Crystal Key 2

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

Review by Rosemary Young (April, 2004)
This game has been on the horizon for a while now, heralded with the title Crystal Key 2: The Far Realm. Having just played it, it's right here in front of me, minus the subtitle. I don't know what happened, but the game is now simply called Crystal Key 2.

It's the sequel, of course, to the original game, The Crystal Key by Earthlight and Dreamcatcher Interactive (The Adventure Company). Although there is a common thread running through both games you certainly don't need to have played the first one to enjoy Crystal Key 2. This is a new generation with a new story to tell.

The next generation
You play Call, son of the hero of the last game so time moves forward and it's set after the defeat of the tyrant, Ozgar. Your world, Evany, is not bathing in the joys of victory, however, because some elusive evil force is sapping the will of your once happy people. You sit alone contemplating the situation when a portal opens before you and through it steps a mysterious woman who calls you by name. Before she can say more she is captured and disappears, but not before dropping her diary and the key to the portal.

So read the diary and learn that Evany is not the only world to be 'blessed' with the attentions of Ozgar. Pick up the key and step through the portal into a fantastic land where your task is to rescue your mysterious visitor (Althera) and track down the evil.

The Far Realm
Crystal Key 2 is very much like the first game only this time rather than slotting tightly into the science fiction genre it also has a 'fantasy feeling' running though it. There's quite a varied and spectacular world to explore including a stark, futuristic spaceport, the jumbled, decaying, remains of a rusty city, and an alien underwater habitat. Yet there is a kind of magic here as well in the yellow desert, the lonely, moulded house, the green fields and the underground warrens of the Nehli. Perhaps light science fiction would be the best way to describe it.

Though they could have been a bit sharper on occasion the graphics do justice to the gameworld and make it a mysterious place to explore, and one where you want to move on and see what's next. The movement is from node to node and you can pan around 360 degrees in each location and look up and down. Looking up and checking out the scenery above your head is invaluable in some locations.

The gameworld is a big one and there's a lot of travelling to do. To this end it's peppered with ladders and lifts/elevators and there's a selection of other transportation devices to use as well. Each 'ride' is accompanied by a transitional cut scene which you will see again and again as you travel back and forth. Fortunately you can press the space bar and cut through these transitions if you've seen them before.

Getting things done
Unlike the original game there are characters in this world to talk to although they are really just sources of information. Listen carefully and take note of what they say. The information might not be relevant right now, but you'll surely find it useful later. And not only do you need to tuck away this information but also it's crucial to watch out for odd markings about the place, and remember the active areas/hotspots that you encounter. If their use isn't immediately apparent, it surely will be.

I say this because you won't get much help from Call. He doesn't give away anything in incidental remarks. In essence, because you have to make sense of the gameworld yourself and think back over what you have learned to solve problems Crystal Key 2 is quite a challenging game. I enjoyed it, thinking about how and where things could be used although towards the very end I wasn't relying so much on my store of knowledge as on feeling my way to the final scene. But up until that point there were conversational and environmental clues to follow.

So, to solve the problems in Crystal Key 2 it's pretty much up to you and it makes for a fun time fitting things together. I wouldn't recommend it for new players but it will keep experienced players relatively busy. Most of the puzzles are clued well if you think about them, however, I should mention that there is one music puzzle, a four note sequence. I'm usually an absolute write-off with this type of puzzle but it wasn't too difficult recording which note was lower, higher, etc. Another puzzle worth mentioning is the button pressing map puzzle. Here you must interpret a couple of environmental factors which are fairly obvious. But getting to the final answer takes some thought. When you do get there it feels good J

The basics
Crystal Key 2 is a first person perspective adventure and comprises two CDs and once it's fully installed you can play without a disk in the drive. The voice acting is crystal clear and there are subtitles throughout as well so I would have no hesitation in recommending the game for deaf players if it weren't for the music puzzle. The music itself and the sound effects are just fine and change from place to place to build the atmosphere. Sometimes it's as quiet as a mouse.

The interface is very simple with a neutral blue cursor which turns green when you can move in that direction or zoom into a close up. A return arrow takes you out again and a spiky paw shaped cursor means you can interact with something. You have a small inventory which appears at the bottom of the screen at a right mouse click and each item is labelled for easy identification.

Once or twice you can grind to a halt and not know what to do next, but a sweep of the gameworld will turn up some event to help out. Fortunately this is rare because it is a big world to sweep. I also thought the code collecting puzzle was a little peculiar and wondered why someone would leave the means to enter their stronghold around the place for all to see. But this is a game, not real life. Another small slip involved a particular nut. Call kept enquiring about its source before he knew he needed it, and when it did turn up there was no warning. This 'puzzle' would have worked better if the player had prior knowledge of its possible whereabouts. Maybe I missed the clue.

The game ran without a hitch for me and I enjoyed the challenge. I also appreciated that, in contrast to the first Crystal Key, you can't die in this game. Thanks to Earthlight for making this change and making this journey more enjoyable for many of us. If you don't want your hand held from beginning to end Crystal Key 2 is a trip worth taking. rating:  

Copyright © Rosemary Young 2004. All rights reserved.

System Requirements:
Windows 98/ME/2000/XP, 600 MHz Pentium III or equivalent (800 MHz or equivalent recommended), 64 Mb RAM, 16x CD-ROM drive (24x recommended). 32Mb DirectX Compatible 3D Video Card, DirectX Compatible Sound Card.