Genre: Sci-Fi Adventure
Release Date: 2008
Note: Originally published 20 May 2008
Games are meant to be fun (well, maybe not the Roman gladiator games, I can’t imagine it was much fun being decapitated or having your entrails cut out), that’s why they’re called games. So what do you call a game when it is not fun? Well, I call it The Experiment.
The Experiment (released as Experience 112 in Europe) is the newest offering from Lexis Numerique, a French development house previously known for the innovative Missing: Since January and Evidence: The Last Ritual.
The plot is simple enough, you find yourself stranded on a remote island in the Pacific. The discovery of a grounded tanker leads to the further revelation that there is a woman, Lea Nichols, trapped onboard. Your only means of communication is through an advanced surveillance system in the operations room. By using only the surveillance cameras, lights, doors and select objects you must lead her to safety while also uncovering in bits and pieces the secret behind Project Edehn.
What woulda been, coulda been, shoulda been a good game instead turns into a frustrating, brain-numbing exercise in futility as you battle both the controls and ensuing ennui from reading scads of technical documents, government files, laboratory notes, emails, passwords, usernames, access codes, sensitive codes – see, you’re falling asleep just from reading this sentence, aren’t you?
There have been numerous adventure games throughout the years that have required lots and lots of reading of diaries, notes, brochures, books and so on to either enhance the gaming experience or to provide clues on how to proceed. Let’s provide an example; Jonathan Boakes’ Darkfall games feature scads of in-game reading materials. Two important points though – the materials are always an interesting read and even if you decide to not read the material, you can consult a walkthrough or strategy to find a clue or password you might have missed.
Not so for The Experiment. First of all, not only is the material you must read dry and boring, but most of the time it requires convoluted probing just to find the stuff. First you need the username of the person whose files you want to read, then you need their password and then you need another password for their sensitive files. Sometimes this information is directly provided, but way too often you must find passwords or sensitive file passwords in someone else’s file and then you must cross-reference between files and folders. Sometimes the passwords provided are purposely fake. Sometimes they are hidden and barely readable on blackboards or desks.
But, you say, I don’t want to do all of this work so I’ll just use a walkthrough to find the codes and passwords I need. Well, actually you won’t, for there are numerous occasions throughout the game where if you don’t literally open a specific person’s file, then Lea will not accept the information from you even if it is correct because she knows you have not found it of your own accord. Just another case of taking realism to an unfortunate extreme.
The unique camera system used to guide Lea through the ship is another example of both too much realism and horribly implemented control system. As you click on camera icons on your map, the view from that camera appears on your screen. You can have three cameras active at once, but until you figure out the system you will find yourself fighting with the controls as one camera view overlaps another. The map – which should have the option to be shown full screen – overlaps the camera views which is unforgivable as it must be used so often. Then you need to figure out and master a system to have the cameras activate and follow Lea based on her movement or else you spend the majority of the game closing and opening camera views, switching cameras and so on. It’s also not especially helpful that camera control is extremely limited nor that they sometimes don’t work until you find updates for the camera system.
Nowhere in this game is there ever an option to jump to another location with a click of the mouse. Instead, if you want to return to any location at all, you must go through the tedious and time-consuming process of guiding Lea back to the desired area light by light by light by open door wait for screen to load by light by light by. . . For the sake of all that is holy, did anybody play-test this game beforehand to realize how tedious this quickly becomes?
So I get to the end of the first level of the ship and I’m stuck, can not figure out where to go next even though there is no place left to search. So I email JA editor Randy, he tells me he was stuck in the same spot for 3 days, he then also tells me that Ray Ivey was stuck in the same spot. When Ray Ivey and Randy Sluganski – admittedly the two best (and they would add best-looking) adventure gamers to ever grace this earth – can not figure out what to do next, then what hope is there for the rest of us?!
Turns out that on your map there are small up and down arrows that you must click on to get to other levels. Let me explain – when you exit a level of the ship, let’s say the first level, you then find yourself on what I guess is a stairwell between the first and second levels. You can see the second level on your map, just can’t see a way to reach it. Seems the only way to then reach the second level is by clicking the up arrow on the map. WHO IN THEIR RIGHT MIND WOULD EVER THINK TO DO THIS? Why can’t my character just see the stairs in front of her and click on them to climb to the second level? Not to mention that the arrow symbols on the map are so small as to be barely noticeable or that the map itself is a giant mess especially when you are trying to differentiate between levels. Color-coded maps would have been a huge and welcome addition.
Realism can be taken to such extremes that it mirrors real life, and that’s not fun. It’s only fun in games like Grand Theft Auto where you can do things most of us would not normally do – like steal cars or shoot prostitutes. It is not fun to play a game where the entire premise is that you must continually turn lights and cameras off and on.
Adding to the overall frustration are blocky graphics and some backgrounds that are so dark that you will find yourself increasing your brightness level and thus washing out the game’s color. I dare you to even see the cobra or snake or whatever it is that is blocking the entrance to one of the rooms. Lea's monotone voice-acting sounds as though she is on a steady supply of prozac, further adding to the overall experience of complete and utter dreariness.
Now I realize that this review seems to have degenerated into a bitch-fest, but I just can’t seem to find any redeeming values in this game. While we don’t want to make it appear as though we do not appreciate the risks taken by the developers, one wonders if they ever took into consideration adding some concessions to help, rather than hinder, the player. I imagine that there are very few, if any, who have actually completed this game.
I don’t know about you, but when I’m playing a game I like a lot, I’ll search around the internet to see if others feel the same. Ditto if I really dislike a game, it’s only natural to wonder if it’s only me, or do others share your sentiment?
Which led me to Gamespot’s review of The Experiment. Written by Brett Todd, he gives the game a 7.5 or good. But there is a lack of information that leads me to believe that either he never played past the first level, as nothing that occurs past the first level is ever mentioned in his review, or was supplied with saves so he could see later parts of the game (a common practice in the industry). Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, we complain when a mainstream site doesn’t give an adventure game a good review, and now we’re complaining because a game got a good review. But the point here is it does a great disservice to the adventure community as a whole for a site like Gamespot to champion a game just because it is innovative. Innovation is meaningless if the player must fight it along every step of the way. And as we all know, adventure gamers are lovers, and not fighters.
Final Grade: D
OS: Windows® 98/ME/2000/XP
Processor: 800 MHz Pentium® 3
Memory: 64 MB of RAM
Video: 64 MB Graphics Card, Compatible with DirectX® 9.0c
Sound: DirectX® 9.0 Compatible
Other: Keyboard, Mouse and Speakers