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
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. ...
Release Date: September 2001
Four Fat Chicks Links
Pentium II 300 MHz
32 MB of RAM
200 MB free hard disk space
12X CD-ROM drive
DirectX compatible video and sound card
Pentium II 333 MHz
32 MB RAM
2X DVD-ROM drive
DirectX compatible video and sound card