Mysterious Journey 2: Chameleon

Developer:  Detalion
Publisher:  The Adventure Company
Year Released:  2003

Review by Steve Ramsey (December, 2003)

I am calling this game simply Chameleon throughout this review. It sits more appropriately with Schizm, the first Mysterious Journey. It also fairly accurately describes how this game fits with its predecessor. It's a second mysterious journey, to a different place (and maybe time), not a continuation or precursor to the first journey. There are some familiar images, and the maker is the same, but there are significant differences. It's a sibling, or better yet a cousin, to Schizm.

Coming off Broken Sword 3, this was a good change of pace and approach. Get out your pen and paper and warm up your brain. You will need all three. And possibly some help here and there.

For anyone who has played Schizm (Mysterious Journey: Schizm), let me say up front that this is not as difficult. That is not to say that it is a mental walk in the park, and it certainly isn't easy. But for a variety of reasons it is easier than its predecessor, which should make it more accessible to more players.

Like Schizm, Chameleon is first person except this time a 3D game engine creates a rich and "living" world in which you can go just about anywhere. There are no predetermined navigation trails, no static scenes, no constricted views. You can look all around and walk where you want.

The planetary environment retains an alien feel, and some of the exotic Schizm structures can be seen, but a softer, gentler side exists as well. Parts of the valley are like a big garden, other parts are harsher and more stark. Lighting and shadow, and many little things bring the game world to life. There is a lot of environmental motion and animation. Make sure you look at the sky; by contrast the ocean is disappointing.

Sound also adds to the experience, both ambient and musical. The latter is pretty much firmly in the background but provides a soft undercurrent of mood. The ambient sound is excellent; clear, crisp and directionally accurate.

Some things aren't free
It is a lovely immersive world, but it comes with some prices. The obvious one is system specifications. I had a bigger processor than even the recommended specs, but only the minimum RAM and video card. I played with a resolution of 1024x768 and with most settings turned up. Gameplay was fine but in a few cutscenes I experienced some stutter and lag in the visuals, and some associated staccato sound. It wasn't overwhelming, nor was it every time, but whilst I haven't done comparisons on lesser systems, and you can tweak settings, I certainly wouldn't have wanted to play with much less than the system I had.

Another price is a comparative one, but the graphics are not as detailed or at times as defined as in Schizm. They are, however, excellent in their own right, and I for one love the freedom of 3D, so it's a price I will happily pay.

Finally, there are quite a few long-ish loads, anything up to a minute. But the game does a full install so there is no disc swapping as a consolation. You don't even need the discs inserted to play.

Given the freedom of movement it won't come as a surprise to say that movement is not point and click. You point and click to activate puzzles, but movement is with the keyboard or mouse, or both. I confess it has my favourite option - hold down the right mouse button (or "w" key if you prefer) to get moving and steer with the mouse. To me it is the most natural feeling way of getting around, perfectly suited to the 3D world.

A special warning to Rosemary (and other players who have done enough leaping lately to last a lifetime) don't be put off when you read the manual and see that there is a "jump" key. You never need to use it, and I mean that literally. It isn't that you can work around it, it just simply isn't needed. I have no idea why it is there. It isn't even much of a jump, not even a bunny-hop. Just ignore it.

There is more of a story to Chameleon than there was to Schizm, certainly in terms of its telling. Lots of little cutscenes, involving many characters, are the means by which the plot is revealed. They not only tell the story, but bring a less solitary feel to this game than exists in some similar outings. These cutscenes are also 3D and allowing for the stutter in some, are quiet fluid and elaborate. The character motion and movement is very lifelike as well.

Your character is Sen, a traitor imprisoned on a space station in cryo-sleep, who is awakened over 200 years later to be told of his final punishment. He never learns what that is to be, as the hologram unveiling his fate is destroyed by an unseen entity. He does learn that the space station is falling, and will crash to the planet below in 16 days. He knows nothing else, his memories having been taken.

The story unfolds as you move through the game, and whilst it finishes a bit limply, I enjoyed its telling. It also provides a good counterpoint to the puzzles in between.

