Released just a couple of years ago Celtica is a first-person perspective adventure game very much in the Myst mould. I'd say 'Irish Myst' here but every other reviewer and his/her dog has made that quip so I'll opt for 'Irish Myth' which is also technically correct as it builds on a Celtic legend of celestial visitations and is appropriately situated in the west, on a mythical island off the Irish coast.
The introduction tells of three gifts left behind by the alien Gods: The Ascension Amulet, The Book of Ascension and The Ascension Harp. It then gives a brief chronology of the history of the area starting with a band of Monks who took up residence, followed by the Viking invaders and then The Children of Kerry. With this potted history you are then deposited in the game, at the foot of a tower, and left to your own devices.
The landscape is desolate and magical with crumbling ruins, craggy cliffs and isolated outcrops accessible only by spidery bridges that appear to float in the mist. You can hear the wind wailing softly, it's like stepping into a dream complete with lonely lighthouse, church, cemetery, observatory, and abandoned mansion that has its own story of love and betrayal to reveal.
But you know nothing of this story when you start out because, in keeping with this style of game, it is left for you to explore and fit the pieces together for yourself as you find them. All you have is a fleeting knowledge of the Gifts of the Gods and a very good idea that you are going to be chasing after them. Later you will find a diary that enlightens you further and gives you a helping hand although Celtica does fall into the trap of offering too much information to read and digest in one sitting.
The diary isn't the only document you find in Celtica as there are other useful scribblings around that can be interpreted to work out puzzles. As well as this type of teaser where you have to recall and think about what you have seen, there are also some abstract problems and one that has you running around looking for pieces of a broken mechanical contraption that you must ultimately set in motion. Oh yes, and there is also a 'reproduce the musical sequence' challenge which automatically excludes players with hearing problems or anyone as musically inept as I am who doesn't have a lifetime to spare to go through every conceivable permutation to get it right. Of course, you may ignore this poison-tipped barb if you are attuned to puzzles that rely on the recognition of sounds and tones. Many puzzles appear complex at first glance, but quite often they are relatively simple, especially if you have been keeping your eyes open as you explore. Experimentation with a dash of intuition will help you out a lot. Solving a puzzle may get you an item; it may unlock a gate, or may simply give you a clue or an item to aid in solving another puzzle.
The Celtica gameworld is presented within a frame with a small inventory bar at one side and a number of icons at the top of the screen to take care of game options and to monitor your progress. One icon drops down a menu where you can see how many pieces of each of the artefacts you have found and there is also a map for easy orientation. Navigation is via keyboard or mouse. A tap of either moves you from one eerie, static scene to another and a curved icon indicates when there is something to be done.
I quite enjoyed this game but then I'm one of the lucky adventure game players who appreciates both first and third person adventures. When first released I suspect Celtica may have suffered from the wrath of the Myst detractor brigade, which is a pity because it has quite a lot to offer players who favour this style of play. Maybe it is a bit short, and it could have been designed so that you discover your ultimate objective earlier in the game, but this is not too much of a problem if you are patient. It isn't perfect but as a first person, lonely exploration game set in a misty dream-like world, Celtica is certainly very playable.
Copyright © Rosemary Young 2000.
All rights reserved.
P100, 16 MB RAM, 200 MB hard drive space.