Reah: Face the Unknown
The short opening sequence to Reah quickly sets the scene and gives you a taste of what is to come in the mysterious world you are about to visit. As the story goes Reah is a worthless planet with very little going for it in the form of natural resources or land fit for human habitation, but, curiously, a large research base has been set up there with military support. Of course, this has attracted the media like a magnet and you (a nameless male) are the lucky one, the single reporter who has been invited to investigate. Thus you discover the source of the attention that Reah is attracting. A time portal to Reah's sister planet has been found and, despite its growing unreliability, you step through to take a look.
Once you enter the portal the inevitable happens, it malfunctions and there is no going back. So you begin this first-person perspective game with the task of investigating the alien land and learning how you might escape. And, since you have never set foot on this planet before, just why is it that everyone finds you so familiar?
This one is certainly a most engrossing game with beautiful graphics and eerie music that make the game world fascinating to explore ... you really won't want to leave some locations. I especially appreciated the watery world with its wooden walkways, fountains, and houses clinging to the surrounding cliffs. The reflections and rippling water make it so tranquil and inviting you just want to move right in. But if that's not your thing then there's also the desert to experience, a metallic space-age location and the initial town which has clear Mogul or Arabic influences.
Everything is mouse controlled and movement is achieved via smooth transitions with 360 degree turning and limited vertical movement. As is usual, the cursor automatically changes form for various actions with the exception of panning which is a little unusual. For this option you must watch a small graphic beneath the picture window that indicates possible directions as the cursor does not automatically show on screen. Because of this peculiarity you can sometimes confuse the panning cursor and the movement cursor, but you do learn to cope after a while.
Although there are a few game characters sprinkled around this world, character interaction is not a huge part of play. The few conversations that you have impart some background information, building up intrigue and, if you take heed, there are some clues floating around as well, but you don't actually control the conversation. Apart from these brief interludes much of this journey is solitary and very Myst-like with a strong ethereal atmosphere.
In fact, apart from the flowing movement at times you would swear you are in the realms of Myst or Riven although I think the use of transitions might sacrifice a little clarity. Indeed, there are many mechanical problems to solve, also reminiscent of these games, but the puzzles in Reah are more varied with some inventory-based puzzles as well as a good serving of the more abstract and manipulative variety. There is even a hint of The 11th Hour/7th Guest with your ethereal guide challenging you to a game where you must remove counters from a table, but you have to work out the rules for yourself for this one, so I won't spoil it here.
The mixture of puzzles in Reah works very well although sometimes running the errands that are associated with the inventory-based puzzles jar a bit and the writers seem to have acknowledged this by having the main character complain that he's not a package delivery boy, or something to that effect. Amongst the manipulative problems there are a few aural puzzles, a selection of the cog and wheels turning variety, plus a couple of quite unique teasers involving experimentation and very close scrutiny of the results of your efforts in order to solve them. The difficulty level varies, but there are surely one or two (or more) that will catch many players out. One in particular had me literally running around in circles, and it was most satisfying to complete. There is some help in the form of hints from your personal guide or mentor for many of the problems, but at the very end of play when the going gets really tough with some tricky manipulative puzzles you are completely on your own.
Reah comes on six CDs and I am very pleased to report that I didn't have even a hint of any technical problems except that the voices were not totally synchronised with the live actor's lip movements. (Oops. I'm informed that the reason for this is that the original Polish has been dubbed into English. I should have guessed from the credits.) Neither is disk swapping a problem as play moves on in stages and each location is confined to a disk. In this respect Reah also offers a very useful option to cancel a 'new disk' prompt if you want to change your mind and not exchange disks, or if you accidentally call up this prompt. Subtitles are available in a choice of English, German, French, Dutch, Italian and Spanish and you can enable your preference from the settings option that displays on the installation menu. However, the news is not all good for hearing impaired players because of the aural puzzles that will make completing this game very difficult.
This one I have to say I really enjoyed. Generally the puzzles are of the type that give you a great sense of satisfaction when completed and the gameworld is of the sort that begs you to explore. It's one for players who are dedicated puzzle lovers with lots of patience and persistence and who like interpreting signs and sounds and manipulating buttons, cogs, cords and levers. And, yes, I did get hopelessly stuck on a number of the puzzles, but I thoroughly appreciated sorting both them and myself out when I was tempted to give up and reach for a walkthrough.
Copyright © Rosemary Young 1998.
All rights reserved.
Minimum system: Pentium 90, Windows 95, 16Mb RAM, 200Mb hard disk space, 4xCD-ROM, DirectX compatible SVGA, keyboard, mouse. Recommended: Pentium 133, 32MB RAM.