A Merry Christmas to me! Here I am on Christmas Eve (and I’m sure the latter part of the review will be completed on Christmas Day) rushing to finish this review as well as one other and putting together two walkthroughs and an interview. No, I’m not busy-it’s just that I’ve been lazy lately (i.e. busy with real-time work) and haven’t been keeping up with adventure commitments. I’m listening to “Lady with a Tenor Sax” by Billy Squier so I’m ready to go.
February 4, 2003
Zelenhgorm is a game that I hoped Randy would let me review. Why? Because it looked great. The full motion video (yes, I’m a junky) made me recall happy days playing Gabriel Knight 2. It was FMV that got me into computer gaming. I struggled for a long time to justify buying Phantasmagoria 2 when I saw it at full price ($99 Australian) some years ago. With an encouraging nod from my wife, I bought it and never looked back. There’s something you just cannot beat about FMV. I know, I know, it doesn’t allow for as much in the way of plot choices because every possibility has to be filmed but somehow it takes immersion in the adventure experience to new levels for me. I have enjoyed more or less every FMV game I have played so how does this one stack up?
Spinal Tap’s “Cash on Delivery” is playing now. Did this title deliver? Yes and no. I enjoyed the experience but in the end was left wishing there had been more to it.
The game has some lovely FMV and background graphics are detailed and a joy to behold. Other reviews have talked of the muddy quality of some but I found most of them to be of a high standard. People criticize the acting in other reviews I read but it didn’t strike me as particularly bad. I was especially impressed that these people were acting in English and it didn’t sound terribly unnatural, merely like someone speaking English with an accent. This leads me into other sound. Most sound is pretty subtle but a big thumbs up for the orchestration throughout this game. Just like Spinal Tap’s duet with Cher “Just Begin Again” (playing now), the game feature beautiful strings and a full orchestra. I was reminded of Star Wars and it’s interesting to consider that future episodes (a proposed twelve in total!) are going to feature Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian), Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett), and David Prowse (Darth Vader). The whole shebang struck me as a well-coordinated effort designed to eke out the most quality that they can. The game never stoops to infantile humor or smuttiness, making this a game that can be enjoyed by all the family. After reading this review, I invite others to reflect on other similarities within the game to Star Wars. Arrikk reminded me of a young Luke Skywalker, who coincidentally has no parents either. All the way through, I felt the wonder that accompanies watching a Star Wars movie. See what you think…
The story, despite being lauded as being very original, struck me as nothing particularly different to many a game I’ve played before. You play Arrikk Vaheirr, a left hander. While this makes him special, it makes the village where he lives suspicious of him. When a ship crashes into the village near his house, the blame is firmly placed on him naturally. Arrikk must find out the mystery behind this ship (though he doesn’t by the end of the first series). His quest is to seek the answers wherever they may be and “unite the isolated tribes”. Despite all the actors in the game, they were underused in story development. Too bad, because the game needed to have the whole mythos explained to draw us in. Perhaps they will focus on that in the next episode.
I’m listening to “Sed quando sub movenda erit ignorantia” performed by the London Metropolitan Orchestra and the English Chamber Choir from the Nostradamus soundtrack, so I’m feeling reflective. The main problem with the first game in the series is that it boils down to a seemingly unnecessary series of quest that never really eventuate into anything. A second mistake of the producers of the game is that the game doesn’t end with a cliffhanger. The game just ends at a gate. Perhaps if there’d been someone or something on the other side, I would have wanted to know what it was, but unfortunately it just left me feeling disappointed.
The game is presented as a first-person point and click adventure, and those who love inventory will not be disappointed. The interface is easy to use and a novice should be able to play immediately without reading the instructions (provided they are happy to do without the fighting). There are loads of things to find, buy, and use, although many of them are difficult to determine what they are or how they are to be used. The game has some resource management in the form of pearls but the careful adventurer will dive for pearls at one of three locations to keep stocks up. Speaking of stocks, if you do something wrong, you are kept in the stocks overnight. Just to illustrate the amount of dedication that has gone into this game, there is a different video of the events that transpire each night you spend in the stocks. It’s these little touches that added to my enjoyment in the game. The flexibility of some puzzles inherent in the game is also worthy of a mention. Many of the puzzles have a couple of solutions or items can be found in different places. It is apparently possible to fight rather than solve a puzzle (though I never won any of the six fights I attempted). All this seems to have come at a pretty awful price: this game has possibly the most disk swapping of any I’ve ever played. In fact, the gargantuan proportions of disk swapping is on a level with the previous front-runner, Dark Side of the Moon. If you don’t have a couple of CD-ROM drives, consider having another installed before playing Zelenhgorm.
Appropriate considering my warped personality, I’m now listening to “The Most Offensive Song Ever” performed by Kenny McCormick and Mr. Hankey (from Mr. Hankey’s Christmas Classics). The game is not a long one, slowed only by the lack of direction. Many times I found objects but had no idea what I might do with them or how I use them even knowing what they were. An example was a window tied open. I figured it was wide enough for me to squeeze through but no I had to cut the rope with some scissors BUT only after they had been sharpened. Why couldn’t I have burned the rope with the tinderbox? Another puzzle requires Arrikk to change clothes. This can only be done by hanging them on a peg in his house. Why he couldn’t get changed in one of many abandoned, discreet areas I do not know. However, once he did have the clothes on, I noted two nice touches-different interactions from characters in the game and cutscenes showed him wearing the appropriate clothes no matter which clothes he was wearing. This feel for subtle touches makes me think that future episodes of Zelenhgorm could be something special.
The haunting solo by Elizabeth Fraser “Lothlorien” from the Lord of the Ringssoundtrack suggests that it’s time to wind up. This was a beautiful game, beautiful not just because of its graphics but because of the subtleties the producers have made efforts to include. The game is far from perfect but is still worth playing if only to prepare yourself for the future episodes. I hope this game doesn’t turn out like other intended episodic games (i.e. the first is the last). I believe that this game series has real potential-it has an interesting world, the producers are committed to quality in every aspect, and it features beautiful music and graphics. I give this game a B+ (ranging from A+ for music to A for the subtle quality touches to C for the ending to D for the disk swapping). With the right tweaks, I anticipate that the producers could have A+ products in future. I really wanted this to be the Star Wars adventure we’d love to see on PC. And surprisingly, after all my raving, it’s still Christmas Eve!
Final Grade: B+