Judging from the prerelease screenshots, advertisements, and previews, you might get the impression that Project Eden, a sci-fi-themed game from the creators of the original Tomb Raider, is primarily action-oriented. Just so there's no confusion, it's not. It's first and foremost a real-time adventure game. And though it too often strays into an underdeveloped and unsatisfying combat system, when it sticks to adventure, it's quite successful.
You'll send four officers into the Real Meat company to uncover a dark secret.
You're given control of four officers of the Urban Protection Agency (UPA), the police force of a towering futuristic megalopolis. Sent to investigate an equipment malfunction at a company called Real Meat, they uncover a sinister plot. In order to continue the investigation, the team must descend, level by level, into the bowels of the human hive they're paid to protect.
The plot's pretty thin, which is just as well, since the voice acting ranges from bad to, relatively speaking, not quite as bad. An occasional snippet of conversation and some between-level cutscenes provide just enough details to explain what's going on without dragging the game down with a lot of tedious, unnecessary dialogue.
The centerpiece of each of the game's 11 large levels is a series of sometimes wickedly complex environmental puzzles. Each level represents some deeper section of the city, and almost every one begins with your arrival by elevator and ends with the team taking an elevator to a lower floor. You control one team member at a time, but you can switch between them on demand.
Each team member has a specific skill. The leader, Carter, can secure certain UPA equipment and interview citizens (an ability that's generally abandoned after the first two levels). Also, according to the manual, he's 39. Amber is a 27-year-old hulking cyborg who is immune to environmental hazards such as fire, steam, and electricity. The team's engineer, Andre (32 years old), can repair broken equipment by successfully completing a minigame that's a lot like the swing meter in golf simulations--you have to press the mouse button just as the cursor hits the sweet spot on a slider bar. Finally, the baby of the group, 20-year-old Minoko, can hack computer terminals to override security doors and take control of mounted turrets. You also have two unofficial members of the team. The first is a small remote-controlled rover that can fit through cracks in walls and maneuver through air ducts to reach spots the officers can't. The second is a flying metal ball. It's a lot like the one made famous by the Phantasm movies, only with a camera mounted in place of Phantasm's blood-draining suction drill. Thanks to what may be an oversight in the manual, the ball's age is unknown, but it's definitely fast moving and really fun to fly.
Each character has unique skills that will be required to get past obstacles.
The game's puzzles are actually made up of a series of environmental exploration and manipulation tasks. For instance, as one level starts, a bridge collapses, separating the team into two groups of two. Using their various skills at different points, you must figure out how to reunite the characters by navigating the level. The puzzle challenges are strictly linear and don't allow for much, if any, improvisation. But their logical construction--arising from the physical layout of the environment--makes them seem much more satisfying than the nonsensical puzzles found in many traditional adventure games. Success feels like the result of actual exploration rather than an arbitrary uncovering of some absurd sequence of pre-scripted events.
The exploration puzzles are bolstered by the fact that the levels are generally interesting. Many of the environments contain impressively huge vertical expanses that act as a consistent reminder that the city extends far above and below your current position. Project Eden is being released on the PlayStation 2 as well, and, while the architecture is suitably complex, the texture work appears to be geared toward a console rather than the PC. Textures that look fine on a fuzzy television seem blurry when viewed on a high-resolution monitor.