It's always a bit strange playing an old game for the first time, not that I like calling Project Eden old because it only just came out on PlayStation 2, and how can that be old? What - that was 20 years ago? Well that's Friday in the bin. But what I mean is, experiencing Project Eden for the first time now is a bit like watching a classic film. There's an air of historical importance to it, even if it is a bit clunky.
The premise is an intriguing one. Project Eden is a game by Tomb Raider creator Core Design, and it puts you in control of a squad of four law enforcement agents investigating the disappearance of various people in a futuristic city. It has that typical early 2000s feel to it: an undefined future that's clean yet also far from pleasant. There are some wild predictions in it, like synthetic meat companies. Imagine!
It's got some nice ideas. Towards the beginning, you can interview people, and I wish there was more of this. It's not award-winning dialogue but it's interesting, and it breaks up the puzzle solving, which is actually the heart of this game, team-based shooter looks aside.
The puzzles are simultaneously compelling and a bit frustrating, presumably because, in typical double-A style, Project Eden doesn't quite fire on all cylinders. The key is to use your team of characters together, solving different parts of puzzles individually. But asking them to do even simple things like follow you around is awkward. All too often, you'll wander off to an objective and realise someone hung back for, seemingly, no good reason.
Each member of the team has their own specific ability, naturally. There's Carter, the squad leader, whose main ability is the fact people will actually talk to him - what a charmer! Oh and he can open high-security doors because he's the boss. More interesting is Andre, who repairs all the broken equipment you come across including awkward door switches. But repairing them requires a well-timed button press which can make it fiddly.
Then there's Amber, who's a cyborg, which means she can walk through poisonous gas without a problem. It turns out that's rather useful as she'll often come across a handily placed vent to get rid of all the gas so everyone else can come along for the ride. Then there's Minoko, who can hack into computer terminals to unlock doors, and view security camera footage which helps you know what to do next.
That's where Project Eden is delightful and such a change of pace from many games you'll see these days, and with that nice Core Design feeling which worked so well for Tomb Raider back in the day. I was oddly pleased when Carter groaned when I ran him into a wall, just like Lara Croft did when you ran her into things. It's something my Mum took perverse pleasure in doing repeatedly, years ago, because she didn't like Lara Croft. Also, the characters are eager to climb on literally every surface possible, a bit like lemmings, because yes, this is solidly double-A.
It's not the sort of game you get any more, especially on console. The puzzles are a bit complicated and require slightly too much patience. But they're absolutely the best thing about the game, because the combat is weak and mostly makes me wish I didn't have to bother.
Pack a game full of detective work, intricate puzzles, and a slightly clunky team, and guess what? I'm all for it. If only I hadn't been distracted by Grand Theft Auto 3 and Final Fantasy X back in 2001, I could have lured some friends into playing Project Eden locally and cooperatively. And I have a sneaky feeling we'd have adored every second of it, at least until we got stuck on a particularly tricky puzzle - the goat puzzle in Broken Sword has nothing on what this game can throw at you!
All of which makes me rather want another game like it. How about it?
Core Design still has a mini-site hosting Project Eden visual goodies and even, it looks like, a demo. I'm not sure if it works.