[size=6]physicus: Save the world with science[/size]
Windows 95/98/NT, Pentium 133 MHz, 32 MB RAM, 8x CD ROM, 14 MB disc space (650 MB full install) 800 x 600 resolution, 16 bit colour, SVGA graphics card, Sound card, Quicktime 3 (on disc)
Macintosh PowerPC 166 MHz, System 7.5, 16 MB RAM, 8x CD ROM, 14 MB disc space (650 MB full install) Thousands of colours, Sound card, Quicktime 3 (on disc)
A meteorite has hit the planet, causing it to stop rotating around its own axis. One half of the earth looks set to freeze solid in arctic conditions, while scorching heat is making life unbearable on the other half. Can humankind be saved from this terrible disaster? Just one enormous repulse set off from a large impulse machine could set the planet rotating again. Players who feel up to the challenge must get ready to be confronted with a series of physics-based riddles, scientific problems, and conundrums as they journey through the visually stunning 3-D fantasy landscape of Physicus.
A number of exciting locations and scenarios will be uncovered by the curious player intent on finding the tools he must scan and then beam into action to set off electrical charges and connections. Doors must be opened and secret combinations must be found, and pulleys and lifts must be jolted into action.
Players must light up dingy corners and hallways, activate switches and transformers, and operate all shapes and sizes of machinery, all the while keeping a constant eye everywhere for clues. No corner must be left unturned in your effort to generate electricity and take your challenge to the final step of firing the giant impulse machine.
The key to everything can be found and understood by assessing the vast database of scientific knowledge stored within a laptop-style recorder. These last-chance instructions have been left behind by the last of the survivors who set sail following a failed final attempt to fire a repulse big enough to save their planet. Their hope ran out along with the last of the electrical charges. Along with the database, you will encounter an audio-visual recording that will relay the tale of the last attempt and give you clues and additional scientific background. Listen carefully and leave no stone unturned or corner unchecked--you are their last hope!
According to some, Bioscopia, which hails from the same maker as this game, is the best edutainment title going around. It must be mighty good to be better than Physicus.
Right from the opening movie, the charm of the game and its bright demeanour is apparent, despite the dire straits in which the world finds itself. A meteorite has hit the Earth, and stopped the planet's rotation. One half of the world is freezing, the other overheating. Unless the rotation can be started again, Earth is doomed.
So it's up to you the "save the world with science". Can you generate enough electricity to fire up the impulse machine and get the world turning once more? Even the biggest edutainment-phobe should take the challenge.
Optics and Acoustics
The game looks great, a visual mix of quaint and quirky. A somewhat child-like quality infuses its appearance, yet there is an amount of detail to satisfy even the most demanding graphic connoisseur. Light is used extremely well, giving depth and subtlety to the settings. It is sharp, colourful, and all up is an attractive place to spend time.
There is not a lot of motion in the scenes but nor are they a series of still lifes. At no stage did I feel I was in a static environment. A rope bridge moved, water rippled, smoke puffed from a chimney, a bug flew by. More overt activity can result from a puzzle solve. Small but well used ambient noise also contributed to help give the world a living and dynamic feel.
The transitions from scene to scene are reasonably smooth, fading from one to the other. You can turn this off if you have a slower machine, in which case the game will be more "slide show" in its presentation. Directional arrows will indicate where you can go although I did think at times it should have been easier to turn or move to where I wanted to be without having to take some intermediate steps.
You can click some objects, and move others, cursors again indicating which option is available. You will also collect inventory items, "scanning" them into a database of available objects. Using them is a bit more laborious than it needed to be, but it does maintain the scanned approach. There also tends to only be a few items at any one time.
The puzzles are varied in difficulty and type, ranging from finding and using the right item to unravelling the mysteries of voltage or magnetism. Whilst the game proclaims itself suitable for persons aged 10 to 102, my almost 10 year old was out of her depth. 15 or 16 seems a better lower end.
