Let's play a little game. I give you a phrase, you tell me the first thing that pops into your head. Ready? Okay, here goes.
If your thoughts were flooded with visions of chocolate, Christmas, or warm cuddly puppy dogs, play RHEM 2. But if your head was filled with images of lima beans, the dentist's office, and the worst blind date you ever had—run. As far away from this game as you can.
I'm just trying to be realistic. There is definitely a group of gamers that RHEM 2 will appeal to, players with infinite supplies of patience who just want to take their time wading through a peaceful slideshow of detailed scenes, turning knobs, pulling levers, and looking high and low for fragments of a broken key that have been scattered like breadcrumbs on the wind. Then there are those who are going to hate it on sight, for virtue of what it is: a Myst clone. If you fall into one of these two camps, not much of what I say in this review is going sway you.
What's that? You didn't think about chocolate or lima beans? The term "Myst clone" doesn't really evoke a reaction one way or the other? In that case, read on. I'll tell you what to expect, and hopefully help you decide if RHEM 2 is a game for you.
RHEM 2, the sequel to 2003's RHEM, is more or less a one-man production put together by a developer named Knut Müller. (I say "more or less" because there are a few other names listed in the credits, but he's the guy behind it all.) Both games were self-published, then picked up for commercial release in North America by GotGame Entertainment. Although I didn't play the first game, RHEM 2 was marketed as a standalone adventure that could be understood and enjoyed even by those who had not played its predecessor. For this reason, I didn't expect to have any trouble getting into it. This was my first disappointment.
RHEM 2's storyline is about as basic as they come. At the start of the game you arrive on the doorstep of a guy named Zetais, who is apparently someone you know from the previous game. He hands you a piece of a key and thanks you for agreeing to help his brother by exploring RHEM. There's no explanation as to what RHEM is, but I figured that must be coming. Next, you take a meandering train ride on very creaky tracks and arrive underground. By listening to a recording left for you by Kales, the brother, you learn that you must collect the other two fragments that go with the one Zetais gave you, and put them together to make a key. This key opens a door to another part of RHEM, which you must explore to find an artifact. Kales needs you to take a photograph of the artifact (using a camera that's secured to the wall in one of the rooms near the where the train drops you off) and bring it back to his brother.
Right off the bat, I was discouraged by the vague and (dare I say it?) dull nature of this quest. The brothers don't even make it sound all that exciting. I didn't feel like I was embarking on a mission that I and only I could accomplish, but like Kales and Zetais didn't have time for it themselves and were sticking me with the dirty work while they went off to explore bigger and better things.
Contributing to the sense of drudgery is the fact that the little bit of acting found in RHEM 2 is extremely subpar. The FMV characters speak without inflection or enthusiasm, sometimes even stumbling over their words, and the subtitles don't always match the voiceover. I guess the advantage of having very little dialogue in the game is that the player isn't subjected to the bad voice work and inaccurate subtitles very often. On the other hand, because the game has so little human interaction, the fact that the few snippets we do get are not very well executed is a letdown.
Other than these early explanations of what the player needs to do, and a couple of recordings indicating that you're on the right track (but not giving any additional or more interesting information), RHEM 2's "story" might as well not be there at all. Some people will argue that the game's plot isn't important, since the thrust of RHEM 2's gameplay lies in the puzzles. Maybe they're right, but since the developer did choose to introduce a bit of story into the game, I can't help but wish it had been more imaginative. Even telling me what this "artifact" is and what's so important about it might have given me a little more motivation to hunt it down. When it comes to story, this game isn't like Myst, where the plot is relatively simple but you have the chance to uncover a lot of backstory as you explore. Except for the occasional glimpse of a mysterious female character whose presence is never satisfactorily explained, there is nothing more to RHEM 2's story than what I have just laid out. What you see is what you get: a great big underground cave with some unnamed artifact hidden somewhere in its depths.
In general, the puzzles in RHEM 2 serve one purpose: to get into locked rooms. There are a number of different types of brain-teasers in the game, but they pretty much all fall under the banner of logic puzzles. Numbers, symbols, and patterns are strewn all over the place; your task is to figure out which of the dozens of keypads or other mechanisms each set of numbers, symbols, and patterns correspond to. This requires taking a lot of notes as you make your way through the caves, jotting down everything in case you find a use for it later. And when I say "later," I mean much later. It's not unusual for a button to affect a door that's 50 screens away (believe me, I counted!), so running back and forth to see if what you tried is correct can be very time consuming. In one example, a puzzle involving a ball that moves along a track can't be solved until you've copied down information displayed on eight separate wall plaques, which are randomly distributed across all parts of the cave. Even then, once you've collected all this information and figured out how it applies to the ball on the track, the result you obtain must be used somewhere else, several rooms away.
If it sounds complicated, that's because it is. To get through RHEM 2, you'll need to either 1) take copious notes, often with no idea when or how the information will be used; 2) keep a walkthrough handy so you can mooch off the hard work of someone else who already took all those notes; or 3) do an awful lot of backtracking as you piece together which set of numbers / colors / dots / etc. corresponds to which machine / door / mechanism / etc. An automatic notebook would have been nice, or even better, a photograph option, especially since the main goal of the game is to take a picture of the artifact for Kales. Rather than having the camera built into the wall, why not let the player carry it around and use it in place of pen and paper?
I should mention that if you have a bad sense of direction, you will be hopelessly lost in the underground caverns of RHEM 2. I would not have been able to find my way from room to room without using a walkthrough, period. I have trouble getting my bearings in most slideshow games, but RHEM 2 was particularly difficult for me to navigate because every screen is so similar to every other. There are some differences as you travel from one area of the cave to another, sure, but overall when you are in a certain area, you're stuck traversing across at least half a dozen rooms that look exactly the same. There is an in-game compass, but I didn't find it to be of much help. I'm not suggesting that navigation will be a problem for everyone, but if you're one of those people who has to think about which direction you're facing when the sun is setting to your right (you know who you are!), you'll definitely have a hard time finding your way around RHEM 2. You might have trouble even if you're not directionally challenged.Continued on the next page...
|Worldwide||November 1 2005||Got Game Entertainment|