Chronomaster is a science fiction/fantasy adventure game based on themes by the late Roger Zelazny and completed by his partner, Jane Lindskold. Set in the distant future it is science, aided by longevity and terraforming, that has enabled magical fantasy worlds to come into being. These worlds are formed in "pocket" universes where the limiting laws of the "normal" universe can be, and are, bypassed. Thus, on one world carpets do fly and on another plants can talk, whilst others have witches, fairies and unicorns. There are, of course, worlds designed by more limited imaginations, which feature perpetual warfare and casinos.
However, all is not well in two of these "utopias". Someone has shut them down by putting them into stasis -- literally freezing them in time. This is where you come in. As Rene Korda, acknowledged expert on pocket universes, you are charged with the task of restoring the worlds and bringing the interfering perpetrator to justice. To accomplish the first part of your task you must visit each world in turn and locate the world "key" which takes the form of a logic puzzle such as sliding tiles or piecing together a jig-saw. You are able to move around unaffected by the stasis courtesy of your "bottled time" which surrounds you and acts like a temporal window. Ingenious though this is, it is not without its hazards, as things and people can come to life again as you approach them with your sphere of influence. For example, walking beneath a rock frozen in the act of falling can be detrimental to your health. Believe me, you will need to save your game frequently, but lots of save game slots are provided as well as a very useful 'quick save' feature
Later your quest will take you to more pocket universes, each with its own peculiarities and each self-contained, presenting you with more problems and puzzles as the story unfolds. For the most part, the game provides lots of solid adventuring along the lines of talking to other characters and helping them so that they, in turn, will help you; many interesting and varied locations to explore -- including a really twisted maze -- and lots of items to find and use. Sometimes too many, especially early on in the game, as often there is more than one way to overcome a particular problem.
This can be a little misleading at first as you may have items in your inventory that you will never use because you have already solved the problem they relate to in another way with a different item. For example, on Aurans I managed to get hold of some magic sandals which I could have used at two locations (possibly more) but I didn't as they only had a limited life and I felt sure I would eventually need them somewhere when nothing else would do. As it happened I was easily able to overcome all the obstacles in other ways and, in the end, I never used the sandals at all. This aspect was a little disappointing as I completed the first two worlds (Urbs and Aurans) with the feeling that there were things left undone, though, this does becomes less of a problem as the game progresses.
More of a problem, for me at least, were the plastic doll-like characters whose only form of expression was a stiff, puppet-like, unsteady arm wave. Nor was the characterisation helped by the fairly indifferent voice acting and, in particular, Ron Perlman as Korda, who sounded as though he would rather be somewhere else.
On that score alone Rene Korda is hardly destined to become a classic character and his purple, plastic body armour seems more suited to an action-arcade romp. Throughout the game I couldn't help thinking that a less robotic appearance, and perhaps a battered hat or long scarf may have made the character more human and ultimately more appealing. After all, what is a Chronomaster if not a Time Lord?
This, of course, poses another difficulty as the game seems aimed at a science fiction audience with its space travel and technology yet much of the adventuring takes place on fantasy worlds incorporating talking plants, magic spells and witches and the like. I must admit I quite enjoyed both scenarios, but I know many other players are firmly in one camp or the other. On balance, I suppose it is the hard-edged sci-fi enthusiast who may be the most disappointed though those who prefer more fantasy-based adventures may well be put off from trying Chronomaster in the first place by its initial science fiction feel. In any event, this is an adventure game through and through and the designers have, wisely, resisted putting in combat or arcade sequences.
The game interface is very easy to use though the menu bar that appears at the top of the screen can be a bit intimidating at first. A little practice will soon have you comfortable with all of the functions. I was particularly pleased to see a range of action icons such as look, talk, open, take, use and push as I knew these would allow me more control over what I did in the game.
The actions can be accessed either through the menu bar or by clicking the right mouse button to cycle through them, although, as usual I managed to click past the one I wanted all too frequently. The menu bar also contains your scrolling inventory -- which can be a bit of a pain when you have picked up numerous objects -- as well as other useful items such as your bottled time, personal digital assistant, resonance tracer and your really useful universal tool. This last item you will need to use a lot and is something akin to Dr Who's sonic screwdriver.
Moving around the various locations once you have landed is relatively easy and the walk icon changes into a direction arrow when you can access another screen. However, Korda is yet another character with a painfully slow walk and I could find no way to speed him up. More annoying, for me, was the need to return to the ship and go through the navigation procedures just to get to a different location on the same world. The cut sequences of your ship landing may have been graphically impressive, but in no time at all I was impatiently clicking through them. (Now we know why the Enterprise never landed.)
Still, despite my criticisms, I found much to enjoy in Chronomaster. The story is entertaining and each of the six pocket universes you must visit provide an interesting variety of puzzles and obstacles to overcome. Also, the dialogue is supported by text throughout so you don't have to worry about catching every single word. Though Rene Korda himself is deadly dull the game is not without humour and, at times, gently parodies similar scenarios in other popular adventure games.
Copyright © Gordon Aplin 1996.
All rights reserved.
486/33, DOS 5.0 or higher, 4MB RAM or higher, 2xCD-ROM or faster, 5MB hard drive space (35MB for full install, 512k VGA card (VESA compatible) soundcard, mouse.