You can solve some of the puzzles by applying the Adventure Game 101 approach (ie pull and poke everything in sight); but you won't be able to muddle through them all. And whilst some of the principles needed to solve some puzzles will no doubt be known to you (even if like me you weren't quite sure of the "why" of the principle); most players will have to dip into the database at some stage.
This can often be the killer in edutainment games. The requirement to hunt through "dry" material looking for the right bit of knowledge can be a chore. Here, the database is almost fun in itself.
Once you have found your laptop (not difficult at all); when an aspect of the game is confronted requiring some knowledge or understanding of the physical principles involved (usually a machine of some sort); a hotlink to the subject matter appears at the top of the screen. This will take you straight to the relevant material on your laptop. An animated "lesson" then follows.
You can choose to have a voiceover or not at the flick of a switch. I left it on as the quality was quite good. The lesson is accompanied by images and animations, which require simple interactions from yourself. Flick switches, lift weights, swap lenses and so on. But more than being mere illustrations, the graphics illuminate what you are being told, and help explain the concepts in an impressive way. The waxing and waning of the moon, night and day, and solar eclipse are all encapsulated in one little animation that you can fiddle with until it has well and truly sunk in.
You can access your laptop at any time to review information, which is categorised under the 5 broad subject headings used in this review, with an index within each. It is the science involved in those subject matters that is utilised in the puzzles.
The detail can get quite technical, yet to me it seemed quite carefully constructed to provide some "hard" science whilst not discouraging continuing with the quest. I thought the balance was well struck, and you should not be daunted the first time a physics formula rears its head. In most cases, the depth of detail is not necessary to solve the conundrum, although the information needed will be in there somewhere.
Nor does the game bog down in the information, or at all for that matter. Each bit of information or each item you find will generally be rewarded by an advance of some substance. Never did I feel that although I had acquired something new, I was still stuck in essentially the same place.
You will open new areas as you go, but you won't find everything you need to solve every puzzle in the one spot. Physicus encourages you to poke about, learning what you can, then making a mental (or written) note to come back when you have found or learnt something that might be useful.
The game offers a large install, which means you will not have to change discs whilst playing it. You will however always have to start playing with CD 1 inserted, and then immediately change to CD 2 to load your saved game and then play. It's an irksome characteristic that could surely have been easily avoided.
Building a game so overtly around physics was a brave move, particularly given the database aspect. So too was trying to appeal to such a broad target audience. Yet Physicus succeeds, and does a much better job of providing an interesting and entertaining game than many non-edutainment titles. It would be a mistake not to play this game because of its edutainment tag, whatever your feelings about such titles.
[size=6]Bioscopia: Where Science Conquers Evil[/size]
Windows 98/ME/NT/2000/XP, Pentium II 233 MHz, 64 MB RAM, 8x CD ROM, 120 MB disc space, 32 bit graphics card, Soundcard, 800 x 600 resolution, Quicktime 4 (ran fine with Quicktime 6)
Macintosh 233 MHz Power PC, G3 or higher, Mac OS 8.1 or higher, 64 MB RAM, 8x CD ROM, 120 MB disc space, 32 bit graphics card, Soundcard.
Trapped in an abandoned biological research station a young researcher enters a door and finds herself in the world of BIOSCOPIA! She awakens the laboratory's long-dormant robots, who begin pumping poisonous gas throughout the lab. Time is running out.
You must find her and save her! But, it won't be easy. First, you will need to create an antibiotic to the deadly gas. You will need to use principles of human biology, cell biology, genetics, botany, and zoology to solve puzzles that unlock the doors leading to the trapped researcher.
Deductive ability and skill are required to meet the challenge: Free the girl from her hiding place, while learning many exciting facts from the world of biology. Learn as you play...and biology becomes the adventure!
From the same makers and in much the same vein as Physicus, Bioscopia sees you once again teaming up with science, this time of the biological variety, in a quest to "conquer evil". You arrive at a seemingly abandoned and probably forgotten research facility, after a cutscene that suggests a rescue is in order. The place is falling into ruin, but remains alive in many ways. First you have to get inside, but then what to make of that large (and still active) robot? And is everything really as it seems?
