Lora's Computer Game Reviews

The Backseat Game Designer: The Rest of The Omega Stone Review

This is the addendum to my Omega Stone Review in which I put all my opinions that contain spoilers. If you haven't finished playing The Omega Stone yet, you don't want to read this page. Please go back to the regular review site, where I promise to tell you everything you need to decide whether or not to play this game without giving away any of its plot.

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The Backseat Game Designer: Omega Stone

These Backseat Game Designers pages are primarily a place for me to put all my game commentary that was too revealing for the regular reviews, as well as a place to tell everyone exactly how *I* would have done the game so much better. Hey, who knows, maybe the game designers'll be Googling around late one night, stumble upon my site, and decide to write their next game around the PLAYER instead of their own NPC. Ah, well, a girl can dream, right? Here's all the news about The Omega Stone that's fit to print, just not on the no-spoiler review site.

Personal Reactions

This game gets off to a bad start. First of all, it starts with a long-winded monologue by the incredibly boring Gil. Second of all, it introduces a very bombastic "save the world from its prophesied doom" plotline. And third, it starts out by informing you that your character has been unconscious for several days after looking into the Ark as Gil encouraged you to do at the end of the last game, so now that Gil has manipulated you TWICE into risking your life on his behalf, including lying to you about the plot of the previous game, there's no reason for any sane player to trust anything he says now. As it turns out, he's telling you the truth this time--he once again manages to disappear and coax you into doing all the dangerous work while he stays home and watches the History Channel, but at least he's just a really boring coward in this game, not a lying villain.

But once this game gets going, it's something Riddle of the Sphinx never was: fun. The interface is professionally done, the graphics look good. (Well, mostly good; there's this horrible "sunshadow" effect that causes colored spots to appear on the screen when you're facing the sun at the wrong angle, the way they do in amateur videos. Since The Omega Stone is animated, this graphics glitch must have been INTENTIONAL. I have no idea what they thought they were trying to accomplish with this, but the effect is annoying and distracting.) But the allure of the ancient ruins is palpable. Except for the generic Celtic/medieval mishmash of the Knights Templar area, each location has a look and feel different from any of the others that really evokes a mood and the occasional sense of wonder.

If only there'd been a plot to go with it, or an NPC who made you care about him in the slightest, or a puzzle that was integrated into the environment in some believable way. A game can't survive on ambience alone--a secret most authors of Mystlike games haven't quite figured out for themselves yet.

Plot Holes

There wasn't really very much plot in this game to begin with, so there aren't very many holes in it, but here are the handful of Omega Stone elements that never did get resolved:

1) What happened to Troy? Evidently he went crazy, dressed up like a pagan priest and tried to stab Snelling. Why? Was this actually a curse, just a coincidental psychotic break, a cover story made up by Snelling? The game authors just left this one hanging there.

2) What is Snelling's deal, anyway? He seems also to be a member of the Knights Templar, and a friend of Gil's. What was he trying to steal from the Stonehenge site? Something important? Why?

3) What is that on top of the RV? A tracking device? Part of a deleted subplot? Manipulating it turns it off but has no other effect.

4) The jar of dirt and coins in Stonehenge was never used for anything as far as I can tell.

5) Who was the weird bearded guy at the Super Sekrit Knights Templar Swamp who kept telling you to "Begone!", anyway? What was he doing up there, and what was he doing skulking around among the stones later on?

6) You've been unconscious for a "few days," which was evidently enough time for Gil to set up five waystations full of clues for you in locations in Europe, Africa, South America, Polynesia, and the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Boy, the guy's industrious when there's no personal danger to himself involved, isn't he? :-)

Advice from the Backseat Game Designer

In my game review, I gave The Omega Stone a 4.5 out of 10 (rating: so-so). So, what would have taken this game to the next level? The three things that would have helped the most would have been puzzles that defied logic less, a compelling plot, and the absence of Sir Gil, easily the most irredeemably annoying computer game character I've encountered in the past decade. Gil is "acted" by the game's creator, which is sort of the computer game equivalent of letting the record producer's mistress dance on the music video. Mr. Tobler has obviously never acted in anything before; he mumbles, stammers, has no facial expressions, is not exactly photogenic, and has a broad American accent he doesn't even attempt to hide (by Tobler's own script, Gil is supposed to be British nobility). As if all that weren't bad enough, Gil's character is manipulative, arrogant, and unlikeable--and not only is he irritatingly omniscient and sanctimonious (as he was in the last game), but he's now been retconned to be a powerful hereditary member of the Knights Templar. I have no doubt that in the next game he'll be revealed to be the only descendent of a major Biblical figure. It's just the way this character arc is going, and it's Bad. Capital-B Bad. It's problematic enough when your OWN protagonist suffers from power creep over the course of a campaign, but when it's the dungeonmaster's favorite NPC who does it, it's a whole 'nother world of obnoxious. The third game in this series would be vastly improved if Gil spent the entire thing in jail for having destroyed the Easter Island statues, leaving the character to fend for himself. Or maybe if Gil just looked into the Ark of the Covenant and had his face melted off. Oh, wait, that was a different archaeological adventure series.

