Aura - Tor zur Ewigkeit
Release date: 07/2004
Developer: Streko Graphics
Game language: German
USK: age 6 and older
A review by MaryScots 24th January 2005
Aura" is the second adventure designed by Canada based developer Streko Graphics. Their debut title Jolly Adventure of Jimmy and Mocko" has yet only been released by the Russian publisher Magnomedia and is therefore inaccessible for those who arent familiar with this language. In signing the contract for "Aura" with TAC the young company has found an experienced partner, who already plays very successfully in the international league and thus is able to reach a much bigger audience. TAC compares "Aura" with titles like " Schizm Mysterious Journey and the original Myst " though they promise a higher degree of difficulty.
Since the dawn of time the Clan of the Keepers guards four magical rings, which possess the power of opening gates to hidden worlds and, in the hands of the Elders, can even create new ones.
The Master sends Umang, one of his clans best students, to meet the scholar Grifit in order to complete his studies. But Grifit is not at home. He left a message informing us that due to recent events he cannot greet us in person and also leaves some instructions. Our task now is to find the rings, unite them and hide them in a safe place as an enemy is near who wants to take advantage of the rings ability of gifting the one who unites them with strength, great power and immortality.
"Aura" installs quick and without any problems from three CDs packed with a manual in a DVD and extra cardboard case. After watching the intro we enter the main menu where we can start, save, restore and exit the game. We may also adjust the monitor settings ranging from 640x480 to 1600x1200 pixels and can choose between 16 and 32 bit. The sound settings with controls for the volumes of music, effects and background sound are accessible from here, too. I did miss an option to re-enter the game after saving, though. You will have to restore the game you just saved.
This is just the time to give some advice, I think: do yourself a favour and install the patch along with the game. When loading a savegame right after the beginning the cursor suddenly didnt highlight anymore while moved over a certain hotspot which definitely had been there before. Installing the patch solved that problem.
Walking in Umangs shoes means experiencing the story out of ego perspective. The cursor highlights when it hovers over objects we can collect and put into our inventory at the screens bottom, if we can manipulate something or talk to somebody. An added arrow will lead the way out of our current location or indicate possible close-up views. In the inventory part of the screen we also find Umangs sketchbook but Ill come back to that later.
Machine-puzzle-loving Myst fans wont be troubled by "Aura" that much. In fact one mechanical puzzle chases the other. And Boy, are they brain-teasers! TAC did not promise too much here. But theres more to "Aura" than switching on or repairing machines. We will also have to solve mystic tasks such as slider and sequence puzzles which require the arrangement of previously collected items in a specific way in order to get our hands on further objects or hints. Throughout the game it is crucial to keep our eyes open as signs lurking in one place could help us to open a coded lock elsewhere. One of the worlds will only open its doors for us if we manage to solve a very complicated sound puzzle by employing our sense of hearing correctly.
The big difference compared to "Myst" is the use of inventory based puzzles, though they wont give us headaches. Paying attention and collecting all items along our way it shouldnt be that hard to apply them at the corresponding place. The above mentioned sketchbook will soon become our best friend. Now and then it will flash a blue aura to inform us that new hints have been added. These hints appear in the shape of drawings inside the book and we can browse the pages as often as we like to softly get shoved in the right direction. We sometimes will have to leave one puzzle alone for a while, attend to other tasks first and later complete the previous quest. The book will help us not to confuse things and realise the connexion between the enigmas. Without it some of the challenges would simply be too enigmatic. Apart from that its never wrong to take some notes ourselves.
Anyway, solving puzzles is our main task if not the next to only content of "Aura" as the story almost falls into oblivion. Although the level of difficulty wavers but given precise observation and logic are applied I can definitely recommend the diversified and entertaining puzzle-solving fare.
There is also one point in the game where we can die. We will hear a warning sound while in the last screen before facing the danger. In case we didnt survive this encounter the game restores us automatically to this previous safe location. Quick reflexes are required to conquer this hindrance. But thats all the "action" we have to deal with in "Aura".
Aura's pre-rendered 2D backgrounds shoot fireworks of colours and textures. I had loads of fun to just look around the 360° surroundings for here some folks have proven their skills in imagination.
