Definitely one of the best action/adventure hybrids I have ever played, CORE Design's Project Eden is the culmination of everything the design team has learned while developing the mega-hit Tomb Raider games. The game may have been much more successful had it been billed as part of the Tomb Raider franchise, but considering that Lara Croft's latest outings were hardly anything but tired rehashes of her early escapades, perhaps it is better that way. On the downside, the disassociation from CORE's best-known franchise probably explains why the game never sold well, and remains highly underrated. |
Set in the far future, the world of Project Eden is a familiar sight to most sci-fi fans: buildings are growing ever-upwards, interconnected with a thick web of roads, walkways and service channels. But below these gleaming highrises, conditions steadily decline towards the slum level. And below it lies an underworld occupied by criminals, cultists, the wretched and deranged. You control a team of four agents of the UPA (Urban Protection Agency) – an elite force that deals with serious disturbances within the city. As the game begins, your team is called in to investigate problems at the Real Meat factory, where all the equipment inexplicably malfunctioned and technicians sent in to repair them have gone missing.
So why do I think this is not just another Tomb Raider clone, but a great game deserving of our Hall of Belated Fame? Three words: clever puzzle designs. Yes, despite the 3D look and advertisements, Project Eden is not a first-person shooter, although you control the characters from that perspective, and there is a lot of combat. Each of the four characters in your team has a special skill that nobody else can use: Carter, as team leader, can open 'restricted access' doors, Minoko can hack into computers, Andre can repair things, and Amber can walk through hazardous environments unharmed. Most of the time, it is obvious who you need for the task at hand, but what is not obvious is the the right order in which to use them. For example, you might need Minoko to hack into a broken computer to open a locked door, but the computer room may be full of poisonous gas. So you will need to send Amber across first, so she can walk unharmed to turn off the gas, and then you need to send Andre so he can fix the terminal for Minoko. And if that is not challenging enough, some levels start with your team split apart from each other – so you must constantly switch between them to try to get back together. You also have the Rover, a small tank-like remote-controlled car that can crawl into small vents and other areas that are inaccessible to humans, as well as a flying camera that is very handy for scouting the level layout. These two gadgets are crucial to solving many puzzles throughout the game.
Every level is huge and completely packed with all kinds of puzzles, ranging from simple ones like making a character hold the door for his teammates, to complex set pieces that take many steps and co-ordination of all teammates to complete. What is most amazing about Project Eden is that I never felt bored or got a sense of "deja vu", even though it seems the game has thousands of puzzles. Partly this is due to the lack of jumping puzzles of any kind – you cannot even jump at all, and so you will never find frustrating sequences like those in Ultima 8 or Redguard. The level design is nothing short of amazing. If you think Tomb Raider has great levels, you will find the ones in Project Eden pure genius.
The interface is very easy to learn. As any teammate, you can order the rest of the team to follow you, or tell them to halt, in which case they will then hold and defend their positions. Like most action games, the AI in Project Eden is none-too-bright, so you will need to switch to characters a lot just to keep them out of harm's way. Although there is plenty of it, combat is fortunately not the focus of Project Eden. I'm no action expert, and yet I managed to finish this game in one piece. The second half of the game has a lot more fighting than the first half, but by then you will be so intrigued by the game's puzzles that you will be ready to face anything. Also, you can't really die – when their health has dropped to zero, your characters will automatically get 'reconstructed' at the nearest respawn station.
Which is not to say combat in Project Eden is entirely uninteresting. There are many types of mutants, some smart enough to gang up on you or lure you into ambushes. Action gamers will enjoy finding new cool futuristic weapons as they go along, and some of these are quite novel and cool to watch in action. The sentry gun that you can plop down anywhere and automatically shoots all the enemies in sight is my favorite.
All in all, Project Eden is easily one of the best action/adventure games I have ever played. Don't like the FPS look fool you: this is a puzzle game first and foremost. If you are looking for the next-generation Unreal, stay away from this game. On the other hand, if you love mechanical/physical puzzle games like the classic D/Generation, you will have a blast with this highly underrated underdog. Two thumbs up, and a worthy induction into our Hall of Belated Fame. If the latest Tomb Raider games were this good, EIDOS would be insured to a loyal following among adventure/puzzle fans for years to come.
Reviewed by: Underdogs