|Interface||3rd paned menu||Real-time||minor|
You are Rene Korda, a master designer of pocket universes, now retired. There has been a problem with some universes being shut down (i.e., have their time stopped, put into stasis), and the government asks you to investigate. You will go into a series of pocket universes and either start them running again or shut them down. As you go through the universes you learn a little more about the mysterious people behind the affected universes and the people who are trying to shut those universes down. Assisting you is your ship's AI, in the persona of a spunky gal Friday.
The characters are all cliché; not bad, just lacking individuality. The story is about the conspiracy, so it's not a big shortcoming. It drives the game well, despite being simple, with thanks to good pacing.
The pocket universes are diverse and interesting, each with its own theme and nature. These worlds are brought to life by an ambitious game design: there are many different ways to overcome the various challenges, or to avoid certain challenges to achieve your goals in other ways. Several times I feared I had wandered into a long dead end, but I always found an escape. I suspect there are dead ends, but the designers seemed to have gone to great effort to avoid them. Many objects appear to be red herrings, until you replay the game and find a use for them if you approach things differently, meeting different challenges.
The problems are not in the grand design, but in the details. Many solutions didn't make sense, even after the fact. I frequently didn't know what I was supposed to be doing. Korda would tell me what he should be doing, but I don't know how he learned these things. This gave the feeling that my character was dragging me through the game. In general, the story and challenges didn't go together smoothly.
Most of the challenges were very good, traditional inventory based problems. Oddly, the "grand finale" challenges (from the story standpoint) were completely unoriginal puzzles, such as a slider and a concentration game. There are also some dialogue problems, where you have to choose the correct path through menus of dialogue choices. Choosing wrong could result in death. Unfortunately, these seldom seemed to have a predictable nature, so you must save before any dialogue. Death is always close by, and is frequently unannounced. There is no auto-restore, but there is a special one-click quicksave feature that's almost as good (just remember to use it!).
Most of the graphics is drawn, 2D, and are very nice. The cut-scenes are done using a primitive 3D modelling system which isn't up to the task. There are several functions that produce animations that can't be skipped, including walking across a scene. It would really be nice to zip through these, especially when walking through sections of a maze for the umpteenth time (although it is a nice maze, as far as mazes go).
There are some other small interface problems. Korda occasionally blocks your access to an object that you want to interact with, forcing you to first move him aside. Pixel hunting is needed to find some useful objects. The menu of actions exists in two states: a collapsed state taking up just a small bar, and an expanded state giving you quick access to all functions, but blocking too much of the scene. However, a more streamline design could easily have made all functions available on the streamlined bar, or, conversely, the scenes could have been laid out to work with the expanded action panel.
Chronomaster has a serviceable story and good, exotic locales, but much more is expected from such established writers. There is a welcome ambition to the game design, but it is stunted by many illogical challenges, and story climaxes that are overcome by boring, irrelevant puzzles. It sets high goals and comes up short, but it still manages to provide a lot of good play. It's probably too difficult for novices, but grizzled adventurers while admire its strengths.