Since playing the Space Quest adventure games as a kid, I’ve always had a fond memory of exploring space, encountering strange worlds and interacting with strange alien beings. When I heard about J.U.L.I.A., a sci-fi adventure game set in space, I was immediately intrigued.
J.U.L.I.A. starts with a somewhat contrived beginning, as you assume the role as Rachel Manners, an astrobiologist who wakes up from cryogenic sleep. She is greeted by J.U.L.I.A., the ship probe’s artificial intelligence and soon learns that she is last surviving member of the probe’s crew. She must find out what happened to the other members of her crew and uncover the secrets of the solar system.
What struck me upon starting the game was how the computer interface looked like a DOS based one. This usually wouldn’t bother me for adventure games released during the 90’s, but for anything newly released, it was a slight disappointment. You can control Mobot upgrades, ship repairs, the ability to visit planets in the solar system and to harvest and explore the planet that you are on.
Rachel explores different planets in the solar system using MOBOT, a large mobile robot designed for planetary exploration. The exploration sequence is quite straightforward, paying homage to old text adventures where a narrator describes your surroundings and you click on where you want to travel or investigate. MOBOT then gives you a rundown on what he’s found, and both J.U.L.I.A. and Rachel will comment in a different window. The multiple screen effect is unimpressive as you don’t get the full visuals on your explorations.
Most of the game is comprised of various puzzles, which you will have to solve to harvest minerals, repair your ship, unlock doors, decipher alien languages, and more. Even though the puzzles weren’t particularly difficult, I actually found them to be quite frustrating and unituitive. In particular, there’s this annoying puzzle where you have to translate alien speech by clicking on symbols that come up on the screen. Matching up different symbols takes a bit of a time as you have to click on the translation that has the same number of lines connected to the central core. Unfortunately, the symbols flash by quickly, reducing your comprehension level.
Many puzzles are accompanied by an explanation, but there is no option to simply skip them, forcing you to complete them. Sometimes the explanation is unclear, which adds to the frustration even more. There’s one puzzle in particular where you have to construct parts to match up with a blueprint. Unfortunately all the explanation said was that the parts had to match up to each other and the input/output points, and “the rest is up to you”. This didn’t really help my case much, and it took a while to figure out what it meant.
The clunky, outdated feel plagues almost every part of the game. In some parts, I could not go back to the main screen to save, forcing me to carry on until I could. If you select ‘Harvest’ again, and you’ve already harvested the planet, a bright light appears over the screen and you have to wait for it before you can continue.
While J.U.L.I.A. features a clunky, dated interface and annoying puzzles, the storyline was decent enough to keep me playing through. The music is fitting towards the creepy atmosphere and the cutscenes are well done. Unfortunately, the three main characters came across as flat and contrived. Their interaction with each other was uninspired and quite dry that when it came to the climax of the game, there wasn’t any emotion or feeling towards any of the characters.
The Final Verdict
It’s evident that J.U.L.I.A. is a unique space adventure presented in an unrthodox manner, however it’s not one that I actually found fun. If you really like your puzzle-heavy adventure games, you will probably enjoy this, however I’d probably wait until it’s at a budget price. I’ll still eagerly wait another space adventure on a galaxy far far away..