metzomagic.com Review

Morpheus

Developer:  Soap Bubble Productions
Publisher:  Piranah Interactive
Year Released:  1998

Review by Rosemary Young (October, 1998)

morpheus.jpgMorpheus begins with the monologue of a desperate man, Matthew Holmes, lost in a blizzard in the frozen, Arctic wastes. He tells of how he's on the trail of his long lost father and, seemingly, he's rather closer to the trail than he would rather be, as his father perished 25 years earlier in similar circumstances. Holmes Senior was on a ballooning expedition when a mysterious, 'lost soul' wandered into camp with tales of a ship stuck fast in the ice, then promptly died. He set out in search of the ship and vanished.

Hallucinating and slowly freezing to death, Matthew Holmes struggles on until the hulk of a ghostly ship looms before him. Refuge ... or is he only dreaming?

Auspicious beginning
Fortunately Holmes Junior doesn't succumb to the cold or else this would be a different story ... or a very short game. On board that elusive ship, named the Herculania, is where you take control and start to unravel the mystery that began many years earlier. It's an auspicious beginning; the grey, ghostly ship; the desolate Arctic landscape and the wind whining eerily. You can almost feel the cold, and the palpable urge to take refuge inside which, incidentally, is your first challenge in Morpheus as the doors are sealed tight.

It won't be long before you complete this task and along the way you'll likely meet a couple of fleeting spectres to reassure you that this won't be any ordinary adventure. And if this doesn't convince you, then there are the nuclear and solar capabilities of the Herculania to think about, plus an extraordinary device named the Neurographicon that you will stumble across sooner or later.

The story and setting
Once inside the Herculania there is an assortment of devices to operate that reveal the tale of its demise. And so begins the story within a story as you learn about the ill- fated maiden voyage of the Hercluania in 1928 and the collection of specially invited passengers on board. Similar in style to games such as Zork Nemesis, you pick up threads and get to know these passengers via ghostly 'encounters' that appear when you select a relevant hotspot.

This 'inside' story is a macabre tale of revenge and romance, but never fear, I'm not going to tell all, you will discover it for yourself as you explore the plush interior of the vessel. There's the bridge, the dining room, ballroom, gymnasium and a number of other fascinating locations to examine and, once you have learned the respective codes to open the cabins, you can take a look in them as well.

Ok, so I spied a pixel or two but the graphics worked just fine for me, and conjured up an ethereal presence that heightened the atmosphere of the game. As well as exploring the Herculania and solving a number of problems there are several 'dream worlds' to visit; each based on a theme relating to one of the luckless passengers. In each of these 'worlds' there are three problems to overcome before you can return to the 'normality' of the ship. So, although you can visit them in any order, there's no escape once you are there ... until the problems are solved.

Solitary exploration and puzzle solving
Morpheus is a first-person perspective, Myst-style game in that there is no inventory and no game characters with which to interact directly ... just solitary exploration and discovery. But this comparison doesn't quite fit because, as well as mechanical type problems (pushing levers, etc.) there are also problems that require collecting clues from different locations and others that demand careful observation and the recognition of patterns or relationships within the game environment. Though not terribly difficult, the puzzles are interesting and varied and several will certainly test your powers of observation and interpretation. One caught me out, it took longer to complete than I care to admit because it didn't entail any interaction with a device or screen hotspot, it simply required movement. I'm still not sure if I should accuse the designers of being very clever or utterly mean and unfair.

And while on the subject of movement, Morpheus is mouse controlled with smooth transitions to fixed positions and 360 degree panning. You can speed matters up by switching off the transitions. I found the navigation very easy although the use of the left mouse button for both movement and panning sometimes meant that I went sailing forward when my actual intention was to pan around.

The cursor takes various forms, depending on what action is available: arrow, open hand, pointing finger, magnifying glass, etc. A ship's wheel indicates when there is no action possible and a 'microphone' alerts you when there is a narrative to listen to. (Unfortunately, there are no subtitles for the hearing impaired). Also there is only ever one item to collect at a time, at which point the cursor simply assumes the shape of that item, so you don't have an inventory as such.

Absorbing gameplay
This game is quite absorbing and it does have something different in the presentation of some of the puzzles. I only wish that it had a few more puzzles to keep me occupied, perhaps the 'dream world' episodes could have delivered more in this respect, but I surely enjoyed the experience. I especially appreciated the ending when the stories merge, but my lips are sealed on this point :).

Throughout the atmosphere is excellent and the acting is good enough not to be distracting. What I did find distracting, though, was Matthew's habit of stating the obvious in his private commentary, particularly at the beginning and end of the game. In fact, it annoyed me no end, but I forgave him his 'sin' at the outset, if only to make Morpheus more playable for novice adventurers. However, towards the end, I thought we could all have been trusted to think for ourselves.

Morpheus is an entertaining game with an intriguing mystery to unravel ... it may surprise you! On the whole it is a fascinating journey of exploration that operates on more than one level, but a journey that experienced adventurers may well find to be over just a little too soon. On the other hand, players new to the genre can look forward to settling in for an extended visit.

One last point before I go, if I've piqued your interest in this game then you might have to look long and hard for it. It comes in particularly 'dark' packaging of the variety that's bound to get lost amongst the 'action' titles in many computer game stores.

You can purchase this game on-line from Playing Games Interactive

metzomagic.com rating:  

Copyright © Rosemary Young 1998. All rights reserved.

System requirements:
Windows: Pentium, 16MB RAM, Quad speed CD-ROM drive, 640x480 display (256 color or higher) Windows 95, Windows compatible sound card and mouse.
Macintosh: PowerMac, 16MB RAM, Quad speed CD-ROM drive, 640x480 display (256 color or higher) System 7.5 or above.
The CDs for this game are hybrid CDs. They will work for either Macintosh or Windows 95 computers.