Ademika valley's first impression on the visitor is that of an enchanted garden at night decorated with pavilions and fountains. At closer inspection these objects emerge as complicated mechanisms. Though we dwell here only at night the luscious dark colours positively vibrate, which unfortunately isn't true for possible animations as there simply aren't any. This shortcoming mars the whole game. Apart from the cutscenes - very beautiful especially those in which Umang continues his journey - that finally show us the guy whose part we play while he talks to other characters and the animations we cause by solving puzzles, next to nothing else moves. There are some pretty light effects like shining sparks along with the mystic puzzles, but that's all.
Dragast the mountain world built on mechanics and science greets us high above the clouds with a panoramic view over the snowcapped peaks, part of whose mysteries are hidden deep in their rock caves.
In total contrast to that, our arrival in the esoteric world Na-Tiexu, which spans four very different looking levels, feels like entering a surreal dream. Each of the levels possesses its own special appearance and atmosphere. We wander across a snow covered plain under a breathtaking starry night sky, through a peaceful green valley in which the stone sculptures reminded me of the ones on the Easter Islands, a cave world where coral-like blossoms grow like little neon-coloured stars on the rocky walls and green lava flows through a dusky cavern. Last but not least we explore a scurrile designed landscape some of Salvador Dalí's paintings could have been the inspiration for. Despite all this gorgeousness the locations seem lifeless somehow caused by the lack of animation and this is a great pity in my book.
A South-America inspired theme played on panpipes and bongos serves as background music. In the beginning it sounds atmospheric but soon the repetition gets boring. I welcomed the total silence between the tracks. It made it easier to concentrate on the puzzle at hand. Of course, the music has its ups and downs but they dont match the progression of the story. Same with those sound effects not belonging to a puzzle. An occasional lions roar occurring on a regular basis - no matter in which location you are - was extremely noticeable. I still ask myself what purpose that sound served. Or what about the sounds of splashing water where there isnt any water near or far, or a short thunderous noise.
While trying to solve a complicated sound puzzle I was constantly disturbed by the background music, which inappropriately played on during some of the cutscenes as well. This may sound picky, more so because we can actually turn down the musics volume. However, I am of the opinion that, simple as that, the developers didnt make the effort to fit the music and its cues in with the games flow.
There is nothing to complain about regarding the translation, though, and the few dialogues are spoken well, pushing aside the fact that no-one really cared about lip sync.
Except for the cursor problem solved by the patch I registered on crash to desktop during a change of location, which didnt appear again on repetition of the scene.
There is more to a good game than imaginative graphics and challenging puzzles. Too bad, as more would have been feasible. The sound altogether leaves a lot to be desired and the story is told almost solely during the intro sequence. Afterwards we puzzle our way through the worlds and the story falls into oblivion. Sometimes I was only able to find the puzzles solutions by using tricks as especially one puzzle required such strict concentration that I had to make screenshots of the various sights of the object to better be able to see what I might have to do. The bottom line is that I can only recommend this game to fans of logical brain-wreckers who dont care that much about the story and would like to go for a walk in an imaginative painting.
Rating: 65 %
Adventure-Archiv rating system:
- 80% - 100% excellent game, very recommendable
- 70% - 79% good game, recommendable
- 60% - 69% satisfactory, restricted recommendable
- 50% - 59% sufficient (not very recommendable)
- 40% - 49% rather deficient (not to be recommended - for hardcore-adventure-freaks and collectors only)
- 0% - 39% worst (don't put your fingers on it)
Minimum system requirements:
- Windows 98SE/ME/2000/XP
- Pentium III 800 MHz (or higher)
- 64 MB RAM (128 MB advised)
- 16x CD-ROM-drive (24x CD-ROM-drive advised)
- 2 MB DirectX 8/9 compatible 3D-video card (oder higher)
- DirectX 8.1
- 1,3 GB space on hard drive (2,4 GB advised)
- Windows XP
- Pentium IV 2,6 Ghz
- 512 MB RAM
- 16x DVD-ROM SD-616 Samsung
- Sapphire Radeon Atlantis 9600 256 MB graphic card
- Creative Soundblaster Live! 5.1 sound card
To magnify click the screenshots