Zero Critical

1998 Istvan Pely Productions
Designed by Istvan Pely; Sherban Young
Reviewed 2000 December 5

Rating -3 Linearity narrow, segmented
Reasonability reasonable Connectivity moderate
Difficulty pedestrian Relevance strong
Interface 1st paned simple Real-time none

You are a rookie agent of the Interstellar Transportation Commission sent to a remote research base to investigate a shooting. One of the scientists went berzerk and attacked the project leader, who was forced to shoot him in self-defence. Your supposed quick investigation runs into a snag, however, when your shuttle is delayed and you have to stay on base for a few more days. As the madness spreads, you uncover the secret mission of the base, and the even more secret motive behind the mission. It falls to you to avert a catastrophe.

There are a half-dozen or so people at the base. Aside from the head of the base, Dr. Fayn, none are given any depth. That's not really a bad thing, since you're not there long enough nor in the right circumstances to really dig into them. They play their rôles well enough to keep you focussed on the mystery.

It's a nice little mystery, too. There are some interesting twists that raise the story above the standard good-versus-evil fare, with the ending striking a much different note than you would have expected through most of the game.

The gameplay is weak. You mostly just snoop around, ask questions about what you find, rinse and repeat. Objects are used in the obvious way at the obvious time and place. There's very little actual problem solving, and what there is tends to be easy, making for a short game (relative to the plot). Even the question of who to talk to next (and where to find them) often seems arbitrary. On the plus side, the challenges are all relevant to the story and don't require twisted rationale. Immersion is not broken by bad challenges.

Some dialogues were sometimes out of synchronisation with the story. I.e., you ask a question, and the response no longer makes sense given the story developments. It isn't a serious problem, but it's distracting.

Despite being made by a three (or so) person group, the presentation is very attractive. The characters are simple, smooth, pre-rendered 3D mannequins; together with the overall artistic style, they give the game a pleasant manga ambience. There is no voice acting, using text only for dialogue. I almost didn't notice, since there's a good score and serviceable sound effects. However, this makes dialogue inexpensive, resource-wise, so it's surprising that the dialogues were so uniformly brief.

The interface is similarly competent. One problem, though, is that there is not always good feedback when using inventory items. Sometimes, when you use an object on another, nothing happens and the object quietly falls back into your inventory. This becomes a problem when you miss the environmental object by a few pixels, leaving you with the impression that your intent failed.

There are only four save game slots. You don't really need more, but it's a surprisingly tight restriction.

The glitches mentioned are minor. There's a good science fiction story here, all you need for a good adventure game. There are also some tie-ins with Symbiocom (a.k.a. SYN-Factor), Pely's previous game. The gameplay, however, is flat and unchallenging, so the game doesn't live up to the potential of the story.

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.

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  • Symbiocom
    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.