1998 Amber
Designed by Timon Shi, Oleg Kozhakhov; Alex Cheprackov, Leon Larionov
Reviewed 2002 March 15

Rating -3 Linearity wide
Reasonability sporadic Connectivity high
Difficulty pedestrian Relevance strong
Interface 3rd paned simple Real-time none

You play Criss, a magician. You receive a letter from an old friend, Tikhe, inviting you to come visit her in the land of Azerethus. When you arrive, you find Tikhe gone, but she left you a message warning you of trouble in the land and warning you to flee. You are promptly arrested by the local governor and thrown into a cell. You escape, but you learn that magic has been acting strangely lately in Azerethus, and an ancient curse seems to have been re-awakened. At the centre of it all is an ancient prophecy of a dark magician, named Liath, who will challenge the gods and change the world.

The story is a bit off the beaten track for fantasy adventure games, mostly because the characters are not as clear cut good and evil as is usually the case. Also because it's not simply about some megalomaniac wanting to take over the world. The characters are not deep, but they're not the usual assortment of clichés.

Unfortunately, what could have been a great epic story is brought low by an exceptionally bad translation and what appears to be uncompleted sections of the story. Some bits are filled in by the interface itself, which doesn't make much sense. For example, at one point you find a key, and when you examine it you learn:

This is one of the five Great Keys. That's all I know about it.
To whom is the I referring? You (Criss) never knew anything about five great keys.

The storyline is also plagued by points where you come to an end of things to do. The story continues when you stumble upon the unpredictable right place to be, and a cutscene gives the game new purpose. I.e., rather than have the story drive your action, you frequently have to go hunting through the available locations to find the story. The worst point, though, comes near the end, where your character has to use knowledge that was never acquired in the game. You only proceed because the scope of the challenge is narrowed to a single option.

Once you figure out what you're supposed to be doing, the game plays well enough. The challenges are all relevant and reasonable. There's a large inventory, and many objects get used in different ways. You also have a growing collection of spells that you can cast. The game gives you plenty to do, although it isn't very difficult.

The design of the interface is serviceable, tending a bit to the tedious with its slightly awkward inventory presentation. There's a good map system that lets you zip around most of the world, so there's very little tedious walking back and forth. There were several technical problems, however, at least on my system. Dialogues would sometimes get cut short, including the subtitling, so that you couldn't hear/read them. You could always repeat until it came out right, but it got tedious. The were similar synchronisation problems with cutscenes, where parts would jerkily flash by. There was no remedy for that except restore and replay to the cutscene and hope for better luck.

While the programming of the presentation might have been dodgy, the artistic quality was excellent. The land of Azerethus has a beautiful style, lending a unique fantasy atmosphere to the story. The music was also lovely, also building a distinct atmosphere. There characters were simple 3D marionettes, but they were well designed, so that the lack of complexity fits the artistic vision.

Liath feels like an ambitious design that got rushed out the door. It's a jigsaw puzzle depicting a lovely epic fantasy, but some of the pieces are missing. What's left is still worth the effort, but you can't help regretting the lost opportunity.

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.

Solution by me.

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.