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Unfortunately, the selections chosen do not cohere as a narrative. The developers tout the game's "non-linearity" - i.e., you can break out of any one character's segment at any moment and pick up another. This flexibility is perhaps meant to accommodate the player who finds himself at an impasse in one part of the story - baffled, say, by some puzzle. Within sections, however, the flow is sometimes very strictly linear (more on this later).

Further, the game's sections are basically only comprehensible in one order (presented in the manual as "recommended for players less familiar with adventure games"). Even then, most of the material presented makes little sense unless you already know your Wagner. For instance, players are left to interpolate the nature of the relationships between Sieglinde and Siegmund, and Siegmund and Brünnhilde; and Brünnhilde's first appearance, in a quarrel with Wotan over Siegmund's fate, comes out of nowhere. Compounding this problem is the lack of real effort to flesh out the frame narrative - the aliens who enslave mankind are mentioned, but never named, much less presented. You learn much more about them from the package and marketing materials for the game than in the game itself.

Moving through the world of Ring is like taking a long car drive through beautiful country - with no turnoffs and a full bladder. Each time you move your character, that movement is presented as a short video clip -generally no more than a few seconds - of computer-rendered footage of your character, say, walking through a forest or gliding through the air on a surfboard. This effect is sometimes impressive - the world presented is certainly beautiful and rich in eye candy - but after the first few hundred times it wears thin, and there is no way to speed up these transitions. The Alberich unit in particular is excruciating, requiring repeated journeys through the small and awkward spaces of the mines; coming first, it quickly exhausts the player's goodwill. Through the rest of the game, one is impatient to merely get through endless movement scenes. (Had the game offered an option to suppress video during movement through areas that one had already explored, this could have been greatly mitigated).

ISH

When you are standing still, you examine the world by passing the cursor over everything in the frame to find out what objects or people you can interact with, manipulate or pick up. (This is a convention Ring shares with most adventure games.) However, the indicators are often misleading. In most games, if you click on something that you can't interact with yet (i.e. you lack something you need), or interact with it in some way other than the designers intended, you get either some humorous side effect, or some meaningful clue as to why your interaction failed. In Ring, attempting to manipulate an object in ways not intended generally results in no feedback at all. It is unclear whether you have even successfully clicked on the object. Despite the constant invitation to click on the object, only the correct interaction at the correct moment will produce any effect at all. The game is thus not non-linear but too linear. An extreme example: early on in the Alberich story, you find yourself confronting a balky computer control panel. There are two puzzles to solve here. Once you start the second one, you cannot move at all - you cannot leave the room, you cannot even turn around and examine the room. Convinced that I was stuck, I started over.

Continued



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