Monday, December 20, 2010

Review: Perry Rhodan: The Adventure (PC)

"Perry Rhodan: The Adventure", known in other regions as "The Immortals of Terra" or "Rhodan: Myth of the Illochim", is a 2D point&click adventure for the PC, released in 2008. The game is based on the Perry Rhodan science fiction novel series which has been running in Germany since 1961, knowledge of that series is however not required as the game will provide plenty of background information on the characters and the universe. The game puts the player into the role of Perry Rhodan, who after an attack on the Terran headquarter finds out that his close college Mondra Diamond has been kidnapped and thus goes on a journey to free his friend and unravel the reason behind the kidnapping and thus later on unraveling the mystery behind the ancient race of the Illochim.

Mechanically the game follows closely in the footsteps of other modern point&click adventures. The game uses a single-action interface, where a click on an object will automatically do the right thing. A separate action to look at an object is not provided, except for objects in the inventory, where a right click will bring up a short description. Running is done with a double-click, while quick-travel to another room is accomplished by clicking the right mouse button, made even easier by the small thumbnail that will be shown of the next room when the mouse hovers over an exist. The inventory is presented as a list of items at the bottom of the screen, unless other adventures however here the inventory does not only contains collected objects, but also collected knowledge such as other characters or locations in the game. This little tweak allows the game to work without having a separate dialog interface, as discussions are simply done by using an items of the inventory with another character and thus triggering a short dialog sequence. Dialog can be skipped by sentence by pressing 'space'.

The game does keep track of tasks that need to be completed and general story progress in a very simple but effective log book where each task is summarized by a short sentence or two.

The save system works as usual, but is limited to only seven slots with one additional slot for quick-saves and another one for autosave, while not a big practical problem these days games really should allow an unlimited number of saves.

One mechanical issue with the game is that it doesn't display the name of the object under the mouse cursor, it only changes the mouse cursor to a generic one that indicates interactibility. In addition the game frequently places objects very close together and has hitboxes that sometimes seem overly large, which makes it hard to tell if the game will handle a larger collection as one logical game item or handle each of those objects as a separate item without clicking each of them. A pressing on 'S' will however mark all usable objects in the current scene and thus clear up most of the confusion.

Graphically the adventure is a mix of pre-rendered backgrounds and real-time characters. The backgrounds, especially in the later parts of the game, look extremely pretty. They suffer at times a little from a lack of animation, as only some particle effects and minor things like small rows flying cars are animated, while even things that should be animated, like water, stay completely static. The characters in the game also look very good and are quite a bit more detailed then many other adventure games, featuring good lighting effects and dynamic shadows. In terms of animation however the characters suffer from the same issues as most other adventures these days. The number of animation is very limited and most object interaction is done by generic animation that fails to properly connect to the object. Not much of an issue, as you pretty much get used to it, but some older games such as Broken Sword did a much better job at animation, even so they where hand animated, not 3D characters. The game also lacks a few transition animation when changing rooms. For example entering and starting an elevator just leads to a fade to black, instead of an animation of the elevator accelerating. In terms of art direction the game comes of a little sterile in the beginning, but gets better later on in the game.

The puzzle design in the game is overall very solid. There are a few instances where solving a puzzle will trigger a story event that advances the game, without having the puzzle and the continuation of the story have any direct connection, but those aren't that big of a practical problem. The few cases where an objects is small enough to be easily over looked can be solved by pressing 'S'. The only real issue I had with the puzzles in the game was when Perry Rhodan has to investigate an exhibition about the Illochim at the mid point of the game, that section doesn't really give much of a guidance as to what needs to be done, so there was to much trial&error for my taste. Everything before that section and after it however was lots of fun.

In terms of characters the game feels a little impersonal and distant at times. For example Mondra Diamond, the women that got kidnapped at the beginning of the game, and Perry Rhodan never exchange a single line of dialog with each other throughout the whole game. It is hard to feel for a character whom you don't even really know, except through some text descriptions. Perry Rhodan himself also feels a little cold and uninterested in the things happening around him, maybe that's to be expected from somebody who is 3000 years old, but a little more emotional involvement would have been welcome. Where the game however really shines is in its universe. There are plenty of interesting places to visit, races to talk to and items to interact with. The game is filled with little details and plenty of backstory on the characters. The game never takes itself to serious and while the humor come of as a little wooden, there is certainly some fun to be had. The science fiction in this game doesn't aim for realism, but goes straight into the pulp direction and it also happens to be filled with shear endless amounts of techobabble.

Overall this is a great adventure game. It is technically and mechanically very solid and whatever small issues it might have in its puzzle design and story are easily overcome by the detail filled universe. The wooden humor and technobabble might certainly not be everybody taste, but I had good fun with it. I found the 12 hours it took me to finish the game highly enjoyable. The one small gripe I might have with the game is the ending, while everything that leads up to it is perfectly fine, I kind of missed a longer epilogue. Going out with just a short cutscene doesn't feel right after a long adventure and an important discovery.

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