By Monica Bair |
Celebrity endorsements are extremely coveted by game manufacturers. In today's marketplace, it's very desirable to have a public figure's likeness plastered across a product's packaging. But only a fool would let said superstar design the item in question. Need we dredge up horror stories about Jeff Gordon XS Racing or Bruce Jenner's Decathlon? Still Jurassic Park author Michael Crichton claimed he could make a decent action-adventure out of his best-selling book Timeline. Eidos agreed with these sentiments. Ultimately then, more's the fool both of 'em for thinking they could escape what journalists refer to as the "Shaq Fu Syndrome."
That Crichton knows how to write well is a given. His talents at game design are, however, highly suspect. In a personal interview earlier this year, the novelist spoke of designing a "loosely structued" world to play in with "movie style puzzles and solutions." The reality of the situation is that his gift to the masses is a perfectly linear tale that's more of an interactive "Choose Your Own Adventure" novel than anything else. Arcade mini-games are sprinkled in between the obligatory Myst type sequences, but they're so insulting to one's intelligence it isn't even funny. Plus the only thing movie-like about the mindbenders is that they're over hyped and under whelming.
Mind you, the story's not entirely bad, but in an age of epic RPGs and story-driven shooters, people expect more from one of the nation's premier wordsmiths. Supposedly a Professor's gotten stranded in time, and guess who gets to track the geezer down? Instead of going it alone, though, you'll be accompanied by a couple of paper-thin characters. One's kind enough to vamoose early on, but the other occupies her time by spouting off puzzle solutions before you've had a moment's chance to consider the challenge at hand. It's a dark day when the kindest thing that can be said about a Crichton tale is that it's set in medieval France, so it won't be much of a stretch for players to detest the locals.
Anger has no place in this title, however. Right from the start, you're told in no uncertain terms that violence is a big no-no. Kill anyone and it's adios amigos; the game instantly terminates and restarts at the last save point. So any aggressive impulses must be vented by way of a stun stick that knocks out victims when they're struck from behind or via a sword or bow and arrow combo. Yet even when the latter tools are employed, enemies simply surrender with an "I give" instead of going down in a pool of their own blood.
So what can an intrepid adventurer expect from this disaster in the making? Well, there's a rock slide sequence (ooh), a jousting tourney where contestants aim a lance with the mouse (aah), and few could forget the horror that is the ever-present jumping sequence (gasp!). There's also several stages where you'll open hidden portals, sneak past guards down cramped hallways, and knock out sentries five feet behind their unsuspecting buddies without incurring anyone's wrath. Heroes needn't bother covering up evidence of the crimes either, since bodies disappear and opened doors don't phase security. It's essentially Thief: The Retarded Age, except that puzzle solving sequences in which the answers are readily handed over are interspersed with the action phases.
Sadly, the software engine's just as classy. While scenes look wondrous when viewed from afar, up close textures become flat and lifeless. A cornucopia of pretty colors and complex background scenes veil this weakness on occasion, though observant gamers will pick up on the product's visual failings post haste. Stiff character models and generic level design work also deflate this 3D accelerated monster's ostentatious decor. An epic musical score repairs some of the damage in this department, as do the professional voice-overs, but in the end all's for naught. A game that hinges on the suspension of disbelief is betrayed by its own shoddy production work.
Surely there's a positive note here somewhere. In this instance, it's that the package includes a free copy of the book. Otherwise, this title's a grand exercise in hand-holding that's way too patronizing for any adult to take seriously. At the same time, though, the slow-moving, semi-mature story's not suitable for younger children. Nevermind that it can also be won in under three hours (that's right...three hours), which just means the pain ends all the sooner. Quoth the Homer Simpson, "D'OH!" Sorry Charlie, but the bastard offspring of Mr. Crichton's handiwork has struck again. To those who thought Trespasser was bad, heh, well.. sugar, you ain't seen nothin' yet.
-- Scott Steinberg