A few thoughts about the double-sided DVD-version of Schizm:
Intriguing (though slightly clichéd) plot
Now a few more words about Schizm:
Albert Einstein on his best day could not beat this game without a walkthrough!
Make no mistake though, this is a game about puzzles and the plot is secondary. And there are puzzles aplenty. Many involve math and not just any old math, but a new system of counting indigenous to the culture of the planet on which you are shipwrecked. Some involve using your auditory senses, but what you will hear is an entirely foreign language that you must then decipher. A few are unfairly random especially when placed in context with the logic that dominates this game. But believe me, this is not a game for casual gamers but rather a training ground for future generations of Mensa members.
Most games that are herded into that catch-all Myst-like category have paper-thin plots that are just a hanger on which to place puzzles. Schizm breaks new ground in this area as you must solve puzzles that are not only integral to advancing the plot but to also familiarize yourself with the environment and the remnants of a missing civilization.
You can play as either Sam or Hannah; co-pilots on a routine mission to drop off supplies to the research teams on the planet Argilus in the year 2083. Their fly-over shows no signs of habitation on the planet and they are unable to establish contact with any of the over one hundred scientists who were manning three research bases. As Sam and Hannah fly in for a closer look, they lose control of their ship and must escape in separate emergency pods.
Now the fate of not only Sam and Hannah, but also the missing scientists and the entire planet rests on your shoulders. You must strategically play as each character while roaming about in a non-linear world. Your immediate goal is too find a path back to your flight partner. Along the way you must also attempt to discover the whereabouts of the missing scientific crews that preceded you and to then find a way off this strangely empty planet.
Yet though the planet seems to be devoid of life, Argilus itself embraces a bottled vivacity. Exotic living islands float through the sky, tentacled footbridges jut from mountainsides and bridges appear to be shaped from a breathing landscape. Discarded memory logs provide clues as do ghostly apparitions of missing crew members as you acquire piecemeal information as to the secrets of The Wanderer and the Good Servant and their role in the survival of Argilus. While this has all the trappings of a science fiction extravaganza, I also found it oddly reminiscent of some popular novels and even the plot of one of the Star Trek movies (I can't reveal which one for fear of giving away key plot points of the game!).
The graphics though are a feast for the starved eyes of an adventure gamer. Wild, exotic scenery is bursting with colors so vibrant as to burn an image on your retinas. Unrealistic landscapes and scenery is showcased so magnificently that floating, living islands and enormous Zorkian dams seem as natural in this environment as is a lush tree or a babbling brook in ours. But there are aquatic creatures skimming across the oceans of this world unlike any you have ever seen and we are only ever given a tantalizingly short view.
Sounds are magnified by the absence of life. Footsteps ring hollowly on metal walkways as loudly as a gong and rushing water passes through your speakers like a tsunami. It is an extraordinary aural experience especially for adventure gamers unused to such goodies. There are, though, a few instances in which sound is integral to a puzzle and consequently these sounds, or spoken words, should be as clear if not clearer than other game portions, but this is not the case. A puzzle centered around hearing and then repeating a priest's chant required numerous visits. An option to play back portions of the game would have been very welcome.
If there is a downside to Schizm it is surely the quality of the voice actors and other characters that populate the game. It is not that they are bad, but they often seem so eager to please in their roles that they often come across as overenthusiastic especially in light of the seriousness of their situation.
But let's be honest, you're here for the puzzles and if you like to sit and ponder while researching copious notes taken during gameplay, then your quest for Nirvana has ended. A vast majority of the puzzles grow naturally out of the environment of Argilus and will require learning a new language, a new system of math and even a new way of interacting with your landscape. Yet, while the puzzles can be difficult, they are also fair as they follow the rules of logic, and once you have discerned how the logic of Argilus translates into your common knowledge then the pieces will quickly fit in place. While I would not want to spoil any of your fun by revealing the solutions to any of the puzzles, rest assured that some of the solutions alone are longer than this review. In the midst of all this logic though are, near the game's end, two puzzles that must be solved in order to activate a railway system. Both of these puzzles are incongruous with what has gone before as logic is replaced by luck.
So even after scrupulously scrutinizing Schizm, all that remains are minor annoyances that can be considered nitpicking: some 'iffy' acting and one or two puzzles that are too difficult. What's left is a game that will be abhorred by every gaming magazine and brain-cell deficient action gamer in the world; but also a minor classic that will be revered by adventure gamers and Myst lovers worldwide. In other words, a game that will cause a schism in the gaming community. But then, the ability to reason rather than shoot is why adventure gamers have always been the dominant species in the gaming world.
Randy's Final Grade: Schizm Mysterious Journey DVD - A
If you liked Schizm then:
Read - The collected essays of Albert Einstein
Watch - Star Trek (still not saying which one!)
Play - Myst
· Windows 95 / 98 / ME / XP
· Pentium® II 333 MHz
· 32MB RAM
· 2x DVD-ROM Drive
· DirectX® Compatible Video and Sound Card