Since this is my first review for JA+, I thought that it was important to establish my perspective of what makes a good graphic adventure. Simply put, the interface, graphics, sound, acting and puzzles may be important elements in any review of a game, but the story's the thing.
The promotional material available for Zero Critical promised to deliver a story that encompasses three integrated plot elements: sci-fi, mystery and a love story. These are three elements of storytelling that interest me, so I dove right in. As special agent Chatt Rhuller of the Interplanetary Transportation Commission (ITC), you are assigned to undertake your first case: a homicide. A classified experiment called the Satin Project is being conducted at a top-secret research lab on a small planet called Rheom 1, and upon arriving at the facility you learn that something has gone wrong. In fact, there are very unusual and mysterious happenings that suggest that all events are not as they may seem. What about the voices? The headaches? The madness? As you question the scientists, you will uncover the secrets and mysteries that lie beneath a seemingly innocent operation and begin to unravel a psychological sci-fi thriller with ever-expanding implications, even aliens.
Perhaps unexpectedly, you will discover that love plays a key role in the story. For me, this was a different twist in the development of a graphic adventure story, and it was quite welcome. I'm not aware of too many games, particularly those based in a sci-fi environment, where mysteries and events evolve around the lives of "star-crossed lovers." Now I'm not going to suggest that this story rivals Romeo and Juliet or Tristan and Isolde, but ... well ... you need to judge that for yourself.
Maybe you have already sensed that I enjoyed the story, because I did. This story could qualify as the basis for a good motion picture, but, as presented in this game, it reminded me more of the olden days of radio. Some of you may remember when radio was more than just music. You had to create images of the characters, actors and the story in your mind, and in some ways I had a similar experience with Zero Critical, even though I was looking at graphic images, for reasons that I will explain in another section of the review.
The only disappointment was that the game is too short. Although the game can easily hold your attention and keep you moving eagerly forward, it can be completed by the average adventure gamer in a few hours. The story receives an A+.
Zero Critical uses the point-and-click approach to move around, find and use inventory objects, examine items and hold conversations. There is no voice acting in this game, so you have to use a dialogue box with pre-programmed questions and responses to progress in the game when talking to other characters. During this process, there are minimal expressions on the faces of the characters that you are talking to, so you must depend on the phrasing and tone of the questions and answers to allow your imagination to conjure up such images as feelings, motivations and personality (just like you had to do listening to the radio). Also, when you are looking at a dialogue box or examining an item, you will need to ignore the point-and-click indicators that show up in the boxes even though they really relate to the scenery behind the boxes. This can be a distraction. The inventory bar remains in view at the bottom of the gameplay screen and is easy to use for gathering or applying items and for examining items in inventory. The interface gets a B-.
Since Istvan Pely is a graphic artist, you would expect that the graphic presentation would be quite good, and you won't be disappointed. The graphics utilize colors and accents to create the moods that are appropriate for the environment that surrounds the story. As such, Mr. Pely makes extensive use of shades of gray and muted colors to establish an atmosphere and backgrounds that fit with what you would expect at an outer space location. The characters are beautifully modeled in 3D with colors normally appearing only as accents, such as orange hair. Look for the unexpected, however, when the use of color changes to more vibrant tones in scenes near the end of the game. The graphics get an A+.
The digital ambient soundtrack that flows seamlessly through the game is very pleasing and stimulates moods that are complementary to the story, while setting the appropriate tone and feeling for what is taking place at any given time. In addition, there are incidental sound effects that occur at times in the story, and these add a curiosity factor that should attract your attention and cause you to ask yourself, "what's that sound effect all about?" The sound receives a B.
The gameplay takes place over a four-day period, and it is quite linear in that you are required to complete specific tasks and puzzles before you can move on to the next day. Even so, the puzzles are intuitive and woven into the story's progression in a manner that is always logical. It is possible to solve puzzles from a subsequent day before you have completed the day that you are presently in, which might be a little confusing at first, but once you realize that this can happen you should be comfortable with staying the course. The puzzles get a B.
In the end, my experience was an enjoyable one. I especially appreciated the story and the graphics, and I felt drawn in by the development of the characters' personalities and motives, particularly since I felt compelled to enhance the game images with my own mental thoughts and visualizations, and I liked that "strain on my brain." Even though it is a relatively short game and some of the technology is "old" when compared to today's releases, it is a very good graphic adventure that is available for about 50 percent of the usual price for games being released now. Although not heavily promoted by the publisher, nonetheless they seem to believe that it a worthy adventure game. So do I, and I would recommend that you give it a try. My final grade for Zero Critical: A-
IBM and 100% Compatibles:
Pentium 75 MHz
16 MB RAM
SVGA display (256 color)
4X CD-ROM drive
50 MB of free hard drive space
16-Bit sound card
System 7 or later
16 MB RAM
4X CD-ROM drive
50 MB of free hard drive space