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Zelenhgorm: The Great Ship

Hands-On - our resident bushy eyebrowed southpaw investigates this utterly bizarre Swedish adventure game

The eponymous great ship

Curioser And Curioser

Your adventure begins in time honoured fashion with a dream sequence which, like the rest of the game, uses a mixture of computer rendered animation and live actors. Meanwhile a pair of mysterious voices give you cryptic clues about your destiny and the history of your world.

You play the role of Arrikk Vaheirr, a young man who is shunned by his superstitious neighbours on account of the fact that he is left-handed. And has bushy eyebrows. So far as we can tell you live in a small village vaguely reminiscent of medieval Japan, but long ago your world was home to a more advanced civilization which fell into ruin amidst scenes of blazing fires and people in garish padded suits running around smashing up vases. It's at this point that your brain may decide to leap out of your skull and ooze away screaming in an attempt to save you from any further trauma. We suggest that you ignore this minor inconvience and carry on playing.

Things only get more surreal as you delve into the game itself. Arrikk wakes up from his disturbing dreams to find a giant ship parked outside the back of his house. Needless to say his neighbours take this as further evidence of his left-handed witchcraft, and some of them will be decidely hostile towards you, crossing their hands in front of them to ward you off like an evil spirit. We've even spent a couple of nights locked in the stocks. Luckily some of your friends and relatives are more forthcoming, and gradually you will piece together your own background and start to gather the items you need to uncover the mystery of the ship.

Help! I'm being harrassed by some strange old lady.

And Curioser Still

The world of Zelenhgorm is built around a graphics engine similar to that found in many of Cryo's recent adventure games. Each location is pre-rendered, but you can rotate your view of the world in any direction by moving the mouse, while short movies show the transitions from one spot to the next. Look directly at something of interest and the mouse cursor will appear, allowing you to interact with objects, move to another area or talk to some of the game's many odd characters.

The result is an immersive if confusing experience, made even more unusual by the use of FMV sequences and live actors dropped into the digital worlds. Unfortunately the developers seem to have invited all of their friends round to be filmed for the game, because the quality of the acting is variable - some characters are quite reasonable, others decidely wooden or over-acted. It doesn't help that many of them speak with a noticeable Swedish accent, and it's a little hard to take them seriously anyway thanks to the heavy-handed make-up that has been applied to everyone in an apparent attempt to make the Scandinavian cast look more oriental. This only adds to the game's quaint charm though, as does the dialogue, which is incredibly funny at times, although we're not entirely convinced that this humour is all intentional.

Zelenhgorm feels a bit like a low budget 1980's children's TV series, but the sheer strangeness of the whole experience, the freedom you are given to explore and examine the world and its inhabitants, and a virtually incomprehensible plot to uncover all combine to suck you in. I've no idea what's going on, but I want to find out...