Just where does one begin with a time travel story? At the beginning? Where's that? In the case of The Journeyman Project this is no idle speculation. If one goes way back to the start, in the early 90's, to a bunch of college-age kids in San Diego, we find them gathering evenings to work on games and eventually becoming Presto Studios. This is about the same time the Miller brothers were tinkering with Hypercard up in Washington and coming up with a game called Myst. Fast forward a few years and Presto has created a classic time-traveling adventure game trilogy: The Journeyman Project Turbo, Buried in Time and Legacy of Time.
"Hey, Gage! What're you doing? We've got to get back to Caldoria and save the world!"
Not now, Arthur, I'm busy.
"Not now? But we're stranded in this primitive time zone, stuck in a room that looks like it was ransacked by space pirates."
Arthur, please. And that's my basement you're bad-mouthing.
Now, where was I -- Oh, yes. Fast forward a few years to 2001 and the boys from Presto and Cyan meet up in the production of the long awaited third entry in the Myst series, Exile. However, this seeming high point is the end of Presto Studios, at least officially.
"Hey, Gage, my sensors are picking up a large woolly quadruped -- "
Arthur. That's my dog. Now will you please shut up. And stop calling me Gage.
I guess it's long past time I review the game in question. Suffice it to say that The Journeyman Project: Pegasus Prime has an unusually lengthy and complex twenty-plus-year history and has been presented to the public in at least three commercial iterations. The most recent release is available on DVD-ROM and very recently (and most conveniently) from GOG.com as a direct 2-giggish download. The GOG version is the one I'm reviewing.
Agent 5, Gage Blackwood, is a sort of black sheep of the TSA (Temporal Security Agency of the 24th century -- not to be confused with the Transportation Security Administration of the 21st century). He's a maverick party animal who just happens to be the lone agent on duty at the TSA headquarters when everyone else is attending a big public celebration. Well, what do you know but the first Temporal crisis in history occurs and it's up to Gage (and you) to use the Agency's reactor-like time machine to whisk back in time to save The World As We Know It. Time to shake off that hangover, Gage, and go.
"Hey! What happened to your ocular implant? And why are you out of your jump suit? And what are those strange stringy things on your feet?"
They're called flip-flops. Now will you please stop interrupting me.
Arthur does bring up an important point. You, as Gage, are equipped with a super duper monocular Google Glass device that enhances your vision and other senses, the results of which are displayed on your viewscreen (which is to say your game user interface). You also have biochips that extend your capabilities in various ways. Your jumpsuit is a Michelin-man-like bulbous spacesuit that keeps you temperature controlled in the most inhospitable places.
First, you have to time-jump back to the Mesozoic Era and retrieve the agency's discs which contain all of recorded (and most of prerecorded) history. This way the agency hardware can find where the temporal "rips" have occurred. You discover that there are three. One in a NORAD base a couple of hundred years back, one on a Mars mining colony a hundred years or so ago, and one fairly recently at a scientific research center in Sydney. You must now undo the rips without causing any new temporal disturbances.
Where to start? Well, that's up to you. This is a fairly non-linear game, with more than one way to accomplish some goals. You have to pay attention to your surroundings and especially to your biochips and any inventory items you pick up. Nevertheless, there will inevitably be a certain amount of stumbling around in the past getting splatted before you figure out what's needed. It will also probably take you awhile to get used to the game controls, and in particular the ones that call up the inventory and biochip storage screens.
In this sense, playing Pegasus Prime is not only a journey into the fictional past but into the actual past of Adventure Game History. The reconstituted Presto folks have done a remarkable job updating the game's graphics to about, say, circa 2000. But much of the gameplay and mechanics will take you back to the dark ages of Adventuredom. This is a game written and designed before the great Adventure gameplaying discoveries of the late 90's (mostly thanks to LucasArts). You will face death time and again and become quite familiar with the "Restore Game?" button. You will get reacquainted with the dreaded "Your Score" screen. You will stumble around in an honest-to-God actual maze. (When was the last one of those you encountered in a game?) You will be confronted with the somewhat limited "node" play familiar from Riven. East, West, North. South and occasionally Down. You navigate with the arrow keys but use the mouse to interact with the viewscreen. Items you can interact with and places you can move to are at times vague. There are a bunch of other screens you must learn arcane keystrokes for. In short, there's a learning curve.
In fact, one of the reasons Pegasus Prime feels “old” is because it is old. As far as I can determine, this edition is the four-CD Mac-only one created by Presto in 1997. For sixteen or more years, and for whatever odd reason, the updated version was not ported to PC or even to DVD. The Mac OSX DVD version became available online in 2013 and the PC version only this year.
The Journeyman Project: Pegasus Prime is an intriguing mix of both wonderful and hair-pulling characteristics. It has anachronistic game elements that will try the patience of a saint (just wait until you do battle with the ore mine cart, either direction), yet it also has a handful of stunning animations and intriguing locations.
I played the second (or whatever) iteration of the same game, dubbed The Journeyman Project Turbo on my PowerMac a number of years ago. That one came on a single CD and of course had far less impressive graphics. That edition really rubbed me the wrong way. It was too short, too random, too confusing, too easy. The newest version unfortunately retains much that was frustrating from that earlier incarnation. But the Presto team has done such a remarkable (and nearly unprecedented) job of restoring this first of the classic trilogy that one can't help but be impressed.
No sane game maker would go to the expense and trouble of remaking any game, much less one with the somewhat checkered history of The Journeyman Project: Pegasus Prime. This restoration clearly was a labor of love. If this were a brand new game I would take the producers to task for the game's assorted ills. Yet one must consider the provenance of Pegasus Prime and be more understanding. In a way, the game's old-style elements hold a certain fascination for the veteran adventurer -- a blast from the past, if you will. One legacy aspect of the game is how it runs. According to the documentation, Pegasus is built on the ScummVM engine. Which might lead one to believe it would run in ScummVM. It doesn’t. At least not vs. 1.6.0 on my Win 7 laptop it don’t. One of the trickier puzzles of the game was configuring it to run on my computer. I had to fiddle with Windows 7’s own “legacy” controls. I finally hit upon a happy combination and the game launched. Gameplay was otherwise smooth, though the game did crash on me on several occasions. Nothing horrible, just be on your guard. And Save Often.
Let’s not get too gloomy, now. There are many aspects of Pegasus Prime I can heartily applaud.
It seems that a couple of "full-screen" interactive sections that were designed years ago for a PlayStation version that never saw the light of day have been included here. These are the most impressive parts of the game. And I generally hate action scenes in an adventure. The controls (left-right arrow keys) are clumsy and your goal and your opponent are somewhat perplexing. But when the old-school interactive window opens up to more or less full screen animation, it's quite exciting.
This is also that rare game that gets help right. First, the main screen lets you choose between "Adventure" and "Walkthrough" modes. In the former you are left pretty much to your own devices. There is an "AI" biochip that occasionally lists hints (1, 2 and 3) if the AI chip is selected and you choose to access the hints. If you do, the oddly alluring and ghostly artificial-intelligence chip chick appears to give you further info about your current predicament. At times, she does this anyway, but I never felt I was being nudged or "helped" against my will. This is nowadays a very rare thing in adventure games. Most modern "help" attempts to whack you over the head with a mallet until you comply.
The puzzles are pretty good. I know I felt the Turbo edition was way too easy and my exact recollection of playing that game has faded with time. But this Pegasus Prime version has some pretty intelligent gameplay situations where you actually have to think your way through. (Another rarity these days.) And there are some standalone honest-to-God logic puzzles that I don't recall from Turbo. They're mostly pretty good too. Even the Mastermind clone has an interesting twist to it. Oh, yes, and it's timed. Which is a pain, but the time allotted is reasonably lenient. There are actually a fair number of timed sequences in Pegasus Prime. I really hate timed elements in an adventure. Almost as much as I hate dying illogically and randomly. But of course in a Time Travel game, timed elements would seem appropriate and the ones here didn't burn me up too much. There is one very good puzzle that shows up quite late and has a tightish time limit. Anyone who gets through this set of puzzles in the allotted time earns my respect. I had to restart a few times before I finally conquered it, but for a good puzzle I'm happy to do that.
Oh, and the story is quite good. Time travel has been done time and again, to death really, which makes it all the more remarkable that Pegasus Prime has an engaging and often genuinely dramatic story. The character acting is also top-notch, even the androids. This game is so old that the actor who plays the chief antagonist (Dr. Eliot Sinclair) has since died. The game is dedicated to him. But it helps put Pegasus Prime in perspective, adventure game-wise.
Which, at long last, brings us to Arthur.
"What? What's the matter?"
Nothing, Arthur. I was just telling the folks about you.
"Folks? If I hadn't just run a bioscan on you I'd really be worried about you, Gage."
No, Arthur does not appear in Pegasus Prime, or in any other iterations of the first game of the Journeyman series. You do, however, run across him in the second game, Buried in Time, and then he fully blossoms in the third entry, Legacy of Time. In Legacy he becomes a sort of Microsoft Agent character on steroids. You can tone him down but he is fairly irrepressible. Yet, he grows on you. He is, of course, the AI character embedded in your jump suit (after you find and install him, that is, in Buried). He can't compete in the looks department with the AI chip chick in Pegasus, but he has personality in spades.
I came to the Journeyman series somewhat late (circa 2001). I started with game three, then went backwards to two and finally one. Appropriate enough for a time-travel story, I suppose. So I was quite familiar with Arthur from Legacy when I, to my total surprise, unearthed him in Buried. It was really a fairly remarkable adventure game "moment." Something I don't think I'd ever experienced before -- coming unexpectedly upon a familiar character.
The second and third games of the trilogy are really the standouts. Legacy is one of the most beautiful and fluid games you'll ever play. The gameplay and challenge are medium, but the graphics are stunning. Buried is the best game of the series. It has the most intriguing plot and the most fascinating and challenging puzzles (if memory serves -- it's been a few years). Any adventurer who has played those two games will naturally want to play the first game in the series. For a long time, that first game was either hard to get or playable (on PC at least) only in its underwhelming earlier iterations. Now, no one can complain.
My warts-and-all assessment of The Journeyman Project: Pegasus Prime (circa 2013-14) is a somewhat qualified B-plus. True, the game is still quite short (about ten hours playing time for me; your results may vary), and still occasionally annoying in an antiquated way, but it has much to recommend it, and rare efforts like this to restore a classic old game should be rewarded.
“Can we go now? . . . Gage? . . . Gage!”
+ Stunning animations; intriguing locations; good story
+ GRetains much that was frustrating in the original version
- Quite short (about ten hours playing time)