If you enjoyed Physicus you will enjoy this. Much of what made Physicus such a good game is present here. They are certainly among the few best edutainment titles I have played, and are two excellent adventure games whatever the sub-genre. Perhaps they could be a little more open in terms of where you can go and when, but the large target audience (10-102) probably dictates a more directed approach, plus it makes them accessible for novices and the more experienced alike. They are solid products, not resorting to tricked up puzzles or worlds, nor relying on mazes or timed puzzles to provide a challenge. Attention to detail, careful searching of the environment, and a willingness to dip into the database will see you through (although I thought the penultimate puzzle solve in Bioscopia left a bit to be desired). They impart information, yet remain fun. You can tell I am a fan.
By comparison though, I thought Bioscopia fell a little short of the standard attained by the earlier game. I suggest you read the Physicus review to find out what is so good about these games, then come back and I will explain the differences and tell you why I thought this game comes in second.
Brief Interlude ...
There are several reasons why Bioscopia was not quite as good as Physicus. One is the way in which the science is integrated into the story and the environment. I thought it wasn't as well done here, and some aspects were downright clunky. The keycard system stands out. To enter locked areas you need a charged keycard. You charge it up by inserting it into one of the many terminals you will find, and then answering questions on the science fields covered in the game. Each correct answer gives you a unit of charge, up to a maximum of five, which is good for five passages through the relevant locked doors.
The questions aren't that hard, and all the answers can be found in the database. Plus it is multiple choice, and you aren't penalised for a wrong answer, so you may well get by with never researching the answers. Which may be good or bad, depending upon your point of view, but it is nonetheless a very artificial way to incorporate the science into the game.
There are also some pop-quizzes which you must pass to unlock doors and machines. Having to apply knowledge to solve puzzles is one thing, but a straight-out "question and answer" session is somewhat less satisfying.
In other ways, the weaving of science into the gameplay and the world of Bioscopia is quite well done, but these mentioned aspects are a minus. Perhaps it fits better if the product is seen first and foremost as a learning tool (as opposed to a game); but I thought Physicus worked on both levels to a high degree without this same artificiality.
Another lesser aspect by comparison is the fact that you don't carry your database around with you. You need to find a terminal to access the Big Brain. There are plenty of them, but on occasion I wanted to review some material and had to leave where I was and backtrack to a terminal. It's a small thing, but as some people are allergic to anything with a database, I think it is important to make the access as easy as possible. Having it on your laptop in Physicus was a better arrangement.
I thought the database was a little less fun too - not as animated and not as interactive. Again, it's a comparative thing, but I reiterate that databases have to be as appealing as possible.
Next, there are some very awkward orientations involved, and getting from A to B can be more difficult than it needs to be. This was a feature of Physicus as well but I thought it was more pronounced here. You will find yourself at times going through a convoluted set of movements in order to get the orientation you want, to examine an object or move forward. As well, some locations are very easy to miss, as you have to be in the right place and carefully use the cursor to access where you need to be. The lecture theatre stands out.
Finally, in this game you are on your own when it comes to working out where to use something. No hotspots to help. That in itself is not necessarily a downside, and careful attention to what you learn and careful observation will give you plenty of clues about what is used where. However a few of the places to use things are mighty small, and if you miss the critical spot, you might not appreciate that you had the right combination. Also, a failed attempt puts the item back in the inventory, meaning you have to get it out again to try in a slightly different spot. This leads to some redundant and multiple clicking, which could have been lessened by bigger hotspots and/or a more permanent inventory system (ie you retain it until you choose to put it away).
Those then are the things that separate this from the standard attained by Physicus. Let me reiterate though that whilst the above sounds like a lot of negatives, it's a comparative thing, and the fact that this game is not quite as good doesn't mean you shouldn't play it. To the contrary, as I have already stated it is another excellent product, streets ahead of many similar games.
Sounds of science
The other obvious difference between the two is the science involved. The titles speak for themselves, and the topics here are Zoology, Botany, Human Biology, Cellular Biology and Genetics. You may have a preference for one over the other that will determine how you feel about the game overall.
