A New Beginning preview
As all right-thinking people know, there are two reasons not to worry about the environment. If the babbling of fools is correct, the world will end in 2012 anyway. If not, television has long since taught us that if things get too bad, Gaia, spirit of the Earth, will send five magic rings to five special young people, and Captain Planet will clear up our mess. It wouldn't lie about something like that, right?
There is of course a third possibility. Maybe nothing will change. Maybe the world will continue its spiral into chaos and decay, rendering the planet a barren wasteland where the surface can no longer support life and every day is a miserable existence of swallowing down food pills and waiting for a solar flare to scythe through the atmosphere and finally put us all out of our misery. Maybe in those dark days, only the sudden invention of time travel will offer some form of escape, allowing representatives of humanity to jump back and seek help from the one man who could have set it all right. That man is named Bent Svennson, and if you're wondering how many cheap jokes about that are coming: just one, promise.
Despite the environmental angle, don't worry - from the bits we've played so far, A New Beginning is neither preachy nor educational. The plot is pure sci-fi, involving a clash between one magic power-source that nukes the Earth, and a race to get it replaced with another magic one that turns simple algae into the ultimate fuel. By the end, there may be a puzzle where you need to sort the recycling into the correct bins or plant a tree, but most of the first chapter at least is more about running around a futuristic San Francisco, followed by a trip back to modern times where you find yourself finding ways to use aftershave and scrap paper to escape from a helicopter in mid-flight, and then sabotaging an energy conference with a badly forged press ID. If controlling emissions can't save the world, then by god, at least we have adventure game puzzle logic to fall back on! (It's also darkly amusing that the very first real puzzle, in which you control arch-environmentalist Bent, ends up with you lazily killing a bird.)
A New Beginning comes from Daedalic, creators of The Whispered World, and shares that game's artistic cred. It's a very pretty game, as you can see from the shots, but goes considerably further in terms of attention to detail on background scenery and animation, right down to pointless additions like being able to switch lights on and off. The only real glitches are that it can be a little light on character animation frames, and... at the risk of sounding nitpicky... there's our heroine Fay's painful looking curved back. Shouldn't matter. Does. Every time I saw her do anything, I winced. Either living in a world without nature has given her ultimate rickets, or she's packing the world's worst corset under her uniform.
The first real chapter takes place both in the present and the future, with Fay on a mission to get Bent... to agree to help save the world. (There. We're done). Unsurprisingly, he doesn't take too kindly to a mad, bezier-spined woman from the future turning up on his doorstep, so in true adventure style, and much to his utter joy, she offers to try and convince him with an interactive flashback. Or is it a flash-forward? It's a vision of the destroyed year 2050, so I suppose it depends on your perspective.
As always with these things, you have to start pitying anyone subjected to a tale full of descriptions like "And then I used the nail clippers on it, but that didn't work, then I used the net on it, but that didn't work, and then I used the knife on it and that SHOULD have worked, but I decided it wouldn't for some reason..." - but in fairness, that's not a big problem here. The puzzles seem quick and logical, if occasionally a little vague about your next step, landing a good balance between exploring a few rooms and keeping most of the important bits close together. There are a few traditional logic ones thrown in too, like setting up a time antenna or flicking power switches, which aren't as interesting, but only force you to poke and prod them for a few minutes before popping up a 'Skip This Puzzle' button. Hurrah!
A New Beginning isn't the paciest adventure around, but its plot still gets to the point quickly, and does much more than most to establish the stakes and make it clear why you're doing everything. Cut-scenes are handled comic-book style, and don't wait long before breaking out some cool dramatic moments, like Fay's (video) radio system that should be putting her in-contact with her fellow time-travellers showing all of them scattered around the world, dead, dying, clinging to the Eiffel Tower in the middle of a lightning filled tornado, or choking their tortured last breaths near a lava spewing volcano.
Top travel tip: Avoid everywhere in 2050. Nothing good going on there.
Unlike its heroes, A New Beginning isn't likely to end up changing the world. It does seem like one of the more solid commercial adventures in recent months though, and one of the few that immediately gets to the point. If it can avoid the temptation to get too preachy while still keeping up the pretty punches of a destroyed future when the story shifts back to actually saving the world, it shouldn't have any problem being a light braintwister for existing adventure fans. Its comic-book looks and futuristic jaunts fit well, and while a story about creating a new energy source based on blue-green algae isn't the most exciting premise ever, it's not long before people start getting coshed over the head and an actual villain is introduced to make things a little more active. The full game is due out on April 8th, on typically environmentally friendly DVD, and hopefully even less-wasteful download services.