|Interface||1st 360 simple||Real-time||minor|
In the spacefaring future, Earth explorers find an abandoned planet. When the two members of the supply ship for the scientific expedition arrive, they find all the researchers gone, too. Playing both members of the team, you have to uncover the mystery of the planet and the disappearences.
The setup is perfect for an Myst-like adventure game. There's a big, exotic location filled with mysterious alien machinery to play with, but with no pesky people running about. Actually there are people, in the form of "ghosts", who pop up for an occasional info-dumping cut scene at various places, but you don't interact much with them.
It's an interesting world, but it falters on mimesis. Devices and clues are unnaturally puzzly, lacking a realistic function. They are not completely divorced from their environment, but, rather, the environment itself is overly contrived.
The mystery unfolds through the "ghost" cutscenes. The challenges control access to geography, which in turn triggers the cutscenes. I.e., the plot is a sidekick to the challenges and exploration. There's not a lot to it, utimately, but it's enough to hold your interest through the challenges.
The story seems to get a bit confused near the end. One significant activity doesn't seem to have any rationale. You are also told that you have to make a choice, but you never get the opportunity.
The challenges are mostly machine operation (in the broad sense), pushing buttons and turning dials. Recognising and figuring out alien symbols provides the clues to operate things. There's also a couple of aural challenges. These rely on reproducing sounds and words, rather than the common musical notes. There is an inventory, but it stays small and the objects have obvious application. There's a little strategy game thrown in, too, a variation on Hex.
Some of the challenges require clever coordination between the two characters. It's a nice idea, and the problems are good, but it raises some mimesis problems. The two characters are supposed to be phased into different "dimensions", unable to see or touch each other. Despite this, if one (e.g.) pushes a button, the other sees the result -- but only when required by a particular challenge! Transitivity doesn't apply.
The game feels very open, with a large part of the geography opened up relatively early, and with the two characters to flip between. When you graph it out, however, the game is a lot more linear than it feels. In the end, it comes out about right.
Schizm is released on DVD and on a reduced CD version; I played the DVD. Despite all the space on a DVD, there was still a lot of disc flipping required. It was worth the effort, though, since the world design is beautiful. I especially liked the colour design. The world contained an interesting mix of organic technology and industrial era metal work, often rusting. The one false note was the aliens themselves, who were completely human. It would have been better to describe them as long lost colonials.
The control side of the interface is clean and intuitive. One big complaint, though, is the lack of a means to return to distant locations, either a map movement mode or a zip mode. Furthermore, there's no way to skip directly to the new node, you have to wait for your character to march through the intervening scenery. At some places you have to backtrack 40 or 50 nodes, and then return! Similarly, you can't skip already seen cutscenes, nor replay once-only seen ones. Finally, there's the usual problem of too few saves slots.
Schizm is at heart a puzzle game, with story on the side and a slightly too contrived world. But those puzzles are among the best of recent years. The story may be small, but it turns out fairly interesting, too. It makes good company with Myst 3 and Obsidian.