Puzzling encounters
There are lots of these, nearly all logic based and guaranteed to keep you on your toes. The mechanics of a puzzle is often as big a challenge as solving it. I spent ages trying to map the responses to particular sequences of events, failing to discern the logic involved, only to finally realise I was playing a game against the computer. Once that dawned on me, winning was relatively easy.

Whilst everyone will have their own opinion as to which puzzles are harder than others, I thought there was a good balance throughout the game. They are mixed up, more difficult ones being followed by a simpler one, so becoming overwhelmed by complexity is unlikely. As befits a conclusion, I found the last set of puzzles the most difficult, at least in terms of assimilating information.

There is also a good variety, some requiring only on screen manipulation (stop those rotating bridges, get that power flow from A to B), others needing some pen and paper preparation (what is the result of pressing each of those 16 buttons?), and still others being almost completely solved on paper (how do I convert base 12 numbers?).

There is very little inventory usage, and what there is happens automatically. There is also very little searching required, as little arrows will appear and indicate the direction of something you can interact with as you draw near. It is hard to miss anything. This is not a game about finding the puzzles and their bits and pieces - it is about logically solving them.

Unlike Schizm, the puzzles are fairly self-contained. You don't need to collect information from all over and use it in a variety of places to get a result somewhere else. Only once did I encounter a puzzle where the information to solve it was a long way away (and I didn't remember anyway). I needed help to get past this point, but I would have liked some "larger" more holistic puzzles.

Other puzzle aspects are turned down a notch too. There is a sound puzzle, but the sounds are fewer and more distinct than the Schizm wailing version. You also have to raise bridges, but you don't have to do it twice in a row to win, and you aren't sent back to the start. Some have several aids; a suspended fog shrouded path can be navigated by sight, but you can also get clues by listening to your footsteps.

There aren't any timed puzzles (though one puzzle suggests it might be) and you don't die. I did have some trouble with some pastel colours, and it would have been nice if some objects could be rotated or moved in both directions as you desired. It would have prevented a lot of clicking. But that was nuisance value only, and whilst I liked some puzzles more than others, all encouraged me to keep calmly plugging away. Not paying attention can trip you up, but not nearly as much as impatience. Take your time, work at the puzzles, and you will likely work them out.

You will only have to work out one at a time though. Chameleon is almost completely puzzle at a time; that is, do the puzzle in front of you in order to be able to move on. There is no going away and working on something else. What you think of that is up to you, but like the desire for some more holistic puzzles, I would have preferred a bit more openness in the approach to doing at least some of the puzzles.

Nor do you have the multi-character co-operation you had in Schizm, which was a shame. It was a feature of that game that there should be more of.

It played without a hitch but I am aware there is a glitch experienced by some players in which one part of the last puzzle is not visible. There is also one puzzle where, if you miss some earlier information, there is no apparent way back to get it.

What of other things?
The gameplay world is full screen and cutscenes play in a letterbox style format. Saving is easy, the naming done for you and accompanied by a screen shot. The game, in fact, autosaves periodically as well as when you quit. You can simply click continue at the start up screen to pick up where you left off.

I have mentioned the character movement, and the voice acting is generally quite good. The dialogue and the story is scripted by an Australian SF writer, Terry Dowling (I mention that simply to claim a local connection).

As noted above, the initial set-up does a complete install, and whilst the system specs don't mention how much space is needed, the relevant program folder was just over 3 GB when I had finished playing (so it included saves).

You can map the keyboard keys to suit yourself, but as I used the mouse almost exclusively I didn't bother. Other settings are tweakable but there are no subtitles.

If you enjoy games like Myst, RHEM or Riven (and of course Schizm), then there is no doubt you will enjoy this. I do, and I did. The 3D engine can't help but add to the experience. rating:  

Copyright © Steve Ramsey 2003. All rights reserved.

System Requirements:
Windows 98/ME/2000/XP, Pentium III 800 MHz processor (Pentium III 1.6GB recommended), 128 MB RAM 256 MB for XP), 64MB Hardware T&L Direct 3D compatible video card with DirectX 8.1 compatible drivers (128 MB recommended), DirectSound compatible 16 bit soundcard with DirectX 8.1 compatible drivers.