It’s hard for me to know where to begin. Back in my early days of gaming, Dreamcatcher’s The Crystal Key had just hit shelves. After speeding my way through a few of the classics, I traveled to my local CompUSA to browse the then full adventure rack. One box especially leapt out at me, completely black with a stark blue circle on the front. It begged me, pleaded with me to come forward and open the preview flap to check out the gorgeous screen shots inside. These were equally intriguing, displaying windows to faraway places and promising an exciting, science fiction epic. I was eager to learn more and so I immediately pulled out $19.99 (plus Virginia sales tax) of my hard earned cash and bought it right out. I hurried home and loaded it onto my computer, waiting with bated breath to start my journey into the unknown, ready to explore strange new worlds with the aid of my Crystal Key.
But what I got in no way compared to the hype I had received. The game was clunky, buggy, thin on plot, and disappointing in graphics. After finishing it in one afternoon, I promptly gave my copy away and proclaimed it as one of the greatest turkeys I had ever been tricked into buying.
So of course, years later when I was asked to review its successor, erroneously subtitled The Far Realm, I had to go plunk down another $9.99 to replay the original in order to get my wits about me for the sequel.
Shame on me.
You can’t teach an old dog new tricks (or can you?)
I was really hoping that The Adventure Company would prove me wrong with its sophomore release in The Crystal Key franchise. The Far Realm promised higher graphical fireworks, better plot, and more character involvement. One of my huge issues with the original was the loneliness I felt traveling through the worlds of this far away galaxy. I had no name, no home, and no idea why I was the only person that could save my planet.
The Far Realm picks up many of its daddy’s plot points and rolls with them. You have a name this time around, Call Lifeson, and you are the son of Colonel Lifeson, the main, previously unnamed protagonist ofThe Crystal Key. Much of the “plot fog” of the first game is cleared up here within the first few minutes, but why did I have to play the sequel in order to better understand the first? But again, the game shocks you into the story with little explanation, a large journal to plow through, and story holes big enough to drive my boyfriend’s Chevy Trailblazer through. The cast of characters ranges from a lost freighter captain who you seem to use up and throw away, to a tree dwelling elf reminiscent of those silly Keebler guys, to a lone female naturalist who seems to always be standing in the same spot no matter how busy she claims to be. Oh and there’s a male pilot with an affinity for women’s clothing.
The bulk of the gameplay remains on one world and you will travel to many different locations on this one planet. This place is surprisingly complex and rich with culture and folktales that you will have to master in order to solve many of The Far Realm’s puzzles.
So where to first? Sound, graphics, or puzzles?
I’ll talk about sound first, which is not all that bad. The music is sparse in places, but enjoyable. One tune of note is the theme played in the spaceport bar near the game’s beginning, once the place has opened for business. This very much reminded me of the bar on Tatooine when Luke and Ben Kenobi had just walked in. Either that, or Miami Vice. Break out the pink shirts and white suits!
The sound effects are great, providing lush detail to some of these environments. The beach was especially nice . . . I could have left my computer on that all night and listened to the waves as I dreamt. So yes, sound is good.
Ah, but good sound does not a good game make.
(Did I mention my name is also Yoda?)
Look at all the pretty sand (count the uses of sand!)
There’s sand in The Far Realm, lots and lots of sand.
The planet Meribah is home to many sandy locales, which include canyons, beaches, deserts, and even an oasis that becomes your responsibility to restore. So don’t be fooled player, those screenshots you’ve been seeing of dunes and mountains . . . be prepared to get used to them. Now, with that said, it’s not that I minded the graphical quality. I have to give The Adventure Company and Earthlight a big thumbs up for quality of the graphics this time around. While The Crystal Keyboasted only one desert, it also had slow moving, pixilated environments that made me want to climb the walls. (Anyone remember the jungle planet?) But with the The Far Realm I was pleased with the eye candy provided. The home of the tree-dwelling Nehli was especially enjoyable. I highly recommend climbing up and down the inside of their tree a few times. One of the better FMV sequences I’ve seen in a while.
Speaking of FMV, let me tell you a little bit about your modes of transportation within The Far Realm. While walking and portalling seemed to have worked for you in the past, this time around, you will be making use of a motorboat and a jetpack. That’s right kids, I said jetpack. And while the Indiana Jones style maps are cool with the connect-the-dots effect, the FMVs of Call blasting off into the sky made me giggle. We all want to be like James Bond and be able to blast off at a moment’s notice, but Call ended up looking like my poor Ken doll strapped to my cousin’s rocket launcher.
The characters, while being somewhat cool looking such as in the case of the Nehli and the Merari, come off just as stiff and unbelievable. With the advances in character animation that we’ve seen lately (Syberia 2) these people came off looking like wax figures (The Messenger). It was just so disappointing to see this step backwards.
The large desert lizard is pretty hilarious. So is the macho-sounding pilot wearing the skirt.
The last piece of . . .
The puzzles! While not completely imaginative (lots of get inventory items in order to complete a machine or unlock a door) there were a few that gave that “finished the crossword puzzle” satisfaction that we all know and love. One puzzle involving luminescent bugs, a spray bottle of juice, and a cave was especially enjoyable, though a little too familiar to another glow bug puzzle from a recent release. There were a few that took leaps of logic, one involving security codes scattered all over a planet (how secure is that?) and another that makes you scour Meribah for a special nut (not a crazy person, but a nut) in order to summon a flying squirrel. If the bug and juice didn’t scare you, I’m sure the flying squirrel just did.
However, all is not lost. Even though some needed more set up or explanation, the puzzles present in The Far Realm are completely organic and intertwined into the story line of the game. There are no “puzzles for puzzle’s” sake dilemmas. This carried over extremely well from The Crystal Key. In our world of point and click entertainment, organic gaming is difficult to find. Kudos to Earthlight’s developers for adding that element of richness and believability.
So what’s my final word on The Far Realm? It’s a toss-up. While I had huge expectations for this game, I knew that I was still looking at something from The Crystal Key franchise. I walked away with a lacking plot, some silly graphics, and a less than satisfying gaming experience. While this game is not a turkey and definitely worth a look, The Far Realm proves that it is not all that far away from its original.
+ Definitely worth a look with puzzles well tied to the story.
+ Sound effects are great.
- Plot is lacking and some silly graphics.