Set in the far future, the world of Project Eden is a familiar sight to most sci-fi fans: buildings are growing ever-upwards, interconnected with a thick web of roads, walkways and service channels. But below these gleaming highrises, conditions steadily decline to slum level. And below it lies an underworld occupied by criminals, cultists, the wretched and deranged. You control a team of 4 members of the UPA (Urban Protection Agency) - an elite force which deals with serious disturbances within the city. As the game begins, your team is called in to investigate problems at the Real Meat factory, where all the equipment inexplicably malfunctioned and technicians sent in to repair them have gone missing.
So why do I think this is not just another Tomb Raider clone, but a great game deserving of our Hall of Belated Fame? Three words: clever puzzle designs. Yes, despite the 3D look and advertisements, Project Eden is not a first-person shooter - although you control the characters from the first-person perspective, and there is a lot of combat in the game. Each of the four characters in your team has a special skill that nobody else can use: Carter, as team leader, can open 'restricted access' doors, Minoko can hack into computers, Andre can repair things, and Amber can walk through hazardous environments unharmed. Most of the time, it is obvious who you need for the task at hand, but what is not obvious is the the right order in which to use them. For example, you might need Minoko to hack into a broken computer to open a locked door, but the computer room may be full of poisonous gas. So you will need to send Amber across first, so she can walk unharmed to turn off the gas, and then you need to send Andre so he can fix the terminal for Minoko. And if that is not challenging enough, some levels start with your team split apart from each other - so you must constantly switch between them to try to get back together. You also have the Rover, a small tank-like remote-controlled car that can crawl into small vents and other areas that are inaccessible to humans, as well as a flying camera that is very handy for scouting the level layout. These two gadgets are crucial to solving many puzzles throughout the game.
Every level is huge, and is completely packed with all kinds of puzzles, ranging from simple ones like making a character hold the door for his teammates, to complex "set piece" puzzles that take many steps and co-ordination of all teammates to complete. What is most amazing about Project Eden is that I never felt bored or got a sense of "deja vu," even though it seems the game has thousands of puzzles. Partly this is due to the lack of "jumping puzzle" of any kind - you cannot even jump in the game, and so you will never find frustrating leap-from-pillar-to-pillar situations that require precise movements as in Ultima 8 or Redguard. The level design is nothing short of amazing. If you think Tomb Raider has great levels, you will find the ones in Project Eden pure genius. Once you solve a particularly sticky puzzle, most of the time it will open up shortcuts to where you need to go, or where you have been before.
The interface is very easy to learn, and intuitive. As any teammate, you can order the rest of the team to follow you, or tell them to halt, in which case they will then hold and defend their position. Like most action games, the AI in Project Eden is none too bright, so you will need to switch into characters a lot during combat, or keep them out of harm's way. Fortunately, combat is not the focus of Project Eden although there is plenty of it. I'm no action expert, and yet I managed to finish this game in one piece. The second half of the game has a lot more fighting than the first half, but by then you will be so intrigued by the game's puzzles that you will be ready to face anything. Also, you can't really 'die' in this game - once their health drops to zero, your characters will automatically get 'reconstructed' at the nearest health machine.
Which is not to say combat in Project Eden is uninteresting. There are many types of mutants in the game, some smart enough to gang up on you or lure you into ambush. Action gamers will enjoy finding new cool futuristic weapons as they go along, and some of these are quite novel and cool to watch. The sentry gun that you can plop down anywhere and automatically shoots all the enemies in sight is my favorite weapon.
The plot is not very interesting, but good enough to make you want to know what happens next. All in all, Project Eden is easily one of the best action/adventure games I have ever played. Don't like the FPS look fool you - this is a puzzle game first and foremost. If you are looking for the next-generation Unreal-type slugfest, stay away from this game. On the other hand, if you love mechanical/physical puzzle games like the classic D/Generation, you will have a blast with this highly underrated underdog. Two thumbs up, and a worthy induction into our Hall of Belated Fame. If the latest Tomb Raider games were this good, EIDOS would be assured of a loyal following among adventure/puzzle fans for years to come.