April 15, 2004
Release Date: 2001
Bioscopia: Where Science Conquers Evil
Intro, in which the author makes his confession.
Let me start off by saying that I do not like biology. I did everything in my power to avoid biology in high school and later in college (I majored in math and physics). So when I saw an adventure game that claimed it would teach me biology, I was skeptical that I would enjoy any of it.
Well, I was wrong. Bioscopia is a fine game and deserves a place on the bookshelf of any adventure gamer. Which is my definition of a solid “B”. “A's” are reserved for ground breaking titles which set new standards in adventure gaming. There is nothing new here, but what is done is done quite well.
STORY: “C” Follow me on this. A group of biologists builds a massive secret compound high in the mountains which they fill with the most primitive of equipment. Utilizing tools which would be insufficient to equip a Jr. High school lab, they develop DNA which they make into computer chips which they install in their robots (apparently, robots are standard equipment for biology labs).
The robots, of course, turn evil so the scientists attempt to turn them off. They fail and the robots get all defensive. The robots respond by somehow creating a gas which slowly poisons everyone. But the scientists are no dummies. With their dying breaths they slap together a machine to manufacture...ready for this?...penicillin! Yeah, that'll work against poison gas. Sure.
Time passes and a college coed who looks like someone who escaped from a Japanese hentai robot cartoon (erm, that is, what I would imagine a Japanese hentai robot cartoon would look like if I ever saw one.) decides to find the secret lab. She does. She finds a beaker full of stuff. She gets trapped in the compound. She comes down with the flu. She radios for help (something which the scientists were somehow not able to do. Must have been too busy making penicillin.)
Anyway, the game begins with you answering the distress call. The main gates which slammed behind the coed are now open again and,... you'll never guess,... they slam behind you as well! You must now find the coed, release her, cure her and figure out how to get away. Fortunately, the entire security system relies on answering basic high school biology questions. And this is intended to stop who?
The only thing which prevents the story line from getting a “D” is the fact that it really doesn't matter to the game. This is a game where you read about biology and answer biology questions (in addition to the standard adventure game stuff involving a screwdriver). The story is just an excuse for bringing on the puzzles. And as Stories-As-An-Excuse go, this one is fair.
GRAPHICS: “B+” The graphics are a very nice mixture of machines and organics. Everything is appropriate – no jarring cartoons mixed in with the realistic stuff. But as technically nice as it was, it wasn't atmospheric. “A” level graphics will fill you with a sense of whatever mood the creators want; despair, hope, fear, loneliness, etc. I had no such experience from these graphics, as pretty as they were. Show the screen shots to your Significant Other and ask their impression. I will bet that “high tech facility abandoned for years” will not be their response. Done well, but no edge.
SOUND: “B-” The ambient sounds are well done; birds chirp quietly outside, machinery quietly hums inside. Sound Effects were good; robots clank and doors swoosh all at the correct times. But there was no music. Good music would have done much to draw the player into the game, but it just wasn't there.
Another criticism I have of the “sound” was the voice over-acting of our curvaceous coed. Thankfully, it wasn't the flat monotone found on so many imports who have Debbie-From-Accounting do the English voice over. But the “Ooohh, I'm sooooooo scaaaared” delivery was just grating. Anyway, you only have to suffer though this for only a moment at the beginning and end, so I didn't take off much for it. Interestingly enough, the credits list a Narrator. But there was no narration in the English version. A setting I overlooked? Or German only?
Again, done well, but no edge.
NAVIGATION SYSTEM: “C+” This is the standard slide show interface with the cursor which turns into a small hand to indicate when and where you can move. The system is tried-and-true and more than appropriate for adventure games. So why not give it a “B”? Because there were several easily correctable flaws which detracted from game play. And one of the primary goals of any navigation system should be that it becomes invisible. It should never detract from play.
First, the hands used to indicate which direction you can move all looked the same. Hand with one finger pointing down means turn around. Hand with one finger pointing down means look down. The difference? Whether the other fingers are curled towards you or away from you. This caused me to miss clues more than once. Cursors should be large, distinct and obvious. “The Seventh Guest” is an example of doing it right.
Second, there were places where the cursors were misplaced. I wanted to move forward. I knew I could move forward because it was going back out the way I came in. But the cursor was dead. No way to move. Until I moved the cursor a bit to the side, almost as if I wanted to turn. Over there, out of the way, the cursor went active and I could move forward.
Third, the cursor did not change over hot spots. There was no indication as to where you could use an inventory item. There is a slide projector. You have a slide. You move the slide over the projector and nothing happens. You move and look at the projector from another angle. You move the slide over the projector and suddenly it turns on and you start viewing it. The only saving grace is that most of the inventory items had an obvious use and you could figure out where the hot spots should be.
And, finally, there was no panning capability. It was very frustrating to see the bottom of a beautifully rendered building and not be able to pan up to see the rest of it. I somehow felt cheated.
All of these shortcomings took what should have been a “good” system and made it only “fair”.
PLAYABILITY: “B” The play is straight forward and classic. Solve puzzles to get keys. Use keys to open doors. Nothing new. Nothing frustrating.
There were some plot holes which stretched credulity such as doors designed to stop tanks being opened by questions which any high schooler could answer (and failing that, a machine with all the answers is always sitting nearby.) See also the STORY above. But again, the story had nothing to do with the game so you can't take off for it.
ADDICTABILITY: “B-” While I definitely wanted to finish this game, I never lost sleep to do so.
A strong storyline would have gone far towards making me care about what happened and maybe start a fan base. But as it is there is little danger of a sequel.
PUZZLES: “B” basically, they come in two forms; inventory puzzles and biology questions. No “twiddly” puzzles to deal with. Nothing new. Nothing frustrating. Well done, but no edge.
EDUCATIONAL: “B” The presentations and questions are designed to give you an overview of much of biology including zoology, microbiology, humans and plant. You won't learn enough to pass a standardized test, but you will have many of the fundamentals reinforced. definitely worthwhile.
Bottom Line: Well done, but without the edge needed to get an “A”. The game deserves a place on your shelf and the developers deserve your money.
Play: ChemicusRead: The Cartoon Guide to GeneticsSee: The Andromeda Strain
Final Grade: B
PC: WIN 95, 98, ME, NT, 2000, XP Pentium PC 166 MHz, 64 MB RAM, SVGA-graphics card (16-bit), sound card, CD-ROM drive (8x speed), 120 MB free hard disc space
MAC: MAC OS 8.1, Power PC, 64 MB RAM, graphics card (32.768 colors), sound card, CD-ROM drive (8x speed), 120 MB free hard disc space