From the same makers and in much the same vein as Physicus, Bioscopia sees you once again teaming up with science, this time of the biological variety, in a quest to "conquer evil". You arrive at a seemingly abandoned and probably forgotten research facility, after a cutscene that suggests a rescue is in order. The place is falling into ruin, but remains alive in many ways. First you have to get inside, but then what to make of that large (and still active) robot? And is everything really as it seems?
If you enjoyed Physicus you will enjoy this. Much of what made Physicus such a good game is present here. They are certainly among the few best edutainment titles I have played, and are two excellent adventure games whatever the sub-genre. Perhaps they could be a little more open in terms of where you can go and when, but the large target audience (10-102) probably dictates a more directed approach, plus it makes them accessible for novices and the more experienced alike. They are solid products, not resorting to tricked up puzzles or worlds, nor relying on mazes or timed puzzles to provide a challenge. Attention to detail, careful searching of the environment, and a willingness to dip into the database will see you through (although I thought the penultimate puzzle solve in Bioscopia left a bit to be desired). They impart information, yet remain fun. You can tell I am a fan.
By comparison though, I thought Bioscopia fell a little short of the standard attained by the earlier game. I suggest you read the Physicus review to find out what is so good about these games, then come back and I will explain the differences and tell you why I thought this game comes in second.
There are several reasons why Bioscopia was not quite as good as Physicus. One is the way in which the science is integrated into the story and the environment. I thought it wasn't as well done here, and some aspects were downright clunky. The keycard system stands out. To enter locked areas you need a charged keycard. You charge it up by inserting it into one of the many terminals you will find, and then answering questions on the science fields covered in the game. Each correct answer gives you a unit of charge, up to a maximum of five, which is good for five passages through the relevant locked doors.
The questions aren't that hard, and all the answers can be found in the database. Plus it is multiple choice, and you aren't penalised for a wrong answer, so you may well get by with never researching the answers. Which may be good or bad, depending upon your point of view, but it is nonetheless a very artificial way to incorporate the science into the game.
There are also some pop-quizzes which you must pass to unlock doors and machines. Having to apply knowledge to solve puzzles is one thing, but a straight-out "question and answer" session is somewhat less satisfying.
In other ways, the weaving of science into the gameplay and the world of Bioscopia is quite well done, but these mentioned aspects are a minus. Perhaps it fits better if the product is seen first and foremost as a learning tool (as opposed to a game), but I thought Physicus worked on both levels to a high degree without this same artificiality.
Another lesser aspect by comparison is the fact that you don't carry your database around with you. You need to find a terminal to access the Big Brain. There are plenty of them, but on occasion I wanted to review some material and had to leave where I was and backtrack to a terminal. It's a small thing, but as some people are allergic to anything with a database, I think it is important to make the access as easy as possible. Having it on your laptop in Physicus was a better arrangement.
I thought the database was a little less fun too - not as animated and not as interactive. Again, it's a comparative thing, but I reiterate that databases have to be as appealing as possible.
Next, there are some very awkward orientations involved, and getting from A to B can be more difficult than it needs to be. This was a feature of Physicus as well but I thought it was more pronounced here. You will find yourself at times going through a convoluted set of movements in order to get the orientation you want, to examine an object or move forward. As well, some locations are very easy to miss, as you have to be in the right place and carefully use the cursor to access where you need to be. The lecture theatre stands out.
Finally, in this game you are on your own when it comes to working out where to use something. No hotspots to help. That in itself is not necessarily a downside, and careful attention to what you learn and careful observation will give you plenty of clues about what is used where. However a few of the places to use things are mighty small, and if you miss the critical spot, you might not appreciate that you had the right combination. Also, a failed attempt puts the item back in the inventory, meaning you have to get it out again to try in a slightly different spot. This leads to some redundant and multiple clicking, which could have been lessened by bigger hotspots and/or a more permanent inventory system (ie you retain it until you choose to put it away).
Those then are the things that separate this from the standard attained by Physicus. Let me reiterate though that whilst the above sounds like a lot of negatives, it's a comparative thing, and the fact that this game is not quite as good doesn't mean you shouldn't play it. To the contrary, as I have already stated it is another excellent product, streets ahead of many similar games.
The other obvious difference between the two is the science involved. The titles speak for themselves, and the topics here are Zoology, Botany, Human Biology, Cellular Biology and Genetics. You may have a preference for one over the other that will determine how you feel about the game overall.
Or perhaps not. I personally prefer the biological sciences, having studied them at school and university, and I pretty much avoided all physics that wasn't compulsory. Yet whilst I felt more at home in the science here, I still preferred Physicus.
The game mechanics are pretty much the same as Physicus. It comes on 2 CDs but whilst there is a fair bit of reading from the CD, there is no disc swapping. There is some situational music but there isn't a soundtrack. It did crash occasionally to the desk top, but that occurred if I was impatient and didn't wait for the transition to finish. The sound also mysteriously disappeared on a few occasions.
In conclusion, as I made clear up front, it is an excellent adventure game, despite some flaws and niggles. I keenly look forward to Chemicus, the next production from this stable.
Copyright © Steve Ramsey 2003.
All rights reserved.
Windows 98/ME/NT/2000/XP, Pentium II 233 MHz, 64 MB RAM, 8x CD ROM, 120 MB disc space, 32 bit graphics card, Soundcard, 800 x 600 resolution, Quicktime 4 (ran fine with Quicktime 6)
Macintosh 233 MHz Power PC, G3 or higher, Mac OS 8.1 or higher, 64 MB RAM, 8x CD ROM, 120 MB disc space, 32 bit graphics card, Soundcard.