Aurora: The Secret Within

2007 BluMiAl Sudios
Designed by Michel Palucci, Alessio Restaino
Reviewed 2009 February 10

Rating -4 Linearity narrow
Reasonability reasonable Connectivity moderate
Difficulty easy Relevance strong
Interface 1st paned Real-time minor

You play a struggling PI in Roswell, November 1947. You start by investigating the disappearance of a local farmer, but, of course, you soon become entangled in the famous UFO incident.

As you follow the clues, the mystery builds. Eventually, it takes a turn in an unexpected (to me) direction from the Roswell cliché. It develops continuously, not in the common explore-challenge-infodump pattern. You interact with several characters, but mostly in a functional way; with one exception, they don't present much personality. They populate the world, giving it some realism.

Like the characters, the challenges are bland but natural parts of the world. Most are very simple, and none are difficult. They serve to pace the story and direct you onwards, and are otherwise forgetable. The one road-block was the common "where next?" problem, where you have to wander about looking for where the story continues. You can die, but usually only by persistent, profound stupidity. Otherwise, there's an automatic undo after the ending, so you can try again.

A few times, you are presented with a one-time challenge. If you solve it, you can move on, but failure is also possible. After failure, however, a simpler back-door route opens up. It's a good mechanism, but it's largely wasted here, since the hard challenge either isn't difficult, or doesn't flow from the game play. For example, one is a science test: the answers aren't found in the game -- either you remember high school classes or you don't.

The world is presented via pre-rendered 3D backgrounds, with real-time 3D characters. The backgrounds are nice, serviceable and attractive but not spectacular. The characters are similarly well done. Fortunately, they are fairly static (except in cut-scenes) and don't jerk around like bad mannikins.

The sonic side of the presentation does not fare so well. Ambient noise comes and goes. The score is mostly absent, and is distracting when it cuts in. The sound effects don't blend in well with their actions.

The worst aspect of the game is the atrocious translation (from Italian). There is no recorded speech, so the characters talk by text. Text is also used for inventory labels, character-internal comments, and found documents. Usually, bad translation is only distracting. Here, it is often incomprehensible, preventing a proper understanding of the game world. Also, the text is timed, apparently not for English, so you have to read fast. The bad translation often makes it difficult to read and comprehend in time, and you often want to take notes -- there is no way to replay some texts (short of restoring and replaying).

Saved games are just the standard Windows file dialogue: YAY!. Why is it so hard for the big companies to get this?

In Italian, Aurora is probably a decent little adventure. In English, the game is unable to develop an atmosphere, the story is not strong enough to overcome this lack, and the challenges are too uninspired to provide entertainment on their own.

Beware! Here are some spoiler-ridden notes on the game. They're only recommended for people who have played the game and want to see some of my rationale for my evaluations.
David Tanguay's Game Reviews
Here's a description of all the gobbledygook in these reviews. It's also a bit of an essay on the nature of adventure games.