Seven Games of the Soul / Faust (Second Opinion)

Developer:  Arxel Tribe
Publisher:  Cryo Interactive Entertainment
Year Released:  1999

Review by Steve Metzler (November, 1999)

Whereby Goethe gets a makeover
Faust screenshotI'm sure you're all at least familiar in passing with Goethe's Faust. This seminal work by the great German poet has spawned a thousand spin-offs, and supplied the formula for countless Hollywood 'B' movies (hey, anyone remember Phantom of the Paradise? One of my favourite cult classics). In it, the tale is told of a man who gives up his soul in the afterlife in exchange for power and prosperity in the present. Of course, in the end, he doesn't get quite what he expected! So it is with Arxel Tribe's latest reworking of this story. Mephistopheles reprises his role as the infamous go-between twixt Faust and the Devil, only this time, 7 different people actually get the full Faust treatment! You play as an old man by the name of Marcellus Faust, an avatar of sorts, who is charged by Mephisto with the task of picking through the remains of the lives of these unfortunate 7 and helping him to decide whether or not, in his own words: "they go up... or down".

Similar in concept to Morpheus, Marcellus comes along after the fact, and must piece together what happened by searching through their homes and artefacts, solving puzzles to collect 'evidence', and reliving snippets of their lives through animated cut scenes. All the stories take place in Dreamland, a fantasyland theme park somewhere on the outskirts of Savannah, Georgia, USA. Dreamland is the brainchild of its architect, Theodore More, who also figures into the story. The 7 people (um... actually 8, because a pair of Siamese twins are involved :-) whose lives you will relive during the game were all denizens of Dreamland sometime between 1920 and 1960, and you get to see glimpses of this fabulous park from different views as you play through each character's chapter. Even though each chapter focuses on a single individual, and what happens to them before and after they sign their contract with Mephisto, characters you meet in earlier chapters also make appearances later on - a feature which gives Faust a wonderful sense of continuity, rather than of just being 7 isolated stories.

Beware that this game is definitely not for the faint of heart, nor is it intended for children! In the very first chapter there occurs a grisly scene which sets the dark and serious tone of Faust. The violence occurs 'off screen'. Discreetly done, but very disturbing nonetheless. The game is rated for 15's and upwards, and I'd recommend abiding quite strictly by this guideline! Yo, parents out there, are you listening? Come to think of it, the game is somewhat derivative of Se7en, as I believe each chapter covers one of the 7 Deadly Sins. Let's see... Greed? Yup. Lust? Check. Sloth? Yeah. Envy? Uh huh. OK, I think they're all in there somewhere.

Faust screenshotFaust is split across 4 CDs, and if I recall correctly, I never once had to swap CDs in-chapter, which is a refreshing change from most games of late. The music is beautiful, dreamy, mood music with jazzy undertones performed by such artists as Marvin Gaye, Stan Getz, and Sarah Vaughan. I could just sit there all day listening to the music on the save/load screen, that's how good it is! The person who voices Mephisto is the best voice actor I've ever heard, and he also provides comments in the menus, like "Run away, while you still can!" when you go to exit the game. Maybe these get repetitive after you hear them time and again, but if they were annoying it would certainly grate on me... and it didn't. And the other voice actors are quite good as well. They speak with the right amount of emotion for the situation, rarely overdoing it, as is too often the case these days. The graphics, I felt, weren't quite up to the standard of Ring, Arxels Tribe's previous effort, but that's still saying a lot as Ring had the best graphics I've ever seen in a computer game! Again, you move along on 'rails', but you can pan 360 degrees and tilt through 90 degrees. By the way, you must play the 24-bit colour version if your system is up to it. The 16-bit version is all jagged edges, but they're perfectly smoothed out in 24-bit.

Now, all this sounds really good, and it is! But Faust does have a few flaws which I should warn you about, so that you are aware of them should you choose to tackle this game. You'll enjoy it much more if you heed this advice. Firstly, there's a bug in Chapter 4. You should be able to open a drawer under a mirror in a bathroom there (this isn't giving anything away. It's very obvious), but the hotspot for the drawer is actually 90 degrees to the right on a blank wall. You can click there to open it. We have contacted Arxel Tribe about this, and they were already preparing a patch for it which should be ready in about 2 days. I was going to show you a screenshot of the bug, but there's no sense in it now, as the problem should be fixed by the time most of you start playing. This was the only bug encountered, and I found a way around it, so no big deal. There are also bits of the printed dialogue that didn't get translated correctly (Arxel Tribe are based in Slovenia), but the patch should address these problems too.

Secondly, there are some problems with the interface. Numero uno in this regard is that there are hotspots that run into each other, so you have to be careful to click on each distinct object in a scene that exhibits an 'eyeglasses' icon when you pass the cursor over it. You think there is one object there when actually 2 or even 3 may be present all within a few pixels of each other! In several places, I thought I had found everything, but had to go back and comb each screen again. Also, round about Chapter 4 again, the interface changes subtly. Prior to this, you could only use objects on something that exhibited a 'hand' icon, but from here on in, you can also use objects on things that exhibit the 'eyeglasses' icon, which is supposed to mean you can only look at them :-\

Faust screenshotLastly, there are a few puzzles with really off the wall clues in there, so you might have to use a walkthrough to get through the game. However, by and large the puzzles are reasonable (not to mention some difficult but fair ones), and Arxel Tribe have improved tremendously on this aspect of game design as compared to their previous efforts (Ring, and the incomprehensible Pilgrim). Arxel Tribe have also thrown in some easter eggs. There are quite a few puzzles that are not essential to completing the game, but do flesh out the story a bit more when you solve them.

So, all in all we have a dark yet delightful adventure that should appeal to the more mature crowd. Of course, there are some whimsical moments too... but the humour is mostly of the black variety. Brilliant music, a compelling story, excellent voice acting... what more can I say except to put it on your Christmas list and make some adventurer happy this year. Oh yeah, better buy a copy for yourself too :-) rating:  

Copyright © Steve Metzler 1999. All rights reserved.