Pitfall: The Lost Expedition Review
By Catherine Black |
If you're old enough to recognize the word 'Atari' as something more than a brand printed on trendy T-shirts then you almost certainly also remember Activision's classic Pitfall adventure. The title, which debuted in 1982 for the gone, but not forgotten 2600, pioneered the then-underdeveloped adventure genre and left a whole slew of budding gamers daydreaming about scorpion-filled tunnels and platform-ready crocodiles. Since then, the Pitfall franchise has been reborn again and again in sequels across a wide spectrum of consoles.
Now, Activision has teamed up with developer Edge of Reality (Spider Man and Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 on N64) to bring Pitfall to the third-dimension for current-generation consoles. The collaboration has resulted in a sometimes formulaic, but also occasionally inventive game that's just as much platformer as it is adventure. Pitfall: The Lost Expedition is fun and engaging, not to mention humorous and full of franchise trademarks, though it may prove a bit too forgiving for veteran gamers who were raised on the original and have since graduated to more challenging software.
Activision's new Pitfall shares a lot in common with its ancestors. It once again focuses on the unafraid, adventurous explorer Pitfall Harry, a man who will go anywhere and do just about anything for pricey hidden treasures. In the Lost Expedition, Harry finds himself on a place bound -- through ferocious thunderstorm -- for the Peruvian jungle. He's joined by Dr. Bernard Bittenbinder and Nicole, a smart and sassy archeologist. Unfortunately for the team, the plane is pounded by the storm until it can fly no more, and so it doesn't, leaving all of its passengers to parachute down into the jungle below -- except that there aren't enough parachutes. The story is setup through the use of well-animated, colorful and even humorous real-time cut-scenes.
The game begins at the crash site, where Harry learns that not only have many of his necessary items been scattered about the region, but that several of his companions have gone missing. It's up to him -- or you -- to travel through the lush jungles, the icy terrain, the lava-filled caves, beneath water passages and directly into the enemy's lair, all the while fighting off henchman and spinjas.
The Lost Expedition is an adventure and a platformer in one. Harry moves throughout an expansive connected world, jumping and fighting, exploring and collecting, but he is unable to access specific locations in the area without certain items. For instance, he needs to obtain the ice picks hidden in a far-away part of the land before he can climb an icy wall and enter a cold, harsh level just beyond it. But before he can gain the items, he'll need to get the raft to cross a body of water to a spot on the map that houses them. And so on. There is definitely smart direction here; you'll never feel lost or confused about what to do or where to go next. Some might consider this a drawback -- a means of decreasing challenge, but we view it as a way to keep the action flowing and the frustration caged and sedated. It's linear design hidden under a non-linear exterior.
Harry can access his map at any point to figure out where his next objective is -- it's always marked by a big, red X spot somewhere in the region. The map looks great -- it's gritty, reminiscent of old paper and perfectly themed with the adventure. But it's clumsily built as a navigational tool. Black dots mark each spot on the map that you can travel to and by looking at these dots you can manually figure out which path to take. Unfortunately, it's not so easy or intuitive -- instead, you'll find yourself jumbling through the system, trying to move left or right, up or down to the next dot in an attempt to map it, but with limited success. You'll eventually learn to deal with it, but it still stands as a dent in what is otherwise a very well crafted, not to mention atmospheric menu interface system.
Pitfall does not reinvent the platformer or the adventure game, but it is a fun and ambitious offering all the same. The game successfully handshakes platforming and adventuring elements. It also includes and updates many of the trademarks of the classic games. In one moment you'll be swinging from vines or hopping across the backs of hungry crocs and in another you'll be diving over land pits, now complete with hungry spiked mouths, trying to solve an environmental puzzle or participating in a mini-game. These additions are welcomed.