Originally the result of a one-person enterprise, the recent release of RHEM by Got Game Entertainment (responsible for publishing Tony Tough and The Watchmaker amongst other games) was reason enough to replay one of the better games I played last year. I am very picky about games I replay, as there is so little time and so many unplayed games. There is also the concern that second time around won't be as good, not to mention that the puzzles have all been solved.
So what impressed me about RHEM the first time? Here are a few of my comments:
"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 a way such that you can access some of the closed areas, and move forward."
"On the whole the puzzles were intuitive, rewarding careful observation of the environment and attention to detail. They... encouraged me to keep plugging away, determined to work out the logic."
"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."
"You will find a small number of items, but your brain and your eyes and ears will be of most use to you."
All of this remained true second time around.
Of course, I had a head start on some of the puzzles, but this is not an easy game, and on only a few occasions did I think "Oh I remember what to do here". Most of the puzzles had to be solved as if new all over again.
Even so, the distance between cause and effect in some puzzles, and the seemingly mundane nature of some of their parts, tripped me up yet again. I remain of the view that some puzzles could be tighter in more ways than one.
One advantage I did have this time was that the convoluted nature of the world was known to me, so it did not threaten to overwhelm. This is what I said on my first visit:
"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.... 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... However, I thought a less convoluted world would have sufficed. The connectedness could still have been there, without the almost overwhelming tangle."
This time it was no less tangled, it was just that I knew what to expect. I did however still at times have absolutely no idea of what to do next, and some aimless wandering eventuated. As it is such a big place, that can be a lot of wandering, and some more clues would help in some parts.
The aim of the game is to leave RHEM. You are stuck there, looking for the pieces of a letter that hold the key to your departure. They key to the search is to learn how to manipulate the environment in order to open doors, raise bridges, rotate skyways, unlock hatches, in order to be able to search for the remaining pieces in other parts of the world. Action and reaction are important.
The game plays like Myst (point and click slide show), and takes much of its inspiration from those types of games, and that one in particular. If you like that style, you will like this. It is a solitary quest in a world of muted colour, and a somewhat silent quest. Ambient sounds are excellent, a musical accompaniment non-existent. "Music is for movies" says the designer, and whether you agree or not, the feel of RHEM is suited by its absence.
Even second time around, it took me a long time to escape. It is a big game, in time and design. The puzzles do not intend to let you go easily.
It comes on one CD and can be played in French, German or English, although there is almost no speech. It played flawlessly in both Windows 98 and XP although I could not get XP to play the game at 640 x 480 resolution, despite following the manual instructions. Windows 98 was not a problem.
Whilst on the subject of size, don't be alarmed by the opening view. Once the train stops, the game view is almost full screen.
After a second excursion to RHEM, my conclusion remains as it was:
"If 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."
If you like this style of game, RHEM isn't flawless, but it's closer than many. If you have never been, you should go, and if you have been once, let some water pass under the bridge and then think about going again. It was still a satisfying sojourn.
Copyright © Steve Ramsey 2003.
All rights reserved.
Windows 95/98/2000. Pentium 300Mhz or faster, 32 MB RAM, 20 MB disc space. 12x CD ROM, 640 x 480 display, 16-bit colour, Quicktime 4.0 or higher, Soundcard, videocard.
PowerMacintosh with Power PC 200 Mhz or faster, MAC OS 8.5.1 - 9.2, 32 MB RAM, 25 MB disc space, 12x CD ROM, 640 x 480 display, 16-bit colour, Quicktime 4.0 or higher.
Available in German, English and French.