Like many indie games within the last few years, J.U.L.I.A.: Among the Stars was brought to life using funds through a crowd sourcing website. CBE Software used Indiegogo to help raise over $14,000 to help enhance an earlier version of J.U.L.I.A. and was able to find a wide release through Steam this last September. Crowd funding and early release games are becoming standard fare in the video game industry lately, the hard part is sifting through the myriad of garbage, lies and traps to find games that are actually playable and fun. While J.U.L.I.A.: Among the Stars may have its negative aspects, overall the game is worth a look.
You play as Rachel Manners, a 35 year old astrobiologist, who is a member of an elite team of scientists chosen to explore and document a solar system discovered by the Chandra 17 space telescope. You begin the game as Rachel is being awoken from cryogenic sleep, with the probe under a state of emergency. J.U.L.I.A., the probe’s main computer, needs your help to repair the probe from the damage done by an unexpected meteor storm. You then discover that you have been asleep for decades, and are the last remaining crew member alive. It is up to you to discover what happened to the rest of your team on each of the planets in this new solar system.
The story is interesting enough to bring you into the detective role that the game wants you to be in. However, my initial question of “why the hell was Rachel asleep for this entire time while everyone else was working?” kept popping into the back of my head. I can only imagine that Rachel Manners was the annoying, know-it-all astrobiologist and the rest of the crew thought it would be better if they got on with the actual exploring and investigating of new planets without her. The game never explains why you are the only one left, so it is best to just move on from that plot hole.
The rest of the narrative comes from exploring each and every planet of the solar system, looking for clues. You do this with the help of the aforementioned J.U.L.I.A., and a survey robot named MOBOT. Once you reach a planet, it really is MOBOT who flies down to the surface, to do the actual exploring and investigating while you sit safely on the probe in orbit. The story begins to unfold as you visit each planet, reading data pads, log entries, and speaking with indigenous people about the contact hey had with the original crew.
Plot holes aside, the story for J.U.L.I.A.: Among the Stars works as long as you don’t poke it too hard with logic. I do like how the story unfolds the more you explore and read while investigating the abandoned camps on each planet. You have to piece together what happened at each site, sometimes actually building a story board to discover the chronology of the events. This kept my interest in the game much longer then just giving me the story through forced narrative. I felt like an actual investigator, and it really made the process enjoyable.
Game play for J.U.L.I.A.: Among the Stars is described by the developer as a “interfaced based adventure game”. Essentially what that means is, you will be playing through menus, mini games, and point-and-click style rooms to discover the story of your missing crew. The best way to describe the game play for J.U.L.I.A.: Among the Stars is really as a string of mini-games and puzzles that need to be completed to gain the necessary information you are looking for. For instance, to unlock a password encrypted door that is barring your progress, you will have to find that password on another data pad, by either finding the password for the data pad or by hacking the data pad. Each one of this could have a mini game attached to it in order for you to complete the task.
All of this is done through MOBOT, which can be upgraded by finding certain blue prints. These blue prints are story locked, meaning you will have to reach that moment in the narrative in order to obtain these upgrades. J.U.L.I.A.: Among the Stars is also not afraid to send you back to other planets to complete tasks with these new upgrades. You will reach a point on a certain planet to where you cannot proceed without a particular upgrade, so you will have to find that upgrade, build it through a mini game, then back track to complete that task.
For the most part, I found the puzzles at least amusing though I have always hated mandatory backtracking in video games. The puzzles are not too difficult if you look around and collect the information first. What this usually boils down to is reading every little scrap of informayion, looking for the one piece that you need. I found that I needed to keep a journal next to me, because I couldn’t figure out if the game was saving any of this information for me to access later.
Visually,J.U.L.I.A.: Among the Stars does the job right. The scenery is nice looking and well detailed, though it is rendered with minimal moving parts. The look of J.U.L.I.A.: Among the Stars is really comparable to a modern day point-and-click adventure game. The animations of the talking heads during conversations were not well done, but considering the budget there are things that I am ready to forgive.
What I am not ready to forgive is the voice acting. I understand that the budget for J.U.L.I.A.: Among the Stars wasn’t enough to hire star power, but an actor that could at least portray the correct emotion during the correct scene is a necessity. The opening scene of the game, in which the probe has just been bombarded by meteors and is crippled, had the feeling of a casual conversation at the local diner instead of one that portrayed the emergency that was being shown. No, the game didn’t need top notch talent, but it did need an actor and not just someone reading from a script.
While J.U.L.I.A.: Among the Stars does have it’s negatives, I feel that it is still a fun game overall. I truly liked the investigative aspect of the game, though it could have used less forced backtracking. The mini-games were hard enough to keep me on my toes, but not insanely difficult that I needed to stop every five minutes to check the internet. Even the horrid acting couldn’t really bring down my overall enjoyment for J.U.L.I.A.: Among the Stars. Even with its flaws, J.U.L.I.A.: Among the Stars is a puzzle adventure game that is worth your time, but only if you can forgive some of the warts that comes with an indie game such as this one. J.U.L.I.A.: Among the Stars is available now through Steam for $19.99.[easyreview title=”Product Review Score” cat1title=”Overall Score (out of 5)” cat1detail=”” cat1rating=”2″ ]