The Crystal Key

1999 Earthlight Productions
Designed by Jennifer Matheson, John Matheson
Reviewed 2000 May 29

Rating -4 Linearity straight
Reasonability reasonable Connectivity moderate
Difficulty pedestrian Relevance strong
Interface 1st 360 simple Real-time minor

A big, bad alien named Ozgar has arrived at earth and is making preparations to destroy it. Fortunately, we have just received a message from some other aliens, the Arkonians, who managed to defeat him, or at least send him to they know not where, out of their hair. You are sent, in earth's first hypership, to the source of the Arkonian transmission to find the means to defeat Ozgar. The secret is a system of teleportation gates, controlled by a crystal key. You travel to some empty Arkonian colonies, and Ozgar's flagship, gathering the means to defeat Ozgar.

The story is sparse and clichéd, and is little more than a trip through a few deserted Arkonian locales. Each locale has a recorded message, and together they tell you a bit about how they got rid of Ozgar, a hint for your final showdown with him. There's no development beyond "Ozgar is bad" and "we narrowly beat him".

The challenges are diverse in nature: you do many different kinds of things to move on, not just find keys for locks. They are relevant to their locales. Unfortunately, they are too easy, too narrow. You typically have one item in your inventory, and one object in the environment that you can interact with -- duh! A few times I had no idea what that thingamajig I picked up was (you can't inspect items in your inventory), but there was nothing else to try.

The game is presented in the first person, using rendered scenes, with transition animations between fixed 360 degree view spots. I found the graphics a bit muddled and pixellated for games of its day, but they were serviceable. Interaction was very sluggish, with a pause at the start and end of each transition movie. The biggest problem, though, was when you tried to move or slide an object in the environment with your hand. For some reason, the object doesn't follow the hand well, so you have to move very slowly. For most of the game, this was the major challenge.

At least the Crystal Key tries to be a real adventure game, with diverse, relevant challenges. Unfortunately, except for the finale, the challenges are too easy to make for much of a game, and the story is too small to distract from the lack of challenge.

Beware! Here are some spoiler-ridden notes on the game. They're only recommended for people who have played the game and want to see some of my rationale for my evaluations.
David Tanguay's Game Reviews
Here's a description of all the gobbledygook in these reviews. It's also a bit of an essay on the nature of adventure games.