Like Odysseus's legendary trip home after the Trojan war, Greek studio Crazysoft's The Odyssey HD is a rather shaky endeavour. With awkward, error-riddled English dialogues and hand-drawn character cutouts hopping about, the undertone of the experience wavers between hilarious and confounding. But the game rises above its petty niggles and glitches with the same tenacity that propels its hero past the sundry politics of assorted gods and through an obstacle course littered with mythic monsters. From the first multifaceted quest of this point-and-click adventure, its valiant effort at storytelling, characterisation and puzzle design strives against production annoyances, and eventually creates an enjoyable five hour romp through ancient Greece. What’s more, its colourful, jovial format might make the complex story more palatable to younger players – if they can persevere past the pixel-hunting and some poorly clued tasks.
The game adheres faithfully to the Homeric epic as it recreates The Odyssey. It starts with Odysseus held captive by the goddess Calypso on the island of Ogygia, and the first order of business is to build a raft so he can sail to Ithaca. This quest, comprising several mini-tasks, introduces gameplay elements far more effectively than the massacred English of the tutorial. Odysseus’s journey – till his raft is wrecked by his nemesis Poseidon, washing him ashore on the island of the Phaeacians – forms the first of three chapters. The second deals with flashbacks of his adventures since leaving Troy, which he recounts for Phaeacian king Alcinous, while the third covers his return to Ithaca to combat the 'suitors’ who have parked at his palace to marry his wife and are literally eating away his wealth.
Each chapter has a set of scenarios consisting of 1-3 screens apiece based on significant events like Odysseus outwitting Cyclops, navigating past Scylla and Charybdis, and escaping the Sirens. This journey veers from verdant Ogygia to the arid but colourful land of the Lotus Eaters and the ashen Hades, with many impromptu stops including the floating platform of the wind-god Aeolus and the haven of witch-goddess Circe. The broad objective of each scenario is chalked out at its beginning, after which there are a set of interlinked tasks to be accomplished by speaking to guest characters, gathering inventory items and solving logic- or coordination-based puzzles.
The highlight of the game is its intricate tasks, which belie its simplistic appearance. Odysseus has to build and repair things, get past gods, guards and monsters using strategy and stealth, and solve others’ problems in return for favours and items. Quests are designed in sync with location and mythology, and are tightly integrated with the story: Cyclops’s sheep are essential to the escape from his cave, the fig tree of Charybdis is used ingeniously, and Circe’s spiked wine is as interesting to make as it is to drink.
Though overall progress is linear, within a scenario tasks aren’t always sequential, so Odysseus can collect items or perform actions which only become relevant later. If you do the correct thing but ahead of time, you're told that you're on the right track. Objects are situation-specific and intuitively used, but slight twists add a bit of challenge to the mixing-and-matching. While the ingredients for Circe’s wine are quite easy to gather, the real challenge lies in deciphering which of the assortment of items to use and when. Assembling machinery by finding parts is generally not enough to start them; Odysseus must also learn the mechanism of operating them. You'll also need to work out how to efficiently swipe items, since you get only a few moments before distracted guards snap back to attention.
Standalone puzzles, though operationally simple, are creative and interesting. Odysseus has to deduce a navigation path using stars and asterisms, work a contraption to alter the course of winds, string a bow, and sometimes move items or people in logical steps. Some minigames are time-driven, such as steering moving vehicles through obstacle courses. None are difficult and can be mastered with a couple of attempts, but they provide a mild adrenalin rush. There is also an easy but slightly lengthy sound-based puzzle.
The controls are simple: left-clicking describes a hotspot – often in significant, hint-laden detail – while right-clicking interacts with it. Items aren't automatically added to the inventory since many have multiple usage options. For example, you can choose to either eat or gather a bunch of grapes from a vine. Sometimes the wrong choice leads to misusing an item, and some activities require multiple usages, in which case you can return for more. You can collect extra items only if your stock requires replenishment, a subtle but intelligent enhancement to the straightforward format. Collected objects – about three to five per scenario – are placed in the inventory occupying the right quarter of the screen alongside other utilities, and can be combined with onscreen hotspots or each other. The game encourages reuse of items, and doesn't gather superfluous clutter: if you have a sword, you don't need another sharp object to cut something.
Far less efficient is the design choice to use pop-up dialogue boxes for descriptions and interactivity. These must be manually clicked away to proceed, which is tiresome; more so since exhausted hotspots remain active till the end of a scenario. Particularly vexing are the pop-ups for single-purpose items, whose options are essentially 'use' and 'leave'. Hotspots are not labeled even when rolling the cursor over them, and smaller objects like stones require precision clicking with the large, round ‘look’ cursor, making it easy to miss them. There is no hotspot revealer either, which, combined with the pixel-hunting required, gives an old-school feel to the game, though it will frustrate modern-day gamers to hit such invisible roadblocks.Continued on the next page...