Jun 07 2011

Review of Hamilton’s Great Adventure

Well it’s been a while since we’ve done a full text review but I can think of no better title to really dig in deep with than Hamilton’s Great Adventure, which is Lead and Gold developer Fatshark’s latest creation. Fatshark who has in the past been known for more mature gun play heavy kind of games decided to take the path less travelled and build a puzzle game aimed more at wide-eyed children then jaded adults. That said there are influences here both audiences will enjoy and the gameplay (while totally playable single-player) hosts a co-op mode that seems designed for parent and child to enjoy together. Now unfortunately I am neither a parent nor a young child but just a games reviewer who is going to do his best to represent this game fairly. So how does it hold up critically? Let’s find out.

Every world has a boss, they just all happen to be fat ass cthulhu in different hats.

We’ll start with the story, a wholly unique tale despite obviously being drawn from a number of well-known elements. The story goes that you are the titular adventurer Hamilton, who is played up like mixture of Indiana Jones and Alan Quatermain being brash but sophisticated and always well-meaning, on a journey to track down a lost civilization and their advanced technology. Upon discovering some ruins of said civilization though you find a particular bit of tech called the fluxatron has been stolen and you must set out through the highest mountains and lowest deserts to find it. This civilization though has some odd roots to it, deep sunken and impossibly ancient roots that (sometimes directly) reference the works of H.P. Lovecraft particularly “The Call of Cthulhu” and “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”.

Nathan Drake may have Tenzin but Hamilton has his pimping bird to help him out.

Interesting as the central story is though the best piece of narrative in the game is how the game frames the story. Essentially all of the events I mentioned above are just the gameplay and the actual story is that of a far older Hamilton telling his young granddaughter of these events. In between many of the levels you’ll get a small text driven cut scene of Hamilton with his granddaughter on his lap and a massive photo album in his hands which he is using to illustrate the story for her. It’s in these scenes I feel the story becomes truly compelling because the obvious wonderment from the granddaughter and warmth from Hamilton really come through. This technique makes a standard adventure tale so much more engaging and really helps put you in the right mindset to maybe break some of your cynicism and help you feel at least just a micron of child like wonder.

As the game goes on maps definitely get far more complex.

The gameplay is also very refreshing, it’s simple but refined and there is just enough innovation to make it interesting. The basic formula here is that of navigating a maze, collecting key(s), and then proceeding to the exit; this is a fairly simple formula used by games since the age of the Atari. What makes it interesting though is the hazards, score, and co-op which all serve to really liven up the way the game plays; the hazards play the biggest role of the three but not necessarily in killing the player. While there are certainly hazards designed to kill the player they are generally fairly easy to avoid, the hazards that matter are the disappearing floors. The levels are generally built almost entirely out of these floors and once they disappear they don’t come back, this means the challenge isn’t in avoiding death but properly planning a route that allows you to get to the key and the exit; assuming that is you plan to take the easy way out. Where the hardest parts of this game lie and where the addiction for older gamers will kick in is managing to collect every piece of treasure in a level so you can get a gold score. Planning routes that encapsulate not only the critical path needed to actually beat the level but that also let you get every piece of treasure is an exercise in devious and meticulous planning that while sometime frustrating is always rewarding. Lastly the co-op also greatly changes things as while one person is playing as Hamilton and is planning and executing their route the other person can play as Sasha, Hamilton’s faithful bird. Sasha while not able to collect keys and finish levels performs three very useful functions; first she can fly all over the map and provide an overview for Hamilton to help him plan, secondly she can activate certain switches the will allow Hamilton to progress through the level, and lastly she can collect magic crystal dust which powers some special abilities Hamilton acquires as the game goes on. You may be asking though what is one to do if they must play on their own? Well in that situation they can switch control between Hamilton and Sasha at the touch of button and use each character as needed.

The visual difference between night and day in this game is like... well... night and day.

There are a couple of faults in the gameplay though and while they are fairly minor I would not be doing my job if I didn’t talk about them. The biggest issue is a matter of pacing, the length of levels is not incredibly consistent and while some will fly by quickly other will last a fair length. Generally this wouldn’t be an issue but when Hamilton dies the whole level restarts and you lose all of your progress. This also wouldn’t be an issue but a lot of challenges in this game are timing based and can require a far more deft touch than you might expect. This leads to situations where you know what you need to do to complete the level but you are forced to repeat the whole thing multiple times just because of a small easily failed slip-up near the end. To be fair I only really had this difficulty to any noticeable degree on a select few levels and any fairly experienced gamer should have little trouble but for younger kids who may be playing this it could cause a good bout of old-fashioned gamer rage.

A lot of puzzles require crack timing and proper coordination of multiple gameplay elements.

One thing this game does do incredibly well is its presentation; beautiful in both design and quality graphics grace every inch of the game and the sound perfectly suits the atmosphere the game seeks to create. To start with the graphics, things have a very “Pixar”-esque style to them mimicking the soft tones and exaggerated features that studio does so well. Not to say the game is unoriginal of course, there a massive deal of variety in the art assets here and the care and attention to detail really shows. There are a total of four “worlds” you get to visit which are the Amazon, the Himalayas, Egypt, and Maralidia which is just R’leyh but with a new name (I suppose R’leyh must be copyrighted or something); each of these worlds has a completely different look (with a day and night version for each world) and a different background for each level. Everything visual changes and while the gameplay remains the same the environments provide a great sense of progression. The only issue with the graphics is that you’ll need Windows 7 and an at least decent computer to run it as the game utilizes DirectX11.

As for the sound design things are much quieter than I expected but in the best possible way. The music is soothing, soft, and pleasant and it creates a thoughtful atmosphere as it lilts through the level. The real highlight though is the little noises characters make instead of full voice over. Any time a character speaks or even just when you change characters you get a little vocal acknowledgement; it not much just a short “yo-ho” from Hamilton or sing-song chirp from Sasha but it really accentuates the characters and really helps just give a them a bit more personality.

I find few games really take me back to the video games of my youth like this one did. Sure tons of game feature franchises from when I was young and Crom knows publishers will milk nostalgia for all it’s worth but few games make me feel the way video games did back in more halcyon days. This game while not a perfect approximation of my childhood feels closer than I think many other games have gotten and despite the fact I am not a dad right now when I become one this will be a game I will not be able to wait to share with my child. So for an endearing, ever so slightly challenging, and lest we forget affordable (the game is only $10) experience Hamilton’s Great Adventure gets a 5 out of 5 stars. I can honestly can’t think of a better way to expose your child to the works of H.P. Lovecraft that doesn’t involve them turning into psychopaths.

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