During a lazy week off work last month, I decided to be productive and clear a few entries from my ever-growing Steam backlog. I was in the mood for something with a science-fiction feel so J.U.L.I.A.: Among the Stars was one of my picks: an ‘innovative narrative driven adventure game’ centred around a critical mission in space. It was a title I’d picked up some months ago as part of a sale after seeing how many good reviews it had garnered, but not one I’d heard of previously.
Here’s the setting: after countless years of exploration, humans finally found a solar system similar to our own from the middle of which was coming a signal of artificial origin. A mission plan was formed and a massive space probe constructed, designed and equipped to be ideally suited for meeting and studying extraterrestrial sentient life-forms. Equal care was taken with the crew; only the most prominent scientists were selected and trained to represent Earth.
Unfortunately though, something has now gone terribly wrong. Rachel Manners has been woken from decades of cryogenic sleep to be told by the ship’s artificial intelligence (AI) that she’s the last surviving crew member. As if the day couldn’t get any worse, the probe is also severely damaged by a disastrous impact with a passing meteoroid swarm; so it’s up to her to first make repairs to ensure her own survival, before finding out what happened to everybody else.
Once all the immediate fires have been put out, the player steps into Rachel’s shoes (spacesuit?) but doesn’t control her directly. Instead, the game is played through a series of computer interfaces and a reconnaissance robot for planetary exploration called MOBOT. Together with the ship’s AI they travel to six unique planets to uncover their secrets and find out what happened there, battling with puzzles and ship upgrades – as well as a few alien strangers, not all of whom are friendly.
I got the weirdest sensation after playing J.U.L.I.A. for several hours: it was almost as if I was sitting down in front of my PC and playing Myst again for the first time. This seemed strange as the games’ settings completely different but then I realised I was stepping into unknown. Taking that first step into new worlds, confronted with strange contraptions and mysterious structures… maybe Cyan’s 1993 classic and CBE Software’s 2014 release aren’t so dissimilar after all.
After nine hours and just as I was thinking that I may have found a new entry for my favourites list, disaster struck – not a meteoroid shower this time, a game-breaking bug. It was something a number of people had reported via the Steam discussions page as recently as last year. Just as I tried to lure a glowing underwater alien into a cupboard so I could safely make my way across the submarine, it would weirdly disappear and leave me unable to move any further.
I’ve reached out to the developer and have sent them my save file in the hope there’s something they’ll be able to do to rectify this situation. I’ve not yet heard from them though, but I’m assuming this is because they’re busy working on their next game. The trailer for Someday You’ll Return looks as creepy as hell, the website teases that your search leads deep into ancient Moravian forests and reveals secrets that should have stayed buried – and it has already been added to my wishlist.
I can’t tell you how much I hope CBE’s get in touch with an amended save file soon because I really want to be able to complete J.U.L.I.A. and find out what happens to Rachel. I know I could simply watch the remainder of the title via a longplay video but it just won’t be the same: I want to explore the stars and beautiful planets with MOBOT for myself, rather than simply watching someone else have all the fun doing it.
If you happen to have a safe file, please do get in touch – I’d be eternally grateful and forever in your debt! Hopefully I won’t be lost in space for too long…
Video game lover, Later Levels blogger and SpecialEffect volunteer. Big fan of wannabe pirates and fine leather jackets.