex: since you mainly deal with machines and automatons, a lot of the stuff was guesswork: which lever do I move, which button to push? Also, it seems in the end as if the game was a bit rushed. For example, in the early game, everything was nicely animated. Later in the game, for example when Kate cuts open the cage door, no more animation: you just click with the mouse and it's done. Oh well, the game already occupies 1.1 GB on my hard drive.
Also, even though the graphics are all very nice paintings, there's too many of them, since two thirds of them are just for the flair. If there are three screens between point A and B that serve no purpose other than being nice to look at, that's real good... but when you have to pass between A and B ten times during the game and have to cross all three screens each time, it becomes tedious.
The Bottom Line
If you like adventure games, get it. If you don't, still get it, download a walkthrough from the net, and just play it to follow the fantastic storylines, cutscenes, and painting-like graphics. You won't regret it. Plus, right now you can get the "Game of the Year" edition which comes with an extra CD and includes an interview with Benoit Sokal (the creator), wallpaper, trailers, a poster, and more for around $20. That's well worth the money.