Or perhaps not. I personally prefer the biological sciences, having studied them at school and university, and I pretty much avoided all physics that wasn't compulsory. Yet whilst I felt more at home in the science here, I still preferred Physicus.
The game mechanics are pretty much the same as Physicus. It comes on 2 CDs but whilst there is a fair bit of reading from the CD, there is no disc swapping. There is some situational music but there isn't a soundtrack. It did crash occasionally to the desk top, but that occurred if I was impatient and didn't wait for the transition to finish. The sound also mysteriously disappeared on a few occasions.
In conclusion, as I made clear up front, it is an excellent adventure game, despite some flaws and niggles. I keenly look forward to Chemicus, the next production from this stable.
[size=6]Chemicus: Journey to the Other Side[/size]
Windows 95/98/NT/ME/2000/XP, Pentium II 233 MHz, 64 MB RAM, 50 MB disc, space, 32 bit SVGA graphics card, Soundcard, 8x CD ROM, Quicktime 5 (included) (ran fine with Quicktime 6)
MAC OS 8.1 or higher
233 MHz Power PC/G3, 64 MB RAM, 50 MB disc space, Thousands of colours, 8x CD ROM, Soundcard, Quicktime 5 (included)
Journey to the other side of reality, to a virtual city shrouded in secrecy. Welcome to Chemicus, a land where scientific knowledge from the beginning of time is protected and wields sacred powers. You play as an accidental intruder transported to Chemicus by an ancient amulet. Your unintended presence has threatened the tranquility of this virtual city, and it's up to you--if you dare--to restore harmony before it's too late.
In Chemicus: Journey to the Other Side players gain knowledge and use their intelligence to solve challenging riddles and unlock the city's darkest secrets. Take up the quest for ancient science truths and discover powerful tools; explore science facts and gather essential resources; experiment with chemical elements and discover the ultimate power. Chemicus awaits your return with stunning 3-D movies, riveting animation, more than 2,000 3-D images, exotic landscapes, and mysterious interiors
[quote]Chemicus is the third in a series of games, each of which utilises a branch of science to create an edutainment adventure of the highest calibre. As the name implies, Chemicus focuses on chemistry, a science which is present in just about every aspect of our lives, whether we know it or not. Here it takes centre stage, and by the end you won't be able to help knowing a whole lot more about it if you intend to rescue Richard from the other world in which he is being held prisoner, accused of disrupting the balance between worlds.
Having now played all three games (Physicus and Bioscopia being the other two); I can say they are like different legs of the same dog. There is a sound and solid core, but each game has been tweaked in ways which make it different from the others. This not only leads to variety, but also increases the opportunity for more players to find one to their liking. Yet it also comes with risks - depart too much from what made one game appealing and you might disappoint a player who wanted more of the same.
The solid core I spoke of can be summarised thus. A game world of exceptional graphics, in which the world itself and the puzzles it contains are based on the science involved. Ambient sound helps bring each world alive, and whilst there is some limited participation from other characters, each game is essentially a solitary first person quest. You point and click your way around, with smooth transitions (subject to processing power) moving you from scene to scene.
Whilst each game has a general objective to be achieved, the story line is limited. It is the path and the puzzles to get to the end that is the strength of these games, not the plot. The puzzles utilise a broad cross section of the relevant scientific principals, and combine knowledge and inventory items in their solution. The puzzles have not been tricked up; logic and thought (and perhaps a bit of luck) will get you home. Some of that knowledge can be found in the game world, in notes or diaries, or just by careful observation and attention to detail, but some must be obtained from the database present in each game. More detail can be found in the other two reviews.
So what is it that makes Chemicus different from the other two games? It is certainly the biggest and most open of the three games. You are not gently propelled in a forward direction, completing locations then moving on. You must never assume you have finished a location and you will revisit many of them several times, and not just because you are stuck and are retracing your steps hoping for a breakthrough. Pieces of information and inventory items will be used all over the place, and often more than once. Whilst an incomplete puzzle will be an indicator of something further to do, equipment and apparatus should never be assumed to be single use.
