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PC Review - 'Pitfall: The Lost Expedition'

by Reldan on Nov. 19, 2004 @ 2:33 a.m. PST

Take an adventure as Pitfall Harry, the daring, risk-taking explorer who laughs in the face of danger. Featuring over 50 levels of fast-paced action and puzzle solving adventures, the game challenges players to swing, fight, climb and crawl through eight types of treacherous South American environments including lush jungles, dark tombs, ancient Aztec ruins and glacial mountains.

Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Aspyr
Developer: Beenox
Release Date: October 15, 2004

Buy 'PITFALL: The Lost Expedition': PC

Take a 3D platformer that's not really trying all that hard to break out of the mold, a classic gaming title from over 20 years ago, and some cartoonish humor (over-the-top villains, talking animals, bizarre characters, slapstick gags and an overconfident wise-cracking protagonist - Hey, sounds like the last 10 Disney movies!) and you wind up with Pitfall:The Lost Expedition. Now, this game is obviously trying to be good, and it did manage to entertain me for a little while. However, intent does not create reality and unfortunately, this game is chock-full of the element I hate most about 3D adventure games – backtracking. I don't know why developers feel the need to force players to run back and forth through the same areas time and time again; if you got through it the first time, you'll get through it the second, and the third, for that matter.

Perhaps if the element of challenge were present, the difficulty level would hide the fact that the game is simply wasting my time by forcing me to retread old ground. The only challenge a person needs to overcome to beat this game is boredom. Perhaps the fourth time you have to go through an area you'll give up and go play something else, which technically would constitute a defeat for our hero, albeit hopefully not in a way the developers had intended.

This isn't to say that a younger player couldn't have some fun with this game. As I mentioned, a lot of the humor is in the style of Disney, so while the gags never made me laugh out loud, a few did bring a smile to my face. I can imagine that a younger and more easily amused mind would find them uproarious. Also, a younger player might not notice that the game is nothing but the sequence of going through an area, cut scene, getting an item or new ability, then going back through the area you just went through to use said item or ability to unlock a new area, repeat ad infinitum till the game – or your patience – wears thin.

A near-fatal flaw with the PC version of this game, however, is control. Pitfall:The Lost Expedition combined with my PC reminds me of what happens when you combine oil and water – they don't mix. This game, originally for tri-console (NGC, PS2, Xbox) was meant to be played with an analog stick, not a keyboard. There is a distinct difference between console games and PC games, and ports from one to the other rarely come out well. I take back what I said about the game not being a challenge, because the lack of control does add tremendous difficulty to what would be otherwise simple tasks. There is no precision to movement - just full speed or stop. Jumping puzzles make you want to scream as you fall into the pit below for the umpteenth time (fortunately, you only lose one block of health before getting dropped back to where you began the area).

Using anything requiring precision aiming, like the sling, is a sad mockery of the concept of marksmanship. This serves to make playing the game a lesson in overcoming frustration. I would not recommend bothering with the PC version of this game at all unless you have a nice analog controller you can use. Anything less, and you might be wondering if the "magic healing water" Harry drinks is laced with something that makes him extremely clumsy.

Another weird problem I had was with the voice acting not syncing correctly during the cut scenes. This was kind of humorous, since sometimes a person would be saying two different lines simultaneous, but it is odd that a bug like this would make it into the release version of the game. Having not played the console version, I can't really say if this is a PC-only issue, but I assume that it has something to do with the port process. Also, at one point during the game my Esc key stopped working, but everything else continued normally. This made it impossible to reload, save, or even quit the game, short of turning off my computer.

This is a game named after a classic originally released in 1982. Unfortunately, the type of player that might actually want to be playing this game thinks 1982 is ancient history and probably has never even heard of Pitfall! or the "Atari." They probably have never even seen a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and quite possibly not even a SNES. It's irony that those who the Pitfall! name would mean something to would quickly tire of the game, while the young'uns that might actually enjoy it would have no clue about the game's rich heritage.

The game's story is fairly simple and is told as a flashback. At the very beginning, Harry is about to become lunch for a giant flaming cat, when at the last moment, Harry's life flashes before his eyes. Want to find out if he makes it? Do you really care? I sure didn't. Harry, or as he calls himself, "Pitfall" Harry, is aboard a plane with a team of explorers heading into a dense Peruvian jungle. There is a lightning storm and the plane crashes, scattering the crew all about the jungle. It's up to you to rescue all of them, especially the hot blonde that Harry has a thing for, while natives, monkeys, alligators, scorpions, a rival explorer, boredom, and frustration stand in your way.

"Pitfall" Harry can run, jump, roll, grab ledges, attack, and tell bad jokes – pretty standard fare for a 3D platformer and nothing we haven't seen countless times before. As he explores areas such as the jungle, icy mountains, and dark caverns, he picks up a variety of items, such as a sling, a torch, and a canteen, which help him on his way. He also learns a few special moves such as the Rising Attack which lets him jump higher than normal and the Breakdance, which can destroy blocks underneath him.

The areas are pretty linear, usually having an entrance and two exits, one of which is blocked by an obstacle that a specific item or ability can remove. There really aren't any challenging puzzles or such, and very rarely do you have to stop and think since the solution to obstacles is almost always obvious. And if it isn't obvious, the game will simply tell you what you need, although you can turn off the hints in the options screen.

The graphics are passable and very cartoonish. Some effects were well done, such as the dynamic lighting of the torch and the animation of the characters during cut scenes. Often, a problem with console ports to PC is the lack of resolution due to console games being designed to run on low-res television sets, but this isn't a problem here.

The voice acting is actually pretty decent, which surprised me because I was expecting it to be horrible. There is nothing really groundbreaking about the look or sound of the game. It is as good as it needs to be, and I'd say it actually wound up better than I had initially thought it would. The music is fairly good as well, ranging from guitar and flute tunes to jungle style chants with pounding drums.

Pitfall:The Lost Expedition isn't all bad. It does have a certain nostalgic value in that you are faced with swinging vines, gaping pits, rolling logs, crocodiles, and scorpions – all the elements of the original Pitfall! games. They certainly don't behave the way they did back then, but the familiarity is nice. Both of the original Pitfall! games are also included, and they can provide an interesting diversion when you're tired of seeing the same areas over and over again.

The items are essential in order to make it to new areas and progress through the game. Using the sling brings up a targeting reticule which you have to manually aim – no easy feat with the digital controls of a keyboard. The torch lights your way and can be used to ward off bats and burn through spider webs. Your canteen can be filled at any of a variety of fountains strewn throughout the jungle, storing the restorative water for use later and essentially doubling your life bar.

This game is standard fare, neither horrible nor amazing. The developers tried to make a good game, but they failed to make it challenging enough, and seemed to forget that backtracking is rarely fun. The humor is very hit-and-miss, and more often than not, it will cause a wince instead of a chuckle. If you can find it cheap somewhere, it might make a good gift for a nephew or younger cousin.

Score: 6.9/10

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