Picture a guy walking down the street. Now picture the guy going through the linear steps required to attain a newspaper from a metal and glass box on the street corner. Having successfully completed the complicated task of sorting through his pockets for change, finding the right coins, unclogging the hardened gum from the machine’s insertion slot, and fighting for purchase with the machine’s frontal panel, the guy walks away to his desk job to solve more thoughtful puzzles his irritating co-workers present to him.
This is the caliber of Aura: Fate of the Ages’ premise. Streko Graphics has, since I previewed the game several weeks ago, built out and released Aura, and has paid attention to every detail except for the most important bit: the story.
That isn’t to say that it’s not there – in fact, the pieces could add up to a very tangible, soaring tale if it had been executed with more conviction. Unfortunately, just a few faltering, intense elements brought the play experience to a sluggish crawl, and may affect the overall quality for adventure gamers.
We need to move on, because the heroes of the Aura game structure are the beautiful graphics, diverse world environments, and logical, rewarding puzzles. Without the strength in this trio of saviors, Aura would have fallen far below the status of par.
I’m actually disappointed that there aren’t a few more worlds in which to engage in a little item-hording and backtracking, since a great deal of thought went into not only the content of the scenery, but also the variety in locales. You start in a ravine-like garden setting, surrounded by lush greenery and mossy, outcropped stone. From there, the worlds progress to the airy, mountaintop bridgeworks and catwalks of Dragast; the surreal, ethereal backdrop of Na-Tiexu, a world on the edge of dimensions; and finally, the isolated quiet of the Island of Unity. None of these places disappoint in their presentation. I’d go so far as to say it’s some of the better scenery I’ve been exposed to in an adventure game. Only the lack of a bit more movement dragged the backdrops from an “extraordinary” status to an “average” one. Still – this is pretty, pretty stuff.
I had very little trouble with item usage or puzzle resolution, which was also very encouraging as I tried to overlook the fact that I had forgotten what the plot was. During the preview, I had issues with the clue patterns and helpful resources. Whether those were addressed before release, or if I was a few cups shy on my coffee intake for the preview, I encountered almost no frustration. Getting through the riddles now takes no more effort than some time, attention to peripheral detail, and some logical acumen. These are solid puzzles – not necessarily easy, but no barrier to a sense of accomplishment either. I think most of the magic lies in their fantastic constructions. Stencil keys, gems, rotating puzzle boards, and spinning hieroglyphs shake loose all the conventions of the contemporary “find key for lock” mission.
My other sad gripe is with the sound, which became more of a pesky bug throughout the game. While my preview noted that the characters’ voices were relatively well-executed, I eventually formed an appreciation for the unconvincing acting talents of Tom Cruise and Steven Seagal for their vocal aptitudes after listening to many of the choppy, wooden deliveries of Aura’s residents. The music flits in and out, almost at will, which is a blessing and a curse. Repetition would bore me flat, but did I really want the sound to bounce from quiet to droning all the time? Environmental sounds were fine, but nothing truly special. Fire crackled, wind hooted through trees, water gurbled and whatnot. It always takes a stumbling, unrefined aural ambience to make me realize how much sound matters. Disregarding the painful voice acting, Aura’s soundscape of decent, yet intermittent music and incidental noise is a wash.
This is not a bad game for $19. The overall experience will probably not inspire and entrance, but stripped of the features that tarnish Aura’s... aura, waddling through finely crafted paradises and solving the many interesting riddles will surely please all the thinkers out there. Streko Graphics has a good runner with this one – lots of good ideas, and many of them built and performed quite well. But be warned – there isn’t much meat here. Aura: Fate of the Ages could easily be boiled down to an eye-pleasing version of Tetris, storyline not included.