The Crystal Key
Review by Orb
Let me just get this out of the way right at the very beginning.
The Crystal Key is my cup of tea. In fact, I'd like to
coin a new term that dim-witted shooter fanatics who have no concept
of what an adventure game comprises can start calling the games
I love (so they can avoid having to go there and think for a change)
... "Riven clone." I guess this sort of articulates
where I stand as far as my allegiance to the graphic interface
adventures popularized in the last five years. This is just a
good, old-fashioned, inventory-based adventure game, with some
really pleasing and appealing graphics. The farther I went into
the game, the more I enjoyed it.
The story itself is a very straight science fiction story, similar
to MGM's Stargate series, except that you won't find any
Earth cultures such as the Egyptians, Atlanteans, Anistazi, et
al., cluttering up the narrativethis is not sci fi, it's
Science Fiction, to paraphrase Harlan Ellison.
The survival of Earth is threatened by an alien race led by a
being known only as Ozgar. A transmission is intercepted by Earth
from a race of people called the Arkonians telling of their fight
against Ozgar. You are the test pilot of Earth's first hypership
sent to the origin point of the Arkonians' signal, to find out
what's out there and stop this menace. The game itself follows
a linear path, which is self-evident, but you can explore around
all you like.
The interface is nicely controlled via Apple's Quicktime VR,
giving the player unlimited movement in looking around. Travel
occurs via movies that transport you to the next point you want
to go to, so no million clicks/steps to arrive at any destination,
and the travel itself is fun, like being on a miniroller
coaster. Cursor changes to show hotspots, so no pixel-hunting.
Inventory is kept in a bag below the game screen, and inventory
items are simple, not too many, all get used, and there's no scrolling
to see what's in the bag. Captured inventory items float into
your bag once clicked on, and to use the item, click once, then
click on the desired area of the game, and the item floats itself
The look of some of the gameplay areas is very similar to graphics
from the Journeyman Project series. There was an alien
vessel definitely reminiscent of portions of these games. The
one-click cursor keeps gameplay very immersive. A desert world
gives the player the feeling of being on Lucas's Tatoonie, and
there is an excellent recreation of a jungle. There are smoothly
polished marble floors to glide across. But the graphical high
point is definitely the Arkonian city on the water, which includes
some absolutely phenomenal design and movie sequences that are
so pretty, they are worth playing the game for. Riven comes
to mind. There is also some very Riven-esque tunnel work
that's well-designed. The graphics of a rock hitting the water
of a pond was just simply visually stunning.
The music and ambient sound are very similar to Jewels of
the Oracle, and Jewels did pleasantly come to mind
during gameplay, although The Crystal Key is not a straight
puzzle-based game by any means. There are, oddly, portions where
whole sections go by with no music or sound at all (either that
or it cut out, but nevertheless, it was not there). Some sound
effects that would have logically been present were not, such
as the sound of a freight car you are traveling in, and it is
simply missing a number of ambient sounds it should have.
An interesting thing included is a mapping feature that only
goes for the very first portion of the game, handy for a learning
curve overall and designed well in that it would serve an expert
as well as a novice, and it is a subtle but strong entrance point
in the game in that respect.
As far as puzzles go, there are very few areas in the game that
even remotely resemble a straight puzzle; these are also built
in a very immersive fashion, all are sequential, all follow and
forward the story, rather than looking like the third ear on a
pig's head (after all, I always keep a big fat slider puzzle
to access my bedroom door at home, etc., know what I mean?)there's
just none of that here.
The inventory is extremely well-designed. There are no
red herring pieces, which I hate. All items are used and discarded
once used, so there is no redundant, unnecessary clicking through
an inventory scroll to get what you need. There is none of that
assembling inventory items to make something you can use, and
the items are cleverly used themselves, keeping the game interesting
enough for an expert but simple enough for a novice. The design
of the inventory is exceptionally pretty; each item is lit as
though there were a spotlight on itselect one and the light
pulsates lightly, letting you know it's available for use. There
is no holding the mouse down and dragging to use an item, which
is just ducky with me. The only design drawback in this area is
that when interacting with environmental items, such as pulling
a handle, it must be executed very slowly to work.
There is a lot of serious equipment here to hunker down
and get workinggenerators, freight cars, spaceships (the
grungy Han Solo/Star Wars kind, not the Kubrick/2001
kind), a diving bell, etc. One of my favorite designs in the
game involves an Arkonian shuttle that looks eerily like a floating
version of one of those Airstream travel trailers seen all over
the American landscape, eternally 50s, smooth chrome metal land
I had some initial freeze problems that were solved by uninstalling
the Quicktime on my computer and installing the Quicktime from
the game disk. I also had a memory freeze, although I was well
within system requirements, that I solved by allocating a heap
o'memory to the game. There were some problems throughout the
game using the save feature, and I had to work around these. There's
a fair bit of waiting after each travel movie that I didn't likeleft
me tapping my foot. There were also some points in the game where
the movies would lock up and then skip to the end of the sequence;
at one point I had an inventory item jump to just suddenly appear
in the inventory bag. The game inexplicably dumped out in the
middle of a hologram sequence. I'd rather have to double-click
on everything than have all the bugs I encountered, given a choice.
There's a lot of worlds and environments to explore that have
been well-compacted onto two disks (no FMV, hallelujah!). The
only problem in this was there was a fair amount of disk swapping
that occurred with increasing frequency as the game progressed.
There are 10 save game slots, which I found to be plenty, and
to be fair regarding all the crashes, not once did a saved game
get dumped out, as in other games; it always saved everything
I wanted (once I got it to save).
This is a game novice and expert alike can enjoy, well-written
and wellthought out, simple but not simple-minded. If you
are looking for a beautiful, immersive world mixed with classic
Science Fiction, The Crystal Key is quite a find.
If the novice is also a novice at computers in general (well,
okay, MacsI played it on a Mac ...), then it will be
a tough go for him/her to work around the bugs and learn adventure
gaming at the same time. The game however, is a classic to give
to a novice to enlighten her/him on the joys of adventure gaming.
Release Date: December 1999
Four Fat Chicks Links
Pentium 133 MHz
32 MB RAM
Minimum 70 MB hard disk space
8X CD-ROM drive
PowerPC 120 MHz
Mac OS System 7.5 or higher
32 MB RAM
Minimum 70 MB hard disk space
8X CD-ROM drive
Where to Find It
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