Aura 2: The Sacred Rings PC Review
Have you ever been to a film in the cinema to discover that it has been shot and directed in an unusual way. Well if you ever saw a little gem called Huckle you may have had a similar experience to me. The film, for those not in the know, doesn’t have any dialogue! Pretty unconventional I’m sure you’ll agree. My first reaction was to think ‘hey this isn’t a film, just a bunch of arty scenes with a few sound effects’. I felt like I had been ripped off. However, as things progressed I realised that there was a lot more going here than first appeared. By the end of the film I was won over.
As someone who hadn’t played the first Aura or other games of a similar ilk I had this same experience when I first started playing the game. I guess I have just been programmed to expect a full free 3D environment. Aura 2 provides what is best described as stop-frame 3D. You can look around and interact at certain points in the environment, or proceed to the next place. At first, I felt like I had missed something and searched for the button to enable me to walk around. This initially felt pretty frustrating and limiting but with a little time I was able to come to terms with this very different style and pace of game, to what I had been expecting. And who was I to say that this approach would be any less compelling than mechanics I had already experienced. As I played on, I found that the play mechanic itself faded into the background as the story and puzzles started to take hold. There was even a certain elegance to proceedings because of this reigned in technological approach. By the end of the game I almost felt that it was a better game for it.
Aura’s first instalment became famous for impressive graphics, interesting art direction and intriguing puzzles. A true adventure gamer’s game that could trace its design lineage back to the old text adventures; a controlled and limited environment within which a magical and compelling world was to be found. Aura 2 certainly continues this tradition. If you have played the Myst games then you will already be at home with both the format and interaction offered here. Aura obviously draws much of its inspiration from this popular classic not to mention a similar ethereal vaporous name.
The popular Umang location returns from the first game, this time your task is to return the Sacred Rings to the Keepers. These are the same rings that you had diligently recovered in the first game. Now it appears that the Shadow Legion wants to acquire the rings and will be hot on your heels as you make every effort to get back to the Keepers. The game kicks off with you falling from the sky and ending up in a large house, which turns out to be your mode of transportation. The only problem is how to get it working. Once you do your journey will take you through seven impressive and distinct locations.
Again true to its roots there are plenty of puzzles to solve along the way. These provide a wider range of conundrums compared to the original game. Whereas the original focused mainly on logic problems, the introduction of an expanded inventory results in more involved wrestling with the combination and placement of items you collect along the way.
Graphically, by side-stepping the ever increasing reality of engines like Unreal 3, instead preferring their own quirky static point interactions, Aura delivers what can become a very immersive experience. As mentioned above, it may take a while to adjust to this different pace and approach, but once you are in the slot you really don’t miss much of the higher powered presentations. Also, this means the system requirements are pretty reasonable.
The game itself was well paced, and easily draws you in for long and repeated sittings. On quite a few occasions I had not noticed the passing of the evening into the wee hours whilst I quietly sat mousing and clicking my way around. The puzzles, although at times frustrating, are all pretty well balanced. You usually have all the required clues and ingredients at your disposal, if you take the time to think things through properly.
This all adds up to another confident outing for what has become a nice little franchise. That said, I never felt that I fully meshed with the game and its mechanic. As I mentioned, it convinced me that this was a viable way to present and conduct an adventure. But it never felt quite as visceral as other adventuring I had done from years gone by. I am quite used to working within a series of set locations in adventure games, but not so used to being so restricted within each of those environments. I acknowledge that the fact the game works with such a restricted brief is testament to the sheer craft of its creation. However, I think I have been ruined by the Monkey Island games. I just need to have some sense of myself wandering around the place poking and prodding the various interactive aspects of a particular room.
If you liked text adventures and are looking for a modern re-imagining, then there is a lot for you to get excited about here.