Jazz and Faust
I am a firm believer in first impressions, whatever the subject. I also believe that if you are going to spend time adventuring, the whole experience is enhanced if the locations are visually appealing. Jazz and Faust excels on both counts, for the same reason.
After the opening cut scene, and once you have chosen a companion (more of that later), you can't help but be impressed by how good the game world looks. The scenes are rich in detail, but it is all the little things that make the difference - the shadows of the characters, the lighting effects, the heat shimmer around candles, the flags fluttering in the breeze. Day becomes night, fireflies flicker in the lamp light, and mist wafts across the gravestones in the cemetery. Watch the lanterns cast multiple shadows that move as the character moves, shrinking and stretching as in real life. Make sure you look at the sun through the clouds over the water. All put together it is truly excellent.
By contrast, the characters themselves are somewhat disappointing. They tend to be a bit wooden and angular. However I suspect you won't care much, as you pilot Jazz and Faust around the myriad of marvellous scenes.
You do get to pilot them both, but not at the same time. Jazz is a smuggler, Faust a ship's captain. You pick one of them at the start, and your adventuring begins.
I began with Jazz, and knew more about him than most of the characters you start an adventure with, thanks to the background material in the manual. It's not overly long, but gives a nice introduction to the life that is Jazz. It doesn't give anything away, so it is worth reading, although it does overlap the first few minutes of game play. It also gives some background to the places and events in which you will find yourself.
I liked Jazz a lot. Too kind-hearted for a smuggler it seemed, which helped explain why he ended up in some of the strife that he did. But a smuggler he be nonetheless, and so a smuggler's personality is what he brings to the game. With an eye for adventure, and a hankering for treasure, having caught a whiff of both he wasn't about to let go. A headless corpse is but the beginning. From the cells of El-Erp to the Black Isles, across the seas to the harems and opium dens of Khaen, then into the deserts beyond, Jazz must use his wits (and a bit of magic) to stay one step ahead of trouble and firmly on the trail of the treasure.
Jazz's adventure is a rollicking good inventory based romp. The tasks are quite well integrated into the plot, with only the odd lack of an item holding me up. Accomplishing a task will usually cause a satisfactory advance in the plot; you won't find yourself doing ten things for little gain. There is one manipulative puzzle, but no sliders or mazes, no musical or timed tasks. Plus Jazz won't die.
You will of course talk to other characters, but conversations are handled by the game. You don't have to click to advance dialogue, or choose branching dialogue trees. On the whole, the dialogue is not wordy, and whilst stilted in parts (perhaps a result of having to translate the game for an English market), I thought the whole thing was very well managed. You will get some redundant dialogue at times, but I have yet to see a game where that is not the case.
Jazz and the settings and the unfolding tale make up for some shortcomings in the interface. Inventory management is a bit laborious as only one item at a time is displayed. However the number of items you carry at any one time is limited, so my fear of scrolling one by one through 25 items never eventuated. Still, it could have been more streamlined. The cursor icons also tend to be a bit confused at times, indicating one thing when another is actually needed.
I learnt early on that Jazz will simply not do certain things, or pick up certain items, until he is good and ready. On one occasion he kept telling me "Now why would I want an old jug", and despite my yelling back at him the very reason why, he wouldn't pick it up. Not until a certain point had been triggered, after which he did indeed pick it up and then used it in exactly the way I had been telling him. This will happen more than once so patience is a virtue.
Patience is also a virtue when it comes to stairs. Double clicking will make Jazz run, but he takes his own sweet time ascending and descending stairs.
An interesting touch was that each active cursor caused a different short sound. I didn't know what to think about it at first, but I confess I got to rather like it. At least twice as I searched a screen, I missed seeing the cursor change as I rolled over a hotspot (either going too fast or just nicking it), but I did hear the sound. So I went back and found what I was looking for, and my stuckness was solved.
Once I finished as Jazz, I got to play Faust. I had however already crossed his path, as the tales of both are intertwined and you will meet and interact with each of them whilst playing the other. It's a single tale but with two roads to travel, each one taking you to some familiar places via some not so familiar ones, peopled by characters the same and different. It's a novel method of story telling in a game (certainly I haven't encountered it), and I couldn't wait to get stuck back in.
I was particularly impressed by the way the transition is handled, but it would be giving away far too much to elaborate.
Again, I knew a bit about Faust from the manual, and a bit more from meeting him as Jazz. A bit too much of a romantic perhaps, in a world dominated by forces decidedly unromantic, but a solid and noble sea captain nonetheless. As with Jazz, his personality came through in the story and the gameplay.
I thought, though, that the second part was a poor cousin to the first. The storyline lurched around a bit, and gameplay seemed to be a far more basic set of straightforward inventory based tasks. Certainly it took me less time. There were also what I thought were a few clunky inventory usages, but again, those pet hates of many adventure gamers were absent, and again you won't die.
Faust could also have done with some serious help in the voice acting department. Overall, the voice acting ranged from quite good to rather ordinary, but you will spend most time listening to Jazz or Faust. Jazz was fine, but the nicest thing I can say about Faust is he could do with some livening up.
Faust did, though, have a nice line when you tried to get him to use an inventory item where it wouldn't go.
The game loaded and ran without a hitch, and the small number of cut scenes were stutter free. There appeared to be no reading from the CD, a large install suggesting all files are on the hard drive. I did not, however, get the setup screen that is supposed to launch the first time you play, nor could I find it in the game files. However you can access most options from the main menu, and certainly by default it appeared that I had all options turned on and turned up. Certainly none of the effects were missing.
I did fiddle with the smooth type setting, which varies the anti-aliasing parameters of the characters. I found that the higher settings made the figures appear to shimmer, and the lowest gave them slightly blocky edges. I settled for the default "smooth edge". I also played with the other settings to see the differences, and I recommend turning everything on if your system can handle it.
From the same screen, you can save as often as you like, but the game will autosave for you each time you change screens, so I pretty much let the game look after saving. You can also vary the volume of speech, sfx, and music. I turned the music down a bit, not because I didn't like it but because I prefer it to be in the background, and I don't like to play with subtitles (so I need to hear what is said). The music itself was rather good, short looped pieces but varied and suitably matched to the settings.
Playing Jazz impressed me more than playing Faust, although the whole is better than simply the sum of the parts. The game deserves praise for the approach it takes to story telling, and the strength of Jazz's part carried me through the lows of Faust. Also, some of what was lacking with Faust was compensated for to some extent by having what had occurred with Jazz to reflect on - the strength of the interwoven tales is more apparent when you have already played one part. Whilst I don't know how I would have felt if I had played it the other way round, I enjoyed the game to the end and my overall impression was definitely a positive one.
Copyright © Steve Ramsey 2002.
All rights reserved.
Windows 98/2000/XP/ME, DirectX 8.0, Pentium II 300 MHz (400 recommended) 32 Mb RAM (64 Mb recommended) 8 x CD ROM, 4Mb 3D video card (16Mb recommended) 16-bit stereo DirectX compatible sound card.