Friday, August 08, 2008

The Immortals of Terra Review

By Zeus Poplar, Official Out of Eight Adventure and RPG Correspondent

The Immortals of Terra, developed by BrainGame and published by Viva Media.
The Good: Solid voice acting, looks like a million space bucks, has a plot that will keep you playing just to see what happens next
The Not So Good: Starts slow and has possibly the most disgusting puzzle of all time
What say you? A science fiction point-and-click adventure with a pedigree: 6/8

I hate adventure games. So you can imagine my dismay when I received one in the mail. I feel bad not doing a review of a game that a publisher spent money on sending me, so I have added a guest reviewer to tackle all of the adventure and role-playing games I dislike. Enjoy the magic of outsourcing!
-- James Allen

Ahoy! My name is Zeus Poplar, and I review RPGs and adventure games so James doesn't have to. (He's highly allergic to pollen from dialog trees, and fetch quests could be fatal.) It's a public service. A service that just happens to snag me free games. It's a long, hard road ahead. Somehow, I'll manage.

Immortals of Terra: A Perry Rhodan Adventure is based on the long running German science fiction series first published in 1961. With fifty years and over 2,000 Perry Rhodan novellas to draw inspiration from, the story can be a bit overwhelming for players new to the series. For example, I was more than a little baffled when Perry announced he was going "incognito" and suddenly transmogrified into a brunette named Laszlo Daikonu. Seconds later, a seven-foot tall alien with an elephant trunk told me he was feeling lonely and asked for a cuddle, and all was right again. As a fan of Michael Swanwick, I'm used to surreal science fiction. Just as long as the puzzles make sense, I don't care how weird the story gets, even if it's David Lynch meets Fraggle Rock on Deep Space 9.

The pre-rendered backgrounds range from Utopian government offices to cyclopean monuments built on the red moons of Jupiter. 3D animation brings the world to life; maintenance robots slide underfoot and the skies are filled with flying cars straight out of The Fifth Element. Each human and pizza-headed alien is rendered with that action-figure realism of next-generation video games. It's German engineering at its best, except for some spooky business involving Perry Rhodan's eyes: his shadow has holes where the eyes should be, as if the light were shining through an empty mask, an effect which sent me screaming out of the room in search of my blankie. Perry's running animation is natural, something most games haven't quite mastered.

But if you can't talk the talk, then don't walk the walk, and luckily, Perry Rhodan can do both. He speaks with a deep-voiced bravado that puts Hollywood action heroes to shame. (Rhodan constructed a galactic empire; Vin Diesel can barely put together a sentence.) He sounds a bit like an educated Duke Nukem, which works a lot better than you'd think. The talented vocal cast varies from prissy, four-eyed Blues (the aforementioned pizza-headed aliens) to desk clerks with Minnesotan accents, and a portly positronic technician who nearly stole the show when he said, "Have you seen my lunch box? I need to eat. No yummy for my tummy!" The music works mainly on the subconscious level, although a noteworthy opening theme brings to mind the lush jungle orchestra of Jurassic Park.

Immortals of Terra: A Perry Rhodan Adventure gains momentum after a slow start, in which you find yourself, Perry Rhodan, Immortal Regent of Terrania, under house arrest. A recent attack has left your head of security overly concerned for your personal safety, so your first priority is to sneak past the guards. Things get interesting when Perry finds his kidnapped girlfriend's notebook, which details an ancient and mysterious race of alien-angel-dragons who breathed fire and visited Earth 10,000 years ago.

The bottom of the screen contains the game's only visible interface, a black bar that displays inventory and subtitles. A context-sensitive cursor changes into a doorway icon for Open, spinning gears for Operate, a speech balloon for Talk, and a squashed oval with a pyramid gyrating upon it: for Walk, natch. I love the inventory-based dialog system, which places topics of conversation alongside physical possessions, though it did create a couple of odd moments. After a brush with a carnivorous plant from the Little Shop of Horrors, a miniature version of the Planet Venus Flytrap appeared in my inventory, right next to a pair of Thermal Goggles. At first I thought Perry had deftly snipped a sample of the plant, which he would no doubt take back to his laboratory for analysis...then I realized he was only carrying around a man-eating topic of conversation. There's a handy scan feature that makes anything clickable glow for a short time. It saves you hours of generic, "There's nothing remarkable about THAT!" messages, but for some reason, scanning requires a press of the S key. Combine that with the fact that you can only skip conversations with the space bar, and this otherwise mouse-driven game has you clutching your keyboard for no good reason.

The puzzles range from blindly piloting a remote controlled UFO down a ventilation shaft, to winning over an alien by feeding him/her/it (I was afraid to check) their favorite worm-burger (details abound, as Perry casually mentions the worms will try to telepathically engage aggressors in sympathetic dialog to save their slimy skins. Neat!). The developers did a fine job confining the player to five or six rooms until all puzzles had been solved, and then moving things along with a cut scene. Kudos to BrainGame -- not once was I forced to reload a saved game in order to retrieve some forgotten item on a now inaccessible planet. Player-friendly as it may be, this game does have the most disgusting solution to a puzzle I have ever encountered. How do you wake a sleeping man? To hear Perry Rhodan tell the story, all you need a cup of coffee and a handful of alien dung. I'll spare you the grizzlies.

While the overall tone of the game is serious, Perry Rhodan breaks the tension with sarcasm and not-so-subtle references to famous science fiction series. ("Carnivorous plant? Regent, I'm a bionic, not a botanist!") One of these in-jokes contains a highly questionable puzzle. In order to get through a locked door, I was forced to play the theme to Close Encounters of the Third Kind on a numerical keypad. Sure, it's something bored office workers probably do every day on their phones, but I have no idea how the hearing impaired (or just plain tone deaf) are supposed to beat this puzzle. Despite its space opera origins, Perry Rhodan has more in common with X-Files than Star Wars, thanks to a main character who thinks his way out of every challenge and a mystery involving seraphic dragons appearing on Earth at the dawn of recorded history. I admit, I wasn't expecting a Da Vinci Code twist on the sci-fi genre. It's best kind of surprise, a pleasant one, and I was hooked from the beginning.

Immortals of Terra: A Perry Rhodan Adventure is a fine science fiction game. A good main character is essential to adventure games, for they serve the dual role as hero and interface, spouting error messages as often as dialog. Perry Rhodan is a great main character. He looks like Daniel Craig, cracks wise like Bruce Campbell and, er, can apparently transmogrify into some guy named Laszlo Daikonu. No wonder they elected him Regent! If not for a few questionable puzzles, this game might have scored higher. But for twenty bucks, Immortals of Terra: A Perry Rhodan Adventure is a steal.