Thursday, June 27, 2013

Review: Myst


Myst is an interesting game in that it kind of throws you into the middle of things without much fanfare or explanation.  There's a short intro video, then BAM!, you're in the game.  In some ways, this gives you a lot of freedom, as your player character could really be anybody.  You could be playing Batman, for all you know.  It also lets you discover things slowly instead of being hit over the head with the setting.  Did I like this interesting execution?  Let's find out.


As I said, there's not much of a story to Myst... when you start out.  You're transported to the Isle of Myst through a book and you have to try and discover its mysteries with little to no instruction.  "Why am I doing this?"  I thought quite a bit while playing this game.  The answer was always: "I don't really know, but it's kinda fun."  

Through your explorations of the isle, you come across two very interesting books.  In them are little screens that two brothers speak to you from.  The brother in the red book, Sirrus, says that he's been wrongfully imprisoned and begs you to find red pages in your journeys to set him free.  Achenar, the brother in the blue book, also claims that he doesn't deserve to be trapped and wants you to bring the blue pages to him.  It's an interesting mechanic that forces you to decide which one of these guys you're going to trust even though, at first, you know nothing about them.  

The end of the story?  I won't spoil it, but I have to complain that it was terribly anti-climactic.  Perhaps the next Myst game remedies this a bit, but on its own, the ending gave no closure.


Gameplay in Myst is a familiar thing if you've played any Nancy Drew adventure games.  First person, click to move, interact with the environment and all that good stuff.  Unlike Nancy Drew, however, there's no inventory at all in Myst, meaning that every puzzle is environment based.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I did kind of get tired seeing a blue/red page in the cursor for such a long period of time.  I was always afraid that I was going to lose it somehow.  

Now, a word about the puzzles.  Obviously, they're a huge part of the game, but for me, they were often too difficult.  A note to game developers: if you have to put in an in-game hint/solution system, like the one in Myst, it's a hint that the puzzles are too obscure.  Sure, there were some things that I figured out just fine on my own, but some were just ridiculous. You'll have to take lots of notes to solve these puzzles, as well as keeping an open ear.  A surprising amount of puzzles were sound-based, which was interesting, if not always well executed.  



Myst is considered one of the greatest adventuring games of all time, so obviously I had to give it a try. Was it an intriguing system?  Yes.  Were some of the puzzles well done?  Yes.  Was the setting beautiful?  Yes.  

Still, the frustrating puzzles outweigh the well-done ones, and between that and the ending, I don't think Myst will ever be a huge favorite of mine.  Unless someone's made a mod that lets you play Batman.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Review: 5 Days a Stranger (The Chzo Mythos)

What's that you say?  It's June 21st?  No way, June just started!  
What's that?  You mean I haven't posted at all this month?  Oops.  Let's fix that, shall we?


Today, I'll be doing something that I haven't done before: reviewing a whole game series.  Since they're short games, this should work out okay.  I hope.  

The game series in question starts with 5 Days a Stranger, an independently made point and click adventure.  That was enough information for my brother to recommend it as something that I might like.  Even though I knew basically nothing about it, I decided to give it a shot.  After all, it was free, so what did I have to lose?  

You play the character referred to as Trilby, who claims he doesn't really know his real name.  (I didn't realize before playing this that a trilby is a kind of fedora, but now I know. )  Trilby has made his career as a thief, but prides himself in being a gentleman about it.  Thus, he chooses DeFoe Manor, an empty estate, as his next target. 

Things quickly change once Trilby enters the building, however, and finds it not quite so empty as he originally thought.  Inside, four other people are trapped.  The doors refuse to open and the windows, even the one that Trilby just entered through, seem to be stuck closed.  Trilby and the other prisoners of the Manor must discover who or what is keeping them hostage before claustrophobia or strange "accidents" are the end of them. 



It's not long after beginning that you discover what genre 5 Days a Stranger is.  It is, in fact, a point and click adventure with a survival horror theme.  

Now, I'm not usually a big fan of horror.  I don't really watch horror movies and even the demo of Dead Space caused my heart to pound like a drum.  

But to my surprise, the more I played 5 Days a Stranger, the more I liked it.  The mystery of it all compelled me to keep playing until I had it figured out.  I found myself wondering if I was truly helping Trilby solve the mystery or if he had gone mad and I was just going through the motions. 

And yet in all of this, there manages to be a bit of the humor that point and click games just have to have.  At one point, a character asks: "Mr. Trilby, why did we just cut down the tree?"  to which Trilby replies:  "I don't know, but it sure felt good."   

Now of course, this is only a taste of the story of the first game, and this was supposed to be a review of all four games in the series.  In order to not spoil the overarching storyline, I'll just say that the story bit of each game is fundamentally connected, even though the settings are all different.  


In 5DAS, the gameplay interface starts out a little clunky.  You have a few icons at the bottom of the screen that you click on to examine, use, walk and so on.  I didn't much care for it, but I put up with it to finish the game.  The inventory system is about what I've come to expect in point and click adventures.  It wasn't particularly good, but not bad, either.  The puzzles aren't terribly difficult, but they did make me think a little.


In the second game in the series, 7 Days a Skeptic (are you seeing a theme here?), the controls are improved with a more accessible inventory and icons.  The logic puzzles get a little bit difficult at times, and I had points where I kind of wandered around trying to figure out what I was supposed to do next.

The third game, Trilby's Notes (don't worry, the naming theme comes back), the controls seem to take a downgrade when our point and click system is replaced by a text controlled adventure.  Instead of clicking on a door and clicking on the hand icon to open it, you have to walk up to the door and type "open door" into the command console.  It's an effort of the designer to make a nostalgic experience, which didn't work very well for me since I haven't played a whole lot of them.  It was, however, an interesting challenge, and it fit the setting of the game well. 
Having everything text-based made puzzles in Trilby's Notes difficult sometimes, forcing me to really think about some of them.  Conversation was probably the hardest bit in this game, as you had to type in who you wanted to talk to and then what you wanted to talk to them about.  I'm convinced that the designer named one of the other characters Siobhan purely because it's a name I had to try three times before spelling it right.  

6 Days a Sacrifice is the fourth and final game of the series, and it uses the same interface as the second game, with some improvements.  The fourth game doesn't have as many real "puzzles" in the traditional sense of the word, but it does have a few moments where you have to use your problem-solving abilities.  

In Conclusion

Now that this review is the size of a short story, let's get down to the bottom line: is The Chzo Mythos a worthwhile series?  For me, yes.  Even though it has its flaws, I thought it was an interesting story told in a unique and creative way, and that's what I enjoy.  

I wish I had something to compare it to so that you can know if it's your style or not, but as I said, it's rather unique.  Maybe if you took a Nancy Drew game, mixed it with the interface of King's Quest, gave it a sci-fi/ghost story setting, and added a good dose of blood, you'd get this series.  

Whoa, I just boggled my own mind trying to imagine that. 

Leaving that imperfect comparison as it is, I'll sign off for now.