It is also by far the hardest. My thirteen year old daughter Emily and I played together and not even the power of our two brains could get us through without a peak at the on-CD walkthrough on more than one occasion. We took copious notes, made numerous drawings, and pored over what to do time and time again. We fiddled with apparatus, and concocted and created various substances and items, sometimes making entirely the wrong ones. We researched topics, wrote down formulas, re-read journals, and in true adventure fashion, pushed everything and tried almost everything. We retraced our steps and still at times we remained stuck.
There are a lot of clues to help you, some overt and some far more subtle. Also, the game tends to get harder as you progress, culminating in a doozy of a final puzzle, but allowing you to settle into the game. There are a very large number of puzzles, and the successful completion of each one does not usually result in a huge leap forward. The game is more like a jigsaw, each completed puzzle adding a piece that perhaps enables you to then connect a few more pieces.
The difficulty level is also accentuated by the need to not only refer to the database, but to interpret and then apply that information. It is not usually a case of simply finding the answer somewhere in the material. By way of example, you might know that you need to make substance X, which can be made by combining elements A, B and C. You may have A and B but not C. You may ultimately learn from another part of the database that C is in fact a by-product of producing D, so the route to manufacturing X is in fact via the production of D.
You will also have to deal with common names for substances, as well as their chemical composition. You might not know that lime potash is the key to a chemical equation unless you learn that it is also KOH. You have an analyser among your equipment that will help in this regard.
You do make lots of substances, including wrong ones. You cannot, however, get irreparably stuck. Puzzles that allow you to make a wrong substance also allow you to try again (once, of course, you realise your mistake) and materials are always at hand. You also have to (amongst other things) forge metal, decalcify a key, reveal hidden text, open a greenhouse, make a keycard and take a balloon ride.
The database too is different. It's like a (very) large chemistry text book, and is certainly the driest used in the 3 games. There are a lot of diagrams, but no animations and no narrator. There is nothing at all entertaining about its presentation. Its lack of appeal is not helped by a somewhat messy navigation system. Whilst I am not adverse to edutainment titles, I suspect it is the nature of the database that puts off a lot of players, and this aspect may dissuade some players from this game.
Chemicus also presents yet a third version of how the database is integrated into the game. In Physicus, it was contained on a lap top that you found early in the game and then carried with you. In Bioscopia, you had to find a terminal in the game world to access the big brain computer. Here, the database is always available (how or why is never explained - it is just "there") but it needs to be compiled. As you move through the game and gain access to more locations, you will progressively find more chips which will fill the gaps in the database. You are able to see the headings of the information you can't yet access, which at first is more a guide to what your database doesn't know than what it does.
The chips are all concerned with a particular subject matter, but the information will not necessarily appear in a single place in the database, nor will it necessarily complete a topic, as so much is inter-related. Also, don't think that the answers to the conundrums you come across are contained within the knowledge you already have. Some early puzzles will only be able to be completed by knowledge and items you find much later.
Next to last, instead of walking between most locations, you will ride a small underground train-like vehicle. At least you will once you get it going. You also have to find transit chips to access different locations. Place these in the right spot on the periodic table control panel, and you can then visit the corresponding location.
Finally, the animations are the smoothest and best running of the 3 games. Lag is almost unnoticeable, and they are sharp and clear.
Chemicus comes on 2 CDs, and there is some unavoidable disc swapping. It ran without any problems whatsoever. You can't die, but saves (called scores for some reason) are unlimited, and the game will automatically pick up where you left off if you choose.
In conclusion, Chemicus is more like a standard edutainment title than the other two, but its size and complexity set it apart from every other edutainment title I have played. If you want a charming scientific stroll through a graphically rich and visually quirky environment, aided by a series of interactive lessons, play Physicus. If instead you want a scientifically based puzzle challenge of the highest order, set in a large and detailed world in which you will wander (and ponder) back and forth with a weighty tome in your backpack, then Chemicus is for you. Same but different, and each to their own.