Genre: Fantasy Adventure
Release Date: December 2003
Note: Originally published 11 February 2004; this is the second of two reviews
I've come to this review after finishing Schizm 2 about a week ago... just to go back over my journey and think about things a little. Like a good holiday, it pays to look back a little later after playing an adventure title, after the excitement has faded to be able to put things in perspective. Give it a review that is honest and tries to appreciate a game's finer points - and its poison-tipped arrows.
Suffice to say, Schizm 2 has been quite a journey. If this game were a holiday, it'd be rock-climbing in Macchu Picchu - stunning scenery... but a difficult climb to the top!
Coming off the back of it's well-received 2D forebear, Schizm 2 does a good job of providing the same, peculiar feeling of the original title but transferring it to a wonderful, ethereal 3D world. Starting off on a space station, the game sees our hero, Sen, waking up to find he's responsible for a disaster which has created a war on the planet it's orbiting.
The game's use of the in-game engine for these cut-scenes is highly commendable, with reasonable voiceovers and good acting on the virtual actors. It's evident that the game's developer, Detalion, has put a lot of thought into how best to work in the reasonably complex script by Australian Sci-Fi writer Terry Dowling, even though on occasion the dialogue can ramble. The characters themselves aren't perfectly modelled, although they're more than good enough when set against the gorgeously lush scenery that you find yourself in as the game progresses.
Ah, what the scenery... The Jupiter engine, used to power such classy FPS games like Tron 2.0 and No One Lives Forever 2, is put to excellent use here on some great locales that showcase everything from organic shapes to towering metallic structures. I was particularly impressed by a Galleas showing up from Schizm, although a little dissapointed that I couldn't revisit its locations from the previous title. If anything, sometimes the puzzles hinder your enjoyment of the graphics and you find yourself wanting to explore more.
The only real negative thing about Schizm 2's graphical prowess, however, is that sometimes the locations don't completely gel and the design on the characters' costumes can be over-the-top. However, the only real time I found it being a problem was on the station which rather uncomfortably moved from hi-tech corridors to organic shapes without much indication as to where the change happened. As for the characters, they take some getting used to, but don't impede your immersion too much as the world itself is odd enough!
But lets stop talking graphics and get to the meat of the game. It has a flowing control system based on FPS titles, which is easy to use and should be lifted for other titles. Knowing the problems people have had with Uru, I hope other developers look to Schizm 2 for inspiration in future first-person titles!
However, it does include a rather pathetic jump when pressing the spacebar which appears to serve no purpose other than to poke holes in the game's logic. An early bridge puzzle, which requires the bridge sections to be completely aligned before you can cross, can be confusing. At their highest point the pieces are only a couple of inches off the ground, as is the jump itself. It's picky, but it does make for a little frustration, and the more easily exasperated players amongst you may have cause for complaint.
The gameplay is pretty much on-rails, with specific tasks to complete and sections opening up on the completion of the myriad puzzles. And oh, what puzzles they are. Save for a couple of easy ones (the early mirror rotation puzzle in the station for example), these things are rock. Maybe not Schizm-hard but pretty damn close, with at least intermediate mathematics required to get through some of the tougher alien-numbered puzzles. Lets just say an understanding of base numbers other than "1" would help the player no end!
Other than the cutscenes, there is no interaction with people in the same manner as a Broken Sword, as its roots are firmly planeted in the Myst camp. If anything, I'd even go so far to say that technically, as the exploration is pretty much done for you, this is even more a puzzle game than its first-person forbears. There is no doubt, however, that this game represents a huge leap forward into the 21st century for the style and I'd be very dissapointed if other first-person developers didn't follow suit. However, I'd have liked to have seen more freedom of gameplay than what's on offer here - it's great for puzzles, but I want to look around these environments more! Here's hoping for another sequel...
It certainly raises the bar for graphics - anyone with an older computer is going to have to consider an upgrade to even consider playing it. It may not touch Riven and Schizm in terms of stills, but who said 3D is still? This games environments are full of movement. Even my rig, which is fairly competent, had a little trouble here and there with the framerate, and at any resolution other than 800X600, it can be difficult getting clues in order to solve the puzzles.
However, even with the occasional chug, if you can get the full water and scenery effects, it can be an awesome looking title - even getting pretty close to the best recent FPS games have to offer. If you want the best 3D graphics the Adventure genre can offer, then this is your game. It's definitely not for the casual gamer, but if you have an appreciation of difficult puzzles and want some meat on their bones in terms of story, then this is your game.
Just remember to retain a firm grip on the way up... by the time you get to the top, it's a view worth seeing.
Final Grade: B+