The Daedalus Encounter
The Daedalus Encounter is the new game from Mechadeus, the makers of Critical Path, and I am pleased to report that it is a big improvement on the earlier game, with more involving, more intelligent gameplay, and better acting from the stars.
Daedalus sees you take the role of Casey, former gunner for the Terran Star Fleet. But, unfortunately, you are no longer the person you used to be. As it happened your ship was destroyed in battle and you managed to eject from immediate harm in your life pod as did your two crew-mates, Ari (Tia Carrere from Wayne's World and True Lies) and Zack (played by Christian Bocher from Melrose Place). Though they escaped to safety you were not so lucky. Shortly after ejecting, your pod was hit by the debris of your own destroyed starship and your body was damaged beyond salvation. Terran medics managed to save only your brain and link you up to a virtual control centre, allowing you to continue functioning and interacting with your environment, albeit in a limited form. Ari and Zack, however, didn't like the idea of you spending the rest of your "life" in a medical lab so you find yourself "liberated" and back in the hot seat with your old buddies.
On a new and improved Terran starship you find that the war is over, and your two buddies are now pirates, salvaging useable materials from derelict starship hulks floating in war-ravaged space. Zack has hooked up your control system to the ship's probe, a little bubble with anti-gravity motors. Now it's time to repay your friends for your new found freedom.
As Casey, you have control of a number of analysis and manipulation devices linked to the probe, notably a grapple arm to pick up things, although this is used infrequently, and a multi-frequency light emission system that allows you to broadcast several colours and intensities of light. Also at your disposal is a laser that can be used as a cutting tool or as a weapon. Yes, there is one combat scene in this game where you must shoot down flying jaws-of-death called Krin, to save your friends and yourself from certain annihilation. And quick reflexes are a help here as those Krin fly fast.
Controlling the probe, however, is what you'll be doing for most of your time; that and watching the superb animation and acting throughout the game in the quarter screen video window, or full screen if your system will allow it. You can steer the probe to investigate areas of interest and use your built-in analysis system to examine objects. As well as all this, you'll come to the mainstay of the game, logic puzzles!
Indeed, Daedalus is a game that can be compared with Entombed in that every door is locked with a puzzle that must be solved before you can proceed. The puzzles range from the dreadfully simple to the nightmarishly difficult. Some defy understanding at all, but luckily there is a small hint system to shed some light on their meaning. Luckily, also, there is a three level difficulty control setting that can be changed for each individual puzzle and not just for the whole game. This is a boon to all and sundry. You can make the combat easier, and still enjoy the full challenge of the puzzles. Conversely, if that one puzzle is just unconquerable, and some are, you can decrease the difficulty to allow you to progress. Some puzzles have a time limit, some allow you to take as long as you like. Some have one and only one solution whilst others can be solved in a number of ways.
The puzzles themselves are many and varied. Bounce light beams through a hexagonal grid system to illuminate specific points, beat the computer at a novel and challenging version of connect-the-dots or arrange the overlapping tiles of different colours to form a specified pattern. I spent hours playing these puzzles at all three levels of difficulty. Easy is definitely easy enough. Medium, well yes, harder. Difficult, arrrgh! These are brain popping and mind-bending, and does it make you feel good when you solve them!
Throughout the game you'll be treated to some superb graphics. Daedalus runs under Windows and will look best in 65,536 colours, if your computer doesn't object, but will run fine on systems with fewer colours. It uses the normal Windows configuration, which means no fiddling with drivers or special manoeuvres to make it run. The sound is actually quite good, and suits the gameplay well. The speech from Ari and Zack is clear and neither tacky nor simplistic.
One big surprise for me was the quality of the acting. It is common to find sub-grade acting in games of this type, but on the whole, in Daedalus it is well done and succeeds in drawing you into the story. Zack is comical and stereotypically insensitive, whilst Ari is smart, sensible, and a woman to be reckoned with.
Unfortunately, though, all is not good news. Daedalus has a difficult save-game feature. You may save the game at any time, but the actual position saved is unlikely to be precisely where you think it might be. You can successfully save at the start of each major puzzle. That's it. Try to save at any other point, and if you restore you'll continue that game at the last major puzzle you met, not where you actually saved. The difficulty lies in identifying a major puzzle. Sometimes you just have to take your life in your hands and try.
The other problem is a really annoying one. If you get past most puzzles but miss just two or three, maybe because you simply don't find them, then you are in REAL strife. The game will let you play the puzzles out of order, that's fine, but you can't save the puzzles out of order. Try to save a game after going back and solving three puzzles you missed, BANG! When you restore, you are back at the minus three puzzle stage. Basically if you miss puzzles, restart the game from scratch as you'll never, or at least you will be unlikely to, get to a position where you can successfully save again. Unfortunately, some of those puzzles are so easy to miss! You'll know if you've missed one at the start of the third and last CD. If Zack and Ari give up, you're done for!
The interface is smooth and relatively intuitive though sometimes a little frustrating. Actions don't always work. At one stage I had to hit the "Yes" button for a good few minutes non-stop to get my message across. But the puzzles, wow, they sure were challenging, from determining just what to do, and then doing it once you have figured it out. The graphics, well what can I say? In these days you expect them to be good, but here Daedalus excels. All the time the background music calmly washes over you, but this is not to say there isn't a thumping soundtrack at times.
If you enjoyed Entombed, or just like a good mind-bending puzzle, don't look past Daedalus.
Copyright © Adrian Carmody 1995.
All rights reserved.
486DX33, 8MB RAM, 2xCD ROM, 4MB hard drive space, Win 3.1