2002 Knut Müller
Designed by Knut Müller
Reviewed 2003 June 4

Rating +2 Linearity wide
Reasonability deductive Connectivity high
Difficulty challenging Relevance strong
Interface 1st paned simple Real-time none

You come to a strange installation. After a little exploration, a guy takes off with your train. To escape, you must figure out the mess of pipes, levers, bridges, and whatnot, to find a way back.

There's a little more story than that, explaining something or other, but it doesn't have much bearing on what you're doing, and doesn't even make much sense. This is really just a big, holistic puzzle. The bits all look real, and an eccentric billionaire could probably build the place, but it's not a realistic place. The place is sprawling, and you can see every corner. But there is no toilet, no lunchroom, no bunkroom, not even a chair. The place has no purpose, other than as a Puzzleland theme park. You further realise it's all just a puzzle when you have to raise a bridge rather than just swimming across 10 feet of calm water, or walk a kilometre rather than scrambling up or down a pole.

So, dispense with the interactive fiction and embrace the puzzles. This is where Rhem shines. It's not really that hard, but it's big, with clues scattered widely, and some are very subtle. Sometimes clues have to be combined. Careful note-taking is vital.

The puzzles aren't standalone set-pieces, but are part of the dynamic nature of the place. For example, getting from here to there is often a puzzle in itself. Bridges have to be rotated, doors have to be opened, opening one passage but blocking another. The physical layout of the place is sometimes a clue in itself. The installation is huge, with kilometres of walkways and paths, and (in game terms) hundreds of nodes. Careful map-making is vital.

The interface is very simple, almost exactly like Myst. The display is similar, too, although with a greater 16-bit colour depth. Fortunately, save files are just regular text files handled through the standard system save file dialogue. You can save as often as you like (well, until your hard drive fills up), and name them as you like. This is especially useful here, since it's usually easier to save and restore an old game to see a clue, then restore the new game to continue on.

The major problems with the game are a lack of auto-mapping and a lack of a map-based zip mode. The game world is so big and so intricate that most of your time is spend just getting around, going back and forth over the same ground. Since partial maps are scattered around, joining them together as you find them should have been easy. Moving around on the map would be a bit more work, since paths are often blocked, but the game would benefit greatly from it.

Rhem is more overwhelming than difficult, and the tedium of moving about can make it oppressive. If you like puzzles, though, it's worth it.

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.