August 16, 2001
These days, the dedicated adventurer has to spend a lot of time separating the wheat from the chaff. Although we are often enticed by artists who design incredible visuals, it is rare that we are rewarded by developers who create great games with eye candy, intelligent puzzles, and a good story.
Schizm: The Mysterious Journey is the culmination of three years of effort by Detalion and L.K. Avalon. These companies are previously credited withReah: Face the Unknown - a visually stunning yet dismal game that ranks high on my personal list of "worst of genre." What a delight to see that this team has evolved to produce Schizm - an adventure that corrects almost every flaw that made Reah so painful to play. Perhaps the addition of Australian science fiction writer Terry Dowling made the difference. Or, perhaps the developers have honed their skills and are now more skilled at all facets of game design.
Whatever the reason, Schizm is a quantum leap from Reah. It has a storyline that runs throughout the entire game. It has logic-based puzzles that are difficult but solvable by those with adequate time and intellect. And, unlike the traditional "empty landscape" experience, you have a partner and are not alone.
Sam and Hannah Hit the Road
The game begins as Hannah Grant and Sam Maloney proceed on a mission to explore the planet Argilus to determine the fate of 100+ scientists who have gone incommunicado. While sweeping the surface, their ship malfunctions and they eject onto the planet's surface in separate pods. They maintain radio contact while attempting to find each other, but soon discover that they are separated by more than geography. A shift in the reality of Argilus allows them to be in the same physical space but in different dimensions. They explore the planet and are confronted with a variety of specters - some alien and some familiar - who provide them with history and clues. Their goal? Find each other and solve the mystery of the missing scientists.
A CD/ROM by any other Name
Schizm was specifically designed for DVD - a medium that allows you to experience the level of detail that the developers intended. If you plan to play the CD/ROM version, be warned that the game has been scaled back. This means that the graphics are not as crisp as one would hope and no amount of tuning or video power will change the resolution. However, if you have adequate disk space (3.5 Gbytes) and do not have a DVD drive, you will still want to play this game. It is delivered on 5 CDs, but the "max install" option moves all data to your local drive. This prevents you from being brought to your knees by the dreaded "Please insert CD #x" message.
Even with the reduced resolution of the CD/ROM version, the landscape of Schizm is breathtaking. Using Detalion's V-Cruise engine, the game has the simplicity of a point-and-click interface, coupled with the real time experience of an action game. Although the directions available for movement from a location may be limited, you can always pan with full 360 degree rotation. When you move forward, the transition between locations is a glide that you experience with both direct and peripheral vision. Your travel options include passage by balloon, gondola, hanging chair, train, and (of course) your feet. In all cases, your journey takes you through cut scenes that rival anything that Riven or Myst III can offer.
Einstein would be Proud
Be advised that this game is exceedingly hard. Not in the way that Armed & Delirious was ridiculously difficult (i.e., a mind-meld with the designer was needed to discern impossible leaps in logic), but because you have to pay a lot of attention. The world ofSchizm is filled with clues - subtle relationships and juxtapositions that only the truly alert gamer with a propensity for note taking will be able to track. It is a world where every symbol, sound, and pattern should be recorded as a potential clue. For those who thrive on intellectual challenge, it is a welcome step back into the golden age of adventure gaming. For the average "get it over quick" player, the use of a walkthrough is suggested.
In an interesting departure from the standard role of lonely adventurer, you play as both Hannah and Sam and must coordinate their activities in order to solve a number of puzzles. In several cases, an action by one character is required to allow the other character to proceed. The drawback of this approach is that that the labyrinth of Argilus must often be negotiated twice … once for each character to move between the same locations.
Inventory is very limited, with only a few objects to find and use during the game.
Warts and All
Despite the beautiful scenery, all is not perfect in paradise. The game is very stable and had nothing that remotely resembled a bug. However, the developers violated two of Cindy's Precepts of Puzzle Design: (1) Thou shalt always provide the player with an immediate indication that a puzzle has been solved correctly; and (2) Thou shalt always allow the player to save after completing part of a multi-phase puzzle.
In several parts of Schizm, you are required to take an action that determines success in a later section of the game. For example, entering a combination at point A will allow you to engage a machine at point B.
However, until you reach point B, you will not know whether or not you were successful at point A. Compound this with the fact that you are not likely to know what to expect of the machine at point B, and things get a bit confusing. The addition of a visual clue at point A (a dancing bunny would have sufficed) to indicate a correct solution would have been a big improvement.
Likewise, there is a particularly mind-numbing pair of "beat the computer" puzzles that must be solved twice each. Not merely two times, but twice each in a row without saving or leaving the scene in between. For this reviewer, the only relief was when a 15-year old observer intervened to save the day.
Finally, the ending left me with a less-than-satisfied feeling. The story came to a logical conclusion but left a lot of questions unanswered. Perhaps an email to Terry Dowling would bring closure?
The Bottom Line
Both Avalon L.K. and Detalion are to be congratulated for producing one of the finest adventures of 2001. On a number of levels, the game is simply brilliant and belongs on the "must play" list for any serious adventurer. Let's hope that, in the future, the developers will subscribe to Cindy's Precepts of Puzzle Design and make their next attempt a solid "A+" title!
Cindy's Final Grade: Schizm Mysterious Journey CD - A-
If you liked this game…
Read: Hyperion by Dan SimmonsWatch: Mission to MarsPlay: Rama (if you can find a copy)
Minimum System Requirements: