metzomagic.com Review

RHEM

Developer/Publisher:  Knut Müller
Year Released:  2002

Review by Steve Ramsey (October, 2002)

"By the time you see this message I will have been long gone from RHEM. If fate has kept you a prisoner here I can offer you the opportunity to return to your own world. But I will need your help. In RHEM is a letter I have written to my brother. If you help me get this letter to my brother Zetais, I can help you get back to your world"

I stumbled across this game through a bulletin board where players were discussing whether it was too close to Riven for comfort. As Riven remains one of my all time favourite games, my interest was pricked. Further, given that most movies and novels are derivative to some extent, and that some of the most famous pieces of art and music are interpretations of other works, I was less concerned about the apparent similarities than some board participants. I therefore hopped over to the website, and having checked out the screenshots and read a bit more, I ordered myself a copy.

RHEM hails from a predominantly "backyard" enterprise in Germany, and my first positive response came as a result of the game arriving in less than a week from the time I ordered it. I also received a personal e-mail thanking me for buying the game, and offering any further assistance I might require.

The game comes on 3 CDs, and offers a minimal or full install option of almost 2GB. I did the latter, but somewhat strangely I still had to change discs throughout the game. Whether it speeded gameplay I don't know, but there still seemed to be a fair bit of access to the CD. The install went smoothly, if slowly.

Upon firing it up, I was initially horrified by the size of the viewing window. However I was on a vehicle, and once I disembarked, the view was almost full screen size. My latent Journeyman panic subsided.

If it looks like a duck...
I confess that having walked around for a while I couldn't help but think of Riven. The graphics are not nearly as polished, but the feel is similar. You only have to read the extract from the manual at the start of this review to conjure up Riven-like impressions.

Everyone will form their own opinion about the relative merits of the similarities. I intend to simply say that it is Riven-ish, and move on.

If you do likewise, and you like big open worlds where you can poke buttons and pull levers, in which you will need to take notes and draw diagrams, where objectives and where to go next are not immediately apparent, and where puzzles abound, you should enjoy your time marooned in RHEM.

RHEM is a world of twisting and turning canyons, of staircases and tunnels, ladders and buildings and revolving bridges. It is by no means an easy place to map, although you may find one (or more) done for you. Even with a diagram though, I retraced my steps many a time to get my bearings and to be sure that I had explored every nook and cranny (which I never quite was).

It will be apparent early on that whilst some paths are closed to you, there will clearly be a way to get them open, and that other than this you can pretty much go where you please. It will be a long time before you get stuck, and there is much to prod and fiddle with. The key will be to put what you see and what you learn from your poking about together in such a way that you can access some of the closed areas, and move forward.

It is a big place, made bigger by its design. There is a connectedness about it that is an integral part to quite a few of the puzzles, and careful attention to the world may help you understand cause and effect some distance apart. It will also give clues to where perhaps to look for hidden paths and passages, or how to access seemingly locked rooms or blocked buildings. However, I thought a less convoluted world would have sufficed. The connectedness could still have been there, without the almost overwhelming tangle.

The sounds of silence
RHEM is a deserted world, and in keeping with that desolation there is no music soundtrack. "Music is for movies," says Mr Muller, and despite what are some excellent game soundtracks, I think he is right. At least in a setting such as this. The ambient sounds are more than enough to convey the feeling he is after.

The game is first person point and click, with a cursor to help you get around and to explore. Colour is muted, suited I thought to the setting. 5,000 images were used to create the scenes, and there is 15 minutes or so of little Quicktime videos. There are no subtitles but there is only one bit of dialogue so that is not really an issue. The game can be played in German or English.

The story is pretty much contained in the extract above. It doesn't get much deeper or more involved. The puzzles though are many, and are really what this game is about.

Stretch that brain
You are marooned, and need to escape, and to do so you first have to make sense of the world you are in and try and get it working in a way that will help rather than hinder you. A bridge clearly needs raising; it seems to float, so somehow you have to adjust the water level. Which might be what all those pipes are for, but how to use them? Perhaps the answer is across that other bridge, which unfortunately is inaccessible from where you are. So maybe you can find how to rotate the bridge. That overhead path probably leads somewhere useful, if only you could find the access route. Try playing with the various machines and see whether you can get any sensible response from them. And so on.

Very little of what you do and see is of no consequence. It will be to your peril if you fail to observe everything and if you dismiss every action as having only one reaction.

That said, I thought that on the whole the puzzles were intuitive, rewarding careful observation of the environment and attention to detail. Some are quite difficult, and I did get stuck and need an occasional prod. I was satisfied in hindsight, though, that the clues to the answers were all there, if only I had recognised (or seen) them.

My comment about the convoluted nature of the world also applies to some of the puzzle construction. Collecting information from all over is fine, as is cause in one place leading to effect in another. But when failure to do something (or undo something) mundane in one place leaves a hole in a puzzle a long way away in both gameplay and distance, the frustration factor goes up - assuming of course that you even realise there is something missing.

This is, perhaps, even more relevant with respect to where to go or what to do next. At times I was aimlessly wandering, and any indication about the next step would have been welcome. Further, the way forward was on occasion a result of another relatively mundane action or observation, coupled with an enormous backtrack. The part immediately after the radar field puzzle is a good example.

I know I am on slightly shaky ground here. I can think of several gameplaying friends who will revel in the complex entanglements of the world, and will dismiss my comments as indicative of a gaming mind softened by too many straightforward lead-by-the-nose encounters. Certainly I don't want flashing beacons leading the way and nor am I proposing simpler games or puzzles. It's difficult to describe accurately without giving answers away but I remain of the view that some parts of RHEM are overly fiddly in the way in which they are put together.

However you won't have to put out of fires with wet fish, and there is no hotspot hunting. Further, the puzzles themselves encouraged me to keep plugging away, determined to work out the logic, which for me is a sign of a good puzzle. I would even find myself thinking about a puzzle when I wasn't playing. They are enormously satisfying when finally solved, and more than once I felt quite elated with myself.

You will find a small number of items, but your brain and your eyes and ears will be of most use to you in RHEM. And your feet. There is a lot of walking about, and a lot of retracing of your steps upon completion of various parts.

Bug me not
There were two bugs, one which I didn't recognise as such until afterwards, but the other causing a lock-up of the game for PCs (not Macs). Knut, however, e-mailed me when he became aware of it, offering a replacement CD, as well as a relatively easy workaround. I took the latter, and moved on. Once again, a small operation puts to shame some of the big companies when it comes to after sales service.

RHEM will take you a long time to complete. This is not just a product of its length, but also because you have to take your time, and be diligent and observant. There are a lot of puzzles, and continuous exploration is essential. Make sure you have a large exercise book, that your inkwell is full before you start. I did think it tended toward being a bit similar to itself at times which can be a problem in a lengthy game. Despite this sameness though, I didn't get bored, and thoroughly enjoyed its many hours.

RHEM is not without its blemishes, but then there aren't many games that are. Further, some of those blemishes will be in the eye of the beholder. There is no doubt that fans of Riven-type games, who are prepared to take it slowly and pay attention, will be rewarded with hours of challenging gameplay. Mr Muller should be congratulated for creating such a holistic puzzling world. If he and Jonathan Boakes (Dark Fall) are indicative of the future of adventure games, it's ok by me.

Note: On 12 December I received, totally unsolicited, a new Rhem CD from Knut. He informed me that he had fixed the bugs, enabled a true full installation, added a French language version, and got the whole game onto a single CD. If that doesn't win the prize for after sales service I don't know what does.

metzomagic.com rating:  

Copyright © Steve Ramsey 2002. All rights reserved.

System Requirements:
Windows 95/98/2000/ME and XP, Pentium 300Mhz or faster, 32 MB free RAM, 25 MB disc space (1.8GB full install), 12x CD ROM, 640 x 480 display, 16-bit colour, Quicktime 4.0 or higher, Windows compliant soundcard, videocard (DirectX)

PowerMacintosh with Power PC 200 Mhz or faster, MAC OS 8.1 - 9.2, 32 MB free RAM, 25 MB disc space (1.8GB full install), 12x CD ROM, 640 x 480 display, 16-bit colour, Quicktime 4.0 or higher.

Available in German, English and French.