Forever Worlds

Developer:  Hexagon
Publisher:  The Adventure Company
Year Released:  2004

Review by Gordon Aplin (May, 2004)
The first thing I noticed as I prepared to install Forever Worlds was that my copy came with a handy solution guide. "Well, I won't be needing that", I thought, as I confidently (nay, arrogantly) stuffed it back into the box. The second thing I noticed was the game rating description of 'comic mischief' which certainly had me intrigued. However, it wasn't too long before I realised that the 'mischief' was in the form of crucial story elements and internal logic or motivation being almost entirely left out of the game. It may indeed have been mischievous to do this, but I didn't find it funny.

Forever Worlds opens positively enough with an introduction telling of a missing palaeontologist's obsession with his search for the secret of eternal life through a mythic tree. The pompous narration is cleverly undercut by weary comments from the palaeontologist's long-suffering daughter, Nancy. My first disappointment (others followed in quick succession) came immediately after this introduction when it is revealed that Nancy is not going to take part in the search for her father but is going to wait dutifully by the boat whilst her boyfriend, Jack Lansing, undertakes the arduous journey. So Nancy stays put and Jack has all the fun. As the manual states, Jack's adventure will take him through several non-parallel dimensions as he tries to figure out how to prevent it all from taking place before it even happens.

Moving around
The interface in this first person perspective adventure game is relatively easy to use although navigation can be confusing as you don't always know which way you are facing in relation to where you have come from. Movement is from node to node and the cursor changes to an arrow to indicate a direction you can take. But as you move to the next node all ambient sounds and music cease which is disconcerting at first. Especially as you start off in a jungle surrounded by a cacophony of jungle noises and are met with abrupt silence as you move. The sounds start up again a split second later and continue when you reach your new location.

To look around you must hold down the left mouse button and you can use the 'x' and 'z' keys to zoom in and out. If you click when a question mark appears a text box pops up providing a small amount of information, and while I was more than happy to read it I felt it was not used to its full potential to provide more information about the story and the gameworld. There is an assumption that the player will somehow know or learn what is happening simply by playing, but I felt particularly dull-witted as I moved through the game with very little understanding of what was going on.

Tree of no-knowledge
As Jack stepped into the mythic tree early in the game a character appeared in a cut scene and touched him on the shoulder and they seemed to swap places. So was Jack still Jack or was he this new character? I decided he was still Jack and that something weird had happened that would be explained later. So I pressed on and came to the first puzzle where I had to turn some keys to display a pattern that matched the one on another display. Right, I thought, I will save the game here. Wrong! You cannot save or leave the tree or exit the game. I was beginning to suspect it was a glitch so I used control+alt+delete to end the game. When I restarted and got back to the same point and the same thing happened. I understood then that you can neither save nor exit once the puzzle is initiated. Not recommended in an adventure game. I moved on a bit further into the game and it seemed to be getting weirder, yes I knew it was meant to be surreal and humorous, but I just wasn't getting it. And to top it off I had come across an aural puzzle where I had to reproduce a pattern of notes but at a much lower frequency than when I had first heard them. I am useless at this sort of puzzle so finally I pulled the solution guide from the box and was met with a revelation.

The solution guide isn't simply a walkthrough, it also contains the missing background to the events you will witness. It is only then you learn about the Custodian who seemed to swap places with Jack in the tree, and his plans to marry Nancy and much, much more. I couldn't believe it. This information needed to be conveyed in the game, not in a walkthrough. I immediately felt cheated and it was clear that I couldn't trust the game to give me the crucial information needed to understand fully what was happening. As a further example, during the game you will meet spectral beings known as 'fillers' and as you click on them it is not immediately clear that you are taking on their appearance just as the Custodian swapped places with you. Further confusion is added by cut scenes showing you still as Jack. The solution guide says this was done deliberately to avoid confusion but clearly it didn't work. As I played on I have to admit that the solution guide was always close at hand as I felt the need to have certain plot developments explained, but this was far from satisfactory as the temptation to cheat on puzzles was ever present.

Interesting exploration
Despite this, parts of the game are quite interesting. I enjoyed exploring and solving puzzles in the location known as the Maintenance Area. You will return here several times through the course of the game and it's the one part that I thought seemed to make some kind of sense, well, at least some of the time. As well as the earlier logic puzzles Forever Worlds also has some silly illogical ones (the game is trying to be humorous) and some inventory-based puzzles as well. Many items you pick up are red herrings (or blue bananas, but that's another story) but, of course, you don't know this until the end of the game. Chocolate on the other hand is very useful.

You can access your inventory by clicking on the button that sits at the bottom right corner of the screen and it opens over the top of the game screen. If you hover your cursor over your inventory items you get a nice close up and double clicking lets you pick up the item to use in the gameworld.

The graphics, music and ambient sounds are generally very good and the short cut scenes are at times humorous and inventive and whimsical as befits the surreal nature of the gameworld. The close-ups of your reptilian, wise-cracking travelling companion, Ix, are excellent, what a pity that he is such an annoying character when he speaks. Ix could have had a more useful role as an omniscient narrator providing story background and hints or descriptions as needed, instead he largely provides dubious comic relief in the form of lame jokes. Other than this the voice acting is fair overall but I thought the game cried out for subtitles for conversations and for Ix's comments especially.

And more ...
Forever Worlds comes on 2 CDs and fully installs so that you don't need a disk in the CD drive to play it. It installed painlessly in Windows XP although I have heard of other players having different experiences with other Operating Systems. The only real glitch I had was that the cut scenes sometimes went blank. I could hear the voices and sounds so I knew they were playing minus the picture. I simply exited the game and restored from my last save and this resolved the problem, at least temporarily.

I really wish I could be more positive about this game because I felt that the developers were trying to be inventive and the time paradox aspect could have been interesting. Unfortunately, the full potential is never realised. For the reasons I have outlined the game seems unfinished with story development and motivation left out. Butterflies loom large in Forever Worlds and I am reminded of Chaos Theory for all the wrong reasons. rating:  

Copyright © Gordon Aplin 2004. All rights reserved.

System Requirements:
Pentium II 400 MHz processor, Direct3D compatible 3D graphics card with 32 MB 64 MB RAM, 1.2 GB free on hard disk, 16X CD-Rom drive, DirectSound compatible sound card, Set display at greater than or equal to 16 bit color (24 bit is recommended) Mouse, keyboard, speakers.

Recommended System Requirements
Pentium III 700 MHz processor, Direct3D compatible 3D graphics card with 32 MB 128 MB RAM, 1.2 GB free on hard disk, 24X CD-Rom drive, DirectSound compatible sound card, Set display at greater than or equal to 16 bit color (24 bit is recommended) Mouse, keyboard, speakers