Stop us if you’ve heard this one before. You wake up from a seemingly endless sleep, groggy and confused, to discover you’re strapped into a cryo unit in a vast and curiously quiet spaceship. As you’re wondering where your crew mates have buggered off too, and who’s going to fix you a bacon and egg sandwich with extra tabasco and a side of black pudding, a holographic computer AI with feminine features and a slightly creepy voice pops up and informs you that you’re the only living person on board.
As far as wake-up calls go, this one’s right up there with a punch to the cock.
Yes, J.U.L.I.A’s plot seems to be taken straight out of System Shock, but that’s where the similarities end. You play as the sole remaining crew member, Rachel, as she teams up with the ship’s AI (the J.U.L.I.A of the title) to discover what crazy shenanigans went down. But before you explore the alien solar system, there’s the small matter of fixing up your meteor-battered vessel...
So what is it?
Developed by indie team CBE Software, a two-man operation based in the Czech Republic, J.U.L.I.A is an odd little game that’s surprisingly difficult to classify. It’s like an adventure game, but you’ll find almost no inventory puzzles, and you’ll never really have direct control over your character. The bulk of the game is spent solving puzzles, but then it’s not a straight-up puzzle game either, as you’ll spend some time exploring other worlds and driving forward the often grisly narrative. In fact, CBE seems just as unsure when it comes to genre, referring to it as a ‘logical video game’.
If variety is the spice of life, then get ready for a super-hot Vindaloo of a game, because J.U.L.I.A is one spicy mofo. One moment you’re guiding a robot through a desolate space camp, searching for signs of survivors, and the next you’re assembling a circuit board to upgrade your ship. Then you might have to piece together a torn document (a classic adventure game puzzle), before competing in a reaction-fuelled arcade game to repair shattered segments of your vessel. Occasionally you’ll have to repeat a puzzle (the circuit board assembly and a planet harvesting minigame being the main offenders), but almost every world you visit offers new, vastly different challenges.
We loved the variety of J.U.L.I.A’s puzzles, but the exploration segments could have been a bit more ‘adventurey’. They almost play out like one of those classic Steve Jackson role playing books - you know, ‘go to page 31 to greet the imp with a smile and a handshake, or go to page 237 to shove your staff up his arse and use him as a broom’. There’s no clickable hotspots, just a still shot of the location as seen through the exploration robot’s eyes, and a short list of possible actions. You’re given very limited choices at each location, which makes it pretty obvious what’s expected of you. The occasional puzzle is thrown in for good measure, but we found these sections far too easy to complete.
In fact, many of the puzzles are also surprisingly simple, with only a couple of memorable exceptions (one circuit puzzle almost drove us completely spare, and took us half an hour to complete). Whether that’s a good or bad thing depends entirely on your perspective. Personally we were gripped by the story, so appreciated the swift pace with which we flew through the game. It’s also good that younger gamers could easily get into J.U.L.I.A, without having to resort to walkthroughs constantly. Don’t be worried by the occasional inclusion of arcadey segments either - you can repeat them over if you mess them up, and they’re extremely fair.
Looks good, sounds good
Graphics on the whole are appealing, with some cinematic cutscenes thrown in for good measure. It’s a little offputting how Rachel’s lip motions don’t match what she’s saying, but the voice acting is decent and the dialogue is pretty funny at times. Even the exploration robot (dubbed ‘Mobot’) who you guide through the planet sections has a few good lines, acting with a hilarious lack of emotion when he stumbles across mangled corpses and the like.
J.U.L.I.A isn’t the longest game ever - we got through the entire thing in roughly seven hours, and that’s with wasting half an hour on that damned circuit board effort. Still, we were entertained for the duration, and would heartily recommend the game to anyone who likes a good sci-fi yarn and is fond of solving brainteasers.
J.U.L.I.A system requirements
The majority of J.U.L.I.A is presented in a slideshow fashion, with the occasional bit of animation thrown in. As such, you should just about get away with an old Pentium 4 processor and 1GB of RAM. However, we’d recommend at least a Core 2 Duo CPU and 2GB of RAM to ensure constant smoothness.