Aura: Fate of the Ages PC CD-ROM Official Website
by The Adventure Company
Developed by Streko-Graphics
Released - Out Now
Price : £19.99
It's often been a complaint of adventure games over the last few years that the puzzles in them have been dumbed down, if not removed, in order to make the game a more comfortable experience. Whilst this has helped the games appeal to those who don't like to spend time pondering what needs to be done, it's a design decision that has infuriated longstanding adventure gamers. Aura: Fate of the Ages sees an almost complete reversal of this trend and is chock full of head scratching puzzles to solve. Of course an adventure game also needs an engrossing story with which to wrap the puzzles in. Can Aura: Fate of the Ages provide this too?
In Aura you'll play as a student, Umang, of the legendary Clan of the Keepers who are the guardians of the sacred rings. At the beginning of the game you'll have to prepare for a dangerous journey that will take you to four diverse parallel worlds. As Umang you'll visit the magical Ademika, as well as Dragast the mechanical world and kingdoms of the mountains and snow, Na-Tiexu the esoteric world of the unknown and finally the Island of Unity. The game begins with you being plunged head first into a whole collections of puzzles. Whilst this isn't necessarily a bad thing there's no interesting background story and no real introduction to the characters which might irk seasoned adventure gamers out there.
The biggest problem with Aura: Fate of the Ages is that it doesn't seem like an adventure game. The story is forgettable not because it's particularly bad or anything but because there isn't much of it if the truth be told. Aura feels like one gigantic puzzle solving game rather than a real adventure game. Puzzles come thick and fast with no real story to tie them all together and give them a purpose. Even at the beginning of the game you're just thrown in at the deep end with puzzle after puzzle to solve. There are a mix of the logical, well thought out puzzles as well as a collection of those whose solution seems to rely on random button presses. On the whole the quality of the puzzles is satisfactory but if you were wanting more to the game than just puzzles you'll be disappointed with what's on offer.
Aura: Fate of the Ages is one of those games that uses pre-rendered scenes in the same way as the Myst series does. You don't see your character move from one place to another as such because the game is played from a first person perspective. Along with the lack of a story, this doesn't help to create the illusion that you're playing as Umang. The pre-rendered graphics look good and you do have 360 degree movement to look around when you're not focused on a puzzle. The games cutscenes are rather poor and don't blend seamlessly with the rest of the game. The character models in particular look and animate in a wooden fashion, which doesn't look good at all. It's rather unfortunate that the game has no way of altering the gamma as several sections are very dark and it's quite easy to miss clues if your monitor's brightness is at a standard level. I found myself turning up the contrast on my monitor to compensate for this.
Aura is subtitled by default and the few bits of speech in the game have been subtitled very nicely. There are no sound captions though and whilst this isn't a major problem they could have been included. The puzzles will usually have some form of hints and these won't cause any problems. At the beginning you'll have a journal which describes in pictures what needs to be done. The letters and written documents that you do find around are easy to read and won't cause any problems (there is no speech anyway when you read these items like there is in most adventure games).
Your opinion of Aura: Fate of the Ages will really depend on how much you like solving puzzles. If you like playing pure puzzle games and don't really mind there being not much of a story then you'll be happy with what's here because as a puzzle game it's mostly enjoyable. If you're hoping to find a decent Myst clone you might also be happy with Aura although there are better games out there if this is the style of game that you're interested in. If you're expecting an enjoyable story and game to rival the LucasArts or Sierra adventure games of yesteryear then you'll be in for a disappointment because this aspect of the game is hopelessly lacking. The one saving grace is the price which is only £19.99 here in the UK. In short then if you don't mind wave after wave of puzzles without the engrossing story then Aura: Fate of the Ages might well be your thing. On a final note it's worth mentioning that a patch is already out for the game and without it you'll experience random crashes to the desktop.
Game Rating: 6.8/10
Billed as an adventure Aura: Fate of the Ages lacks an interesting and engaging story. If you just want to solve a whole load of puzzles though and don't really care about the script then it's actually quite good and the puzzles will certainly make you think. Make sure you install the patch first though.
The game is subtitled but could have benefited from the use of sound captions.