Review by Jen

Remember the game Reah? Probably not many of you have played it, but those who have will never forget those three too-too-hard endgame puzzles. And then the payoff for actually completing those suckers was anticlimactic to say the least. Well, I remember Reah, and it was with some trepidation that I began Schizm, a new game by the same developer.

Schizm begins at the end. The two heroes, Sam and Hannah, are being interviewed on a TV news show. They are telling how they rescued a bunch of scientists from an alien world. This opening cutscene serves admirably to set the scene for the events to follow. It is then up to you to live the story through the game.

Gameplay starts with both characters arriving on this alien world and becoming separated. They have intermittent radio contact but ultimately they're on their own for the first half of the game. Hannah has landed in an organic world seemingly devoid of life (now there's a contradiction for you!), and Sam has landed on a metallic platform high in the sky, amidst a field of balloons that look like they are sporting roots. You play as both Sam and Hannah and may switch between the two at almost any time throughout the game. Ultimately, you must bring Sam and Hannah together and find a way to free the planet from the force, the Schizm, that is hiding each from the other and all from the scientists and the alien people. The game's story is both spare (as it must be since it is given to you in small doses throughout the game) and surprisingly rich. Schizm is ultimately a puzzle game, and it has a more interesting tale to tell than any other puzzle game I've ever played.

Speaking of puzzles ... Most of the puzzles in Schizm involve learning enough of the alien language and technology to be able operate alien machinery. For instance, in Sam's first puzzle, he must study five dials and figure out what to do with the symbols they show in order to open up a pearl dispenser and get the pearls. There is very little inventory in Schizm; you work most of the puzzles where you find them and get immediate payoff for solving them. With one glaring exception, all of the puzzles in Schizm are difficult but fair. There are plenty of clues, and when you solve each puzzle, you get that incomparable feeling of satisfaction which is what I believe draws us back again and again to this strange hobby of ours.

The glaring exception mentioned above is a puzzle reminiscent of those three endgame puzzles in Reah: It was arbitrary and unrealistic. All of the rest of the puzzles fit very well into the overall game and help create a believable world. In the "bad" puzzle, you have to beat the computer at a logic game twice in a row to raise part of a bridge, and to raise the rest of the bridge, you have to beat the computer twice more in a little bit harder version of the same game. Are we expected to believe that the aliens would have set themselves this kind of barrier to using their very own bridge? I think what happened is the programmer figured out how to program this swell puzzle and didn't want his or her nice little piece of code to go to waste and so simply plunked it into this game. Okay, rant over, but I was really pissed off because of that puzzle. It was a jarring seam in an otherwise seamless game. Okay, rant not quite over yet, just one more thing: It's as if the developers were trying to shoot themselves in their figurative foot, repeating the same mistake they should have learned from with Reah: These types of puzzles, where you have to make 300 tries before you finally solve them, are not fun!

Schizm is a beautiful game. Its graphics rival and perhaps even surpass those in Myst 3: Exile. I played the CD version, and the graphics are horribly overcompressed with compression artifacts all over the place and yet the game still was lovely. (I would love to play the DVD and see Schizm in its full high-resolution glory.) The cutscenes are magnificent, and the transitions from one location to another are all animated. What an imagination the visual designer has!

Schizm has actors. We're talking real people, FMV-type actors. Besides Hannah and Sam, whom you rarely actually see but hear a lot of, there are "ghosts" of the aliens and the scientists that manage to breach the Schizm from time to time to give you some story or clues. Gotta love that FMV!

Schizm's music is very low-key and ambient. So much so that once when I was doing a sound-related puzzle, I had turned off the music, completed the puzzle, and forgot to turn the music back on again for some time after that. Even without the music, there are plenty of sounds in the game; the characters have audible footsteps and things that should creak do creak, et cetera. The sound designer did a great job in helping make Schizm's world seem real.

Schizm is very similar to Myst 3. Both have the many-worlds-as-one idea, both have the same high-quality animation, both have live actors, and both have lots of puzzles embedded into their environments. But when it comes right down to it, I enjoyed Schizm more. In Myst 3, I felt confused and disoriented too often for my comfort, and in Schizm I knew where I was and what I was doing the whole time even if I didn't know how to do it.

Schizm breaks no new ground but it goes over the old ground in high style. It's a long and satisfying game and yet at the same time not too frustrating. Except that once. ... The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: LK Avalon
Publisher: Dreamcatcher
Release Date: September 2001

Available for: Windows

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System Requirements

CD-ROM Version:
Windows 95/98/ME/XP
Pentium II 300 MHz
32 MB of RAM
200 MB free hard disk space
12X CD-ROM drive
DirectX compatible video and sound card

DVD Version:
Windows 95/98/ME/XP
Pentium II 333 MHz
2X DVD-ROM drive
DirectX compatible video and sound card

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