Reviews: The Abyss: Incident at Europa
Stop a deadly virus in a game based on the 1989 motion picture The Abyss
Developer: Sound Source Interactive
Publisher: Sound Source Interactive
Release Date: Fall 1998
Note: Date originally published unknown
There seems to be interest in the gaming community about trying to make crossover games--games that will appeal to the different genre players. The Abyss is one such effort. The Abyss is trying to appeal to the shooter crowd as well as to the adventurers. (The promotional material mentions an aim at the role-players, but the role-playing element is so insignificant as to be nonexistent.) The challenge to make a crossover game is very difficult, but I think Sound Source has a solid contender here.
The Abyss is a sci-fi game based on the James Cameron movie of the same name. Brett Durrett, Vice President of Sound Source Interactive, said, "The Abyss is a great movie and a favorite of many around the office. The movie has a great story line and, like the game, does not rely on violence, sex or shock value to hold the interest of the audience. We worked with James Cameron's group to create a story for the sequel to The Abyss, which the game incorporates." In short, during a terraforming project on Europa, one of Jupiter's moons, an alien race trying to build a new life for itself has accidentally uncovered a viral disease that mutates life, including human life. Your mission is to find a cure for the virus to save the aliens as well as the humans who are infected. You choose to play Bud Brigman or Lindsey Brigman. (That's the role-playing element. Your choice has no significance on the game.) During your mission, you will visit four different worlds: Deepcore, the human underwater exploration vessel; the NTI ark; Europa; and, the caverns beneath Europa. The plot receives a B.
The look of The Abyss reminds me of a comic book. Maybe it was all the mutants roaming about. During the course of the game, you will explore lots of rooms, swim under water, and explore many caverns. All these surroundings are effectively detailed. The underwater sequences made me feel as if I really was underwater. Not an easy task for a graphic artist, but very well done. My only complaint about the graphics is that you have to travel down lots of long hallways, and the passing graphics have a hypnotic, almost eye-blurring effect. After playing the game for a several hours before bed, I couldn't get the vision of traveling down those hallways out of my head. The graphics receive a B.
There are a lot of mutants roaming the rooms and hallways, so you get to hear a lot of growling, moaning, and groaning. These sounds lend a sense of danger and foreboding to the game. The music is also effective at establishing a sense of urgency and danger at the appropriate times and places. The music never interfered with the gameplay, which I for one always appreciate. With four different worlds to explore, there are plenty of different sound effects and all are done quite well. The sound, music, and voice acting all receive a B.
I found the puzzles fun and challenging. The main puzzle is, of course, to find the three ingredients that combine to make the cure. Some of the supporting puzzles are unique and very creative. As I mentioned, The Abyss is a hybrid shooter/adventure game. The shooting consists of using your weapons to stun the mutants, who are constantly trying to impede your progress. Since you are just stunning them, you only temporarily stop them while you try to explore and solve the puzzles. The mutants can kill you, and probably will several times, so save often. In fact, knowing when and where to save is essential to success in this game. Save often and save several copies.
Now for my two major complaints about the gameplay. First, and foremost, is the interface. Are you so used to point-and-click that you just expect it and most likely are getting quite good at it? Well, have I got a surprise for you. The Abyss uses the keyboard for all movement and interaction throughout the game. This is very awkward and will take some getting use to. (My right wrist, which I used to control the arrow keys for movement, would ache after playing for an hour or so.) To open doors or pick up an inventory item, you bump into them! Seriously. I laughed when I first learned this in the game. The interface is going to be a serious flaw for a lot of players. Secondly, this game has mazes, and more mazes, and even more mazes--too many mazes. Indeed, the buildings themselves are mazes. The developer suggests that the player map out the various locales. Good luck! Mapping out all these mazes would take a long time.
When asked what age group Sound Source was attempting to reach with The Abyss, Durrett responded, "The Abyss is designed to appeal to the everyday computer user, with special considerations to keep the content acceptable for play by the entire family. The game uses an engine that can run comfortably on a low-end Pentium so that it is accessible to users who purchased their computers several years ago. All content in the game is acceptable for younger members of the family, and violence is kept to a minimum--no mutants are ever killed in the game. Finally, none of the puzzles are time-based and most mutants have limited mobility to allow for escapes or safe resting areas. This makes the game playable for people that have difficulty with games requiring quick reflexes or super-human agility on the keyboard."
The Abyss is a challenging game, mostly because of the mazes. But, despite the interface and the mazes, the game held my interest, which in the long run is the main thing. The puzzles in The Abyss get a C.
Can we hope to see more adventure games from Sound Source in the future? According to Durrett, "Sound Source Interactive is not currently developing another adventure, although this is a field that we would like to consider in the future. The games group that we acquired earlier this year has experience in creating higher-end adventure engines, so it is a distinct possibility." I for one hope they do.
Overall, I enjoyed the challenge of The Abyss. I just couldn't sleep until I found those three ingredients for the cure. The shooter fans may not like that they are just stunning the mutants and not killing them, and the adventurers may not like the shooting, but I think Sound Source got the balance right. For all you adventurers who are not good shooters, just save often! Did I mention you should save often?
Final Grade: B-
24 MB RAM