Review: Kheops Studio's "Voyage: Inspired by Jules Verne" (2005)

Matt Barton's picture

Voyage: Lush graphics, awesome story, great puzzles, witty dialog...Bon voyage!Voyage: Lush graphics, awesome story, great puzzles, witty dialog...Bon voyage!Kheops Studio's "Voyage: Insired by Jules Verne," published in the US by the Adventure Company in 2005, is one of the best graphical adventure games I've seen in recent years. It features compelling gameplay, multiple ways to solve puzzles, and a good, solid story based on the works of celebrated French author Jules Verne (one of the true godfathers of science fiction). The puzzles are clever, the script is fun--in short, it's worth checking out, even if you aren't normally a fan of Myst-style games.

I first encountered one of Kheops Studios about two years ago, when I was just embarking on my adventures into graphical adventure games. The game I played was Return to Mysterious Island (also 2005), another Jules Verne-inspired game which actually takes long after the action in Voyage. My wife and I were so impressed with that game that we quickly realized GAGs were fun again, and it's been the rare game that has surpassed that original thrill. It was a real treat to find both games on GameTap, which several high-quality GAGs released within the past few years. The game ran flawlessly under XP (on a bootcamped iMac). As you can see, the graphics look great, and the interface is quite intuitive. I also enjoyed the music, which was definitely of the subtle, Schulze/Tangerine Dream ambient style found in games like Myst and Schizm. However, occasionally you'll hear bouncier ditties reminiscent of 19th century Europe to help lighten the mood.

The game is based on one of Verne's lesser known works, "From the Earth to the Moon," (one that I had actually read as a teen) about a group of explorers who take off to the moon. Instead of rockets, the adventurers are shot out of a cannon in a "shell," or hollow bullet armed with retrorockets for the re-entry. It's been awhile since I read the story, but Kheops' version seems fairly compliant with my memories of it. At any rate, when your character awakens, the shell is just about to crash land on the surface of the moon--and two of your companions are dead. You'll need to investigate their deaths as well as tend to the more basic but pressing goals, such as exploring the moon and finding a way back home.

What's really brilliant about the game is the rather enthralling vision of an alternate reality; I guess the phrase might be "retro science fiction." Obviously, our scientists today know there is no atmosphere on the moon, much less intelligent life. However, what Kheops has done is built a sort of "what if" world, where Verne's beliefs about the moon (Verne wrote his story in 1865). So, even though the setting is not plausible according to our current science, it all makes perfect sense given the science of Verne's day. Besides, it's just fun seeing 19th century technology against alien backdrops; it's quite charming, actually.

One of the game's key strengths is its humor, wit, and story-telling. The "cut scenes" are narrated shots of yellowed illustrations that look exactly what you'd expect to find in an original Verne manuscript. The dialog is also kept to a reasonable minimum, with just enough to build the characters without boring you. Along the way, Ardan interacts with all sorts of creatures, from strange aliens to a rooster! He also learns about the history of the "Selenite" civilization, and why it has fallen into decline. In this way, the game is similar to Myst or Riven, since there is a great deal of broken down old machinery lying about that Ardan must understand and repair. I suppose the game it reminded me of the most was Schizm, released in 2001, or perhaps the much better The Dig. While Voyage is certainly amusing, it's not a satire or zany, really, and the surrealistic feel of the settings help counterbalance the occasional bit of silliness. The voice acting is excellent, particularly Ardan's and the narrator. Their talents add considerably to the game.

As far as gameplay is concerned, Ardan plays three basic parts: archaeologist, zoologist, and chemist. Most of the puzzles involve the five types of fruits and plants Ardan finds. Each plant has its own characteristics, and the five exist in a stasis. A big part of the game is learning about the properties of the fruit, and the effects of the many possible combinations (you can cook them, grow and graft them, and eventually transmute them). There are also several puzzles involving the odd aliens, who perform a variety of roles (at first they just block you; then you must use them to access certain areas). As the game progresses, Ardan finds several shortcuts as well as a helpful insect sidekick. What's more, the game does a good job of recording important details in Ardan's log for later reference. Other puzzles involve learning about and repairing the ancient machinery Ardan finds. The Selenites were once a space-faring race who visited the Earth with their own cannon. Everything Michael needs to get back to Earth is present on the moon, assuming he can recognize it. There are also some logic and math puzzles, as well as a rather difficult sound puzzle (the difficulty is greatly reduced if you find a certain key first, though). In general, though, there are few puzzles that had me stumped for long.

Selenite Technician: The aliens speak in musical notes and are quite entertaining.Selenite Technician: The aliens speak in musical notes and are quite entertaining.There were only two points in the game that had me so stumped I had to resort to online hints. One was very unfortunately in the first few minutes of the game. The shell is falling too fast, and Ardan must find some way to lighten the shell so the retrorockets can function properly. I dumped everything out that I could, and still kept dying (on a positive note, the game automatically restarts just before death and gives you infinite chances to get it right, so dying is not really painful at all). After looking at the hints, I realized I had to get rid of my wrench, but couldn't do so until I had unbolted all of the steel panels from the windows. The other point involved simple pixel hunting. After nearly an hour of wandering around to no avail, I consulted hints and found that I had neglected to see a small key lying in a coffin (alongside several other treasures). I had missed this key because it was difficult to see. Once I had it, I literally flew through the rest of the game.

Some of the better innovations are a "lunar IQ" meter, which hearkens back to the "score" in Zork and the Sierra games. There are many ways to raise the IQ that are entirely optional; for instance, instead of just solving a puzzle, you can try to solve it in as few steps as possible, or play it again at an increased difficulty level. This is a nice feature, since players will be able to select the puzzles they like best rather than being forced to do them all. The game also seems to be quite non-linear. For instance, at one point you can buy several of the items that you would otherwise have to find as you went along; it's possible to buy these early and solve puzzles out of sequence. Since it's fairly easy to earn money in the game (just sell stuff you don't need or can produce an infinite supply of), I found this to be a very nice alternative.

All in all, I found Voyage to be one of the better GAGs I've played, and would certainly recommend it to anyone who enjoyed MYST and other first-person GAGs. Forget about people who claim the genre is dead; give Voyage a chance and see if you agree with me that those claims are highly exaggerated! This is a thoroughly engrossing and satisfying way to spend a weekend or a few of those long summer afternoons. Now, back to Tomb Raider Anniversary Edition!