Schizm: Mysterious Journey (Conclusion)

Developer:  LK Avalon
Publisher:  Project 3 Interactive
Year Released:  2001

Review by Steve Ramsey (November, 2001)
(A Work Completed)
Well, the bottle has been drunk and there is no doubt that the last glass was as good as the first. Schizm: Mysterious Journey is unquestionably an excellent and challenging holistic adventure, and will be well up my list of favourites.

One person's poison ...
The puzzles remained logical to the very end. Even the computer bridge puzzle, in which you have to beat the computer in a particular game, is not just random luck; a good strategy will significantly increase your chances of winning. It might well take some random playing to see how the computer responds to different approaches, but I have no doubt that winning strategies exist. After completing the game, I loaded saved games prior to completing this puzzle to test out my own strategy. Half a dozen attempts were all that was needed to win.

I mention this not to blow my own trumpet, but to indicate my belief that it is not simply a game of chance. There is certainly an element of chance, and I didn't find an unbeatable sequence of moves, but a strategic approach will get you home.

I know some people pulled their hair out over this puzzle. I in fact had more difficulty working out what to do at the gas collector, and as I stated in the first instalment of this review, the correct formula in one puzzle eluded me completely. It's part of the rich tapestry of these sorts of games - what is obvious to one is incomprehensible to another.

Only one puzzle remained unsatisfactorily answered when I had finished Schizm, but that has now been rectified. The game cannot be held responsible for my own shortcomings.

Two is better than one
The way that Schizm uses Hannah and Sam adds an excellent dimension to the game play that I haven't come across in another game. Without wanting to give too much away, they are far more than separate characters with particular chapters to play. They can both eventually go everywhere the other one can go, and whilst it matters not who goes where on some occasions, on others they will need to work together if you are going to unravel the mystery of Argilus.

This dual character aspect does mean that you often have to do some lengthy backtracking twice, once for each character. It's not too onerous, but I daresay that if you don't do the full install, this will increase the amount of disk swapping required. It's another reason to install everything if you have the space.

CD or DVD?
In fact, the capacity to do a full install might be an advantage that the CD version has over the DVD version. A friend who is playing the DVD version gets pauses and occasional stutters as the DVD is accessed. My game play was smooth and totally uninterrupted by CD reads. Apart from needing the first CD in the disk drive to start playing, the disk drive is never accessed again.

I did get some blotchiness in some of the graphics, predominantly inside the temple. It was localised, however, and overall the graphic quality was superb. I assume this is one of the downsides of the CD compared to the DVD (this game was developed for DVD and cut down for CD release), although I can't compare the graphics of the two versions.

The CD version also contains fewer cutscenes than the DVD (eg I know some of the logs that were inactive in my game are able to be activated in the DVD game), and there is at least one less puzzle (it involves a telescope and is apparently one of the more difficult ones). There aren't however any obvious gaps, and I didn't feel in any way that I played a lesser product.

The last drop
As hinted at above, this game impressed me enormously. The puzzles are hard, without question, but they vary in difficulty and intensity level, and the ability to walk away and work on something else, maybe in a completely different location, means complete halts in play are further away. This is further enhanced by the dual character play. I always get a lift with each small breakthrough, so being able to make progress in one part will give new resolve to try again in the stuck parts.

The puzzles in Schizm are varied in type. As noted in the first instalment, there is a sound puzzle, and there is also a variant on a maze - but no sliders. I thought all of them were well integrated into the environment and the story.

Right from the very start Argilus was an impressive place. It will suffice to say here that it remained wondrous till the end. I did not tire of it at all, and the backtracking involved simply gave new reason to go over old but tantalising ground.

I found the story almost secondary to everything else that was going on. I was curious to see how it all worked out, but I wasn't playing in order to unravel the plot. It was almost as if the plot came along with me. That is not to denigrate the story; the denouement came with a bit of a rush, but the mystery was satisfactorily resolved, and it made particular sense given the trials I had gone through to get there. It was just that other things were what propelled me forward.

Improvements? Maybe the capacity to save in the middle of a solve, particularly with those that have a two part solution and which will reset (and randomise) to the beginning again if you don't get both parts in the same attempt. Definitely the capacity to replay the ghost visitations (a small tip - turn the subtitles on. It would make understanding what the ghosts are telling you a bit easier). And Sam could do with some voice training.

Also if you walk into a vacant lift well, the lift will appear for you, and you just get in rather than falling to the bottom - makes the lift call buttons a tad moribund. And there are times when Sam and Hannah are on different sides of the same chasm, and both can call the cable car to come from the opposite side to collect them, but neither of them have a cable car on their own side (one of them logically must have it as it comes from the other side).

But these complaints are minor; especially the first couple, and the last two fall into the nitpicking basket. For fans of the big canvas multiple-path challenge (think Riven), or for anyone else looking for a distinctive immersive week, this is an exceptional game. rating:  

Copyright © Steve Ramsey 2001. All rights reserved.

System Requirements:
Windows 95/98/ME/2000, PII 333 Mhz, (PIII 667 Mhz recommended) 32MB RAM (64MB recommended) 300MB free Hard Disk space. DirectX compatible Video card (8MB recommended) DirectX compatible Sound card, 12x CD ROM (24x recommended)

Note: A very small testing with the minimum install was smooth and impressive although swapping characters meant swapping disks. Also this install didn't offer the option for subtitles. Rosemary.