Agharta: The Hollow Earth
Windows - 2000
Description of Agharta: The Hollow Earth
Agharta is a good example of a game that is long on form, but short on substance.
Billed as an "adventure game," Agharta has more in common with action/adventure titles like Ecstatica than typical LucasArts/Sierra point-and-click adventures. The plot and style of the game are reminiscent of Heart of China with a dash of speculative science thrown in: you are a daring WWII-era pilot hired by a beautiful blonde to find her father, a famous scientist who mysteriously disappeared during an expedition to the north pole a few years ago. En route to the explorer's last known location, your plane's equipment starts going crazy, forcing you to crash-land into the freezing cold. With only your loyal dog Murphy by your side, you must now continue the search on foot, unaware of the spectacular dangers and beauty that await.
Let's get the few good things about the game out of the way first. The best aspect of Agharta is the well-crafted gameworld that boasts many detailed backdrops. The graphics are texture-mapped 3D that anyone who has seen NovaLogic's flight sims (e.g. Comanche: Maximum Overkill) will be very familiar with. Fog effects are especially good, truly evoking the feel of mysterious lands and the sub-zero climate of the arctic. Although the characters (most of whom are hostile animals) are not full 3D, they don't look out of place against 3D backdrops.
Unfortunately, the intriguing premise and great graphics cannot save the game from its banal and repetitive gameplay. You will spend most of your time trying to defend yourself against hostile animals that range from penguins, mysterious arctic apes, to more exotic opponents. You do this mostly by throwing rocks (yes, rocks) at them, and while you can collect better weapons later on in the game, they are few and far between. The "adventure game" element is a mix between extreme pixel-hunting and Myst-style figure-out-this-weird-machine puzzles. The cursor does not light up or change when it touches an object you can use or pick up, so since most items are tiny, that means you must click your cursor randomly around the screen, squinting at every 2x2 pixel that seem out of place in hope that it is something useful. Tedious, to say the least. And besides, there are not many inventory items in the game anyway - I counted less than 15, most of which are either keys or weapons.
Fortunately, you can use your dog to find items for you - he can understand simple commands like "come," "sit," and "find" in the game, and he will be saving your life numerous times from attackers. Myst-style puzzles are similar to Myst: figure out how strange machines work, mostly by trial-and-error and observation. They are nothing special, and most tend to be more repetitive and boring than the best puzzles in Myst.
Overall, then, Agharta is a disappointment. Its best claim to be an "adventure" game lies in the intriguing plot (which soon transforms into a neat example of how a hollow-Earth theory may work) and exploring element. Inane puzzles and repetitive throw-the-rock combat make this game only a marginal underdog. Try it only if you enjoy exploring pretty 3D landscapes, or have and urge to collect any game that has the word "adventure" printed on the box.
Review By HOTUD
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