Odyssey - The Search for Ulysses
Review - Cryo's latest adventure game takes us to classical Greece, and then all over the Mediterranean
In The Beginning
"Odyssey" is another title from Cryo's Legend Collection, which utilises the same graphics engine used in "The Time Machine", and is based loosely on Homer's novel "Odyssey" and Greek mythology. This subject is one of the few that held my attention in history lessons at school, and one that is perfect to center a game around.
At the request of Penelope, Heritias has been tasked with finding her husband Ulysses, who was lost at sea after the battle of Troy. Heritias must follow the path Ulysses is known to have taken, a journey that will have him pass through strange lands and battle against mythical creatures. The trail of Ulysses is not as straightforward as he first perceives, and he soon finds that his friend has made quite a few enemies on his travels. As a result your task is simply to follow the clues left behind, solve the various puzzles set along the way, and to recognise who you can or can't trust.
Getting anywhere in the game relies on communication with others, and manipulation of the various objects you will pick up along the way. Interaction with other characters is purely a case of 'multiple choice' type interrogation. You will find that the dialogue is a matter of choosing between accepting and refusing certain situations, but it does not often make a difference to the outcome. Or it goes to the other extreme, where if you do one thing you proceed, but if you do the other and you die.
This method of interaction gets all very tiring after a while, knowing that if you die after saying one response, you can simply reload and say the other reply to carry on. As a result there is only one set path to take to complete the game, which is not too good for its replay value.
Which Way Now?
As you would expect from a Cryo game, everything is very nicely presented from the word go. The menu system is particularly impressive, giving the illusion that the various option pages are all mapped within a sphere, and those familiar with The Time Machine will be instantly at home with the controls and inventory navigation.
Each location is pre-rendered, and your 3D character sits on top of these with defined routes through and around the backdrops. This works for the most part but can be quite frustrating when you can clearly see a passage through, only for it to be blocked off as part of the scenery. Frustration also sets in frequently where your character cannot seem to negotiate the smallest of rocks and other such tiny obstacles. It is often hard to tell where you are supposed to be heading on some locations too, with finding the screen exits something of a matter of trial and error.
The game operates with a rather snazzy rotational graphics system, whereby the camera pans centered on the player, giving the static backdrops their fake three dimensional look. You can ramp the video resolution up as high as you dare and the engine should cope amicably, and it is well worth doing so with the eye candy the game has to offer.
Graphics and Sound
On the whole the graphics in Odyssey are excellent, but there are a few locations which look far too much like oil paintings rather than realistic settings. The first episode is a prime example, with the main character looking almost daft against the background. The characters themselves are solid and highly detailed, but a little robotic in their animation.
Sound is perhaps the one area where the game excels, with excellent attention to underfoot audio, with shingle crunching and rock floors clicking realistically. Voice acting is also of a high standard, although it can be a little drawn out at times. However, all dialogue can be skipped if necessary.
Most impressive of all is the music though, which fades in and out during each episode. The tune that plays while you unravel the Lotus-Eaters puzzle is beautifully haunting, and when you visit the Fields of Elysees the music is appropriately heavenly.
A Whirlwind Tour
Throughout the game you will travel to a variety of islands and towns, all with their own mystery and intrigue. The trail of Ulysses will take you to the island of the Cyclops, across the seas to the curious world of the Laestrygonians, and on to the seemingly harmless Circe's island, to name but three.
All very exciting, you would be thinking, and certainly the first few locations are well thought out and compelling enough. Further into the game though there is a big feeling of disappointment which is hard to deny. When you visit the island of the Cyclops for instance, after just two easy puzzles the section is completed and it's on to the next location.
The further into the game you go the more rushed it seems. These myths are fascinating I feel, but are not given the loving attention they warrant. The whole sense of purpose is lost as each section is completed with ease. Only twice did I get stuck throughout the entire game, and those were due to a game save glitch that has thankfully since been patched.
The game looks and sounds excellent, but is let down badly by simplistic puzzles, fussy location routes, and it's essentially linear nature. Just a little more diversity in the way the story develops through your responses could have made a hell of a difference. Each location is over too quickly, so you never get to discover too much about your environment and the mythology behind them. To compound it all, the end sequence is extremely disappointing.
I guess if you are purely interested in the mythology aspect of the game, then Odyssey could provide you with a simple piece of entertainment. To the ardent adventurer though this is not going to be much of a challenge.