As for the puzzles, they were not utterly nonsensical like the ones in Riddle of the Sphinx, but they didn't have the kind of smooth intuitiveness that set the Myst games apart, either. And there's no realism to any of it, no attempt to make anything that happens in this game mesh with the physical traits of real objects, no rationale behind anything. Either Gil and his stupid friends are making up pointless riddles for you to solve, or else ancient people thousands of years ago set up pointless magical obstacle courses for you. Can you imagine that conversation: "Hey, Xbalamque, let's hide this magic item we made for our descendents to save the world with behind a stone elevator that will only work with the proper password, and then make a set of bells that will reveal the password if they ring them in the proper order. Oh, and throw the bells into the cenote too. We don't want the world to be saved by anyone who doesn't know how to swim, darn it." Why would anyone in their right mind do this? HOW would anyone in the real world do this? (Gil makes a huge production out of stressing that the Mayans did not have magic powers or alien technology, which is certainly true in the real world, but in this gameworld it is kind of a laughable point, since the entire game depends on it being otherwise.) Even when you finally win this game, you're left with no idea WHY you won. Just cause ancient civilizations had really good magic powers, I guess.

And then there's the third thing that could really have made this game special: a more interesting plot. This one was your basic "save the world from destruction by collecting six magic items and putting them in the right slots!" kind of job, and we've all seen it 250 times already, in slightly different incarnations. The only twist is the fact that your character is a sidekick to the game designer's character, and as I've explained already, the annoyance factor of that outweighs any originality it might have brought to the table. There were tantalizing glimpses that this game could have opened up into a full-fledged plot, and could have been a really good game if it had only had the time to get there. The subplots with Troy and Lord Snelling, in particular, piqued my interest but never went anywhere. There's nothing to be done about it at all. It makes no difference whether you deduce that Snelling is not to be trusted or not; you are never given the opportunity to. (Compare that with the endgame sequence of Myst.) It's not possible to save Troy. You never have the opportunity to confront Snelling, turn him in to the police, or bring him to justice. And you never do learn what happened to Troy in the end--was it a pagan curse, was Snelling poisoning his coffee to drive him mad, did Snelling have him killed and write all those odd red journal entries to cover it up, was it a totally random mental disorder that had nothing to do with anything? We don't know, and so The Omega Stone loses a chance to be the rare kind of game that sticks in your mind for something even after you're done playing it.

Ah well. The game designers are obviously still learning their craft here (their first game, Riddle of the Sphinx, was the worst piece of garbage I've played since I upgraded from my C64 in the 80's, no joke.) The Omega Stone was so much better than RotS on so many levels that Toblers deserve some kind of "most improved" trophy. If their third game continues along this learning curve, I really can't wait to play it. I just pray they'll cut Sir Gil out of the story before he turns out to be an archangel in disguise or something equally painful.

Best Puzzle: The mask puzzle on Easter Island. Once you put the mask on, you really could use the internal logic of the situation to figure out how to turn the heads; one of the few places the puzzle design made sense on a thematic level.
Lamest Puzzle: The one Gil left for you in Stonehenge. For one thing, Gil has been IN CONTACT WITH YOU, so it's beyond all credulity that he would have thought giving you a convoluted math puzzle to solve would be a better way to inform you of a password than just handing it to you. (It's far more likely that Troy or one of Snelling's minions would have figured out the solution to the math puzzle than that they would have intercepted a letter sent to you at your location in Mexico, too. And unless Troy never took a shower, he must have already seen the puzzle.) For another thing, the clue was nonsensical. "Sheley's been abducted" means NOTHING. It carries NO MEANING WHATSOEVER. I was just as likely to realize that the stones in the romance book were the ones that needed to be multiplied together with or without that pathetic excuse for a clue. If there was going to be a clue pointing towards that book, it should have said "Shelley's favorite trilithon." That's just damn sloppy puzzling right there.
And not only that, if Troy flushed the paper down the toilet, why is it still there? Was this guy truly so incompetent that he didn't even know how to flush a toilet correctly???
Best Plot Twist: Having to blow up the Easter Island statues. That surprised me and left me appropriately daunted.
Lamest Plot Twist: Surprise, now Gil's a magic Knight Templar, y-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-wn.
High Point: Coming upon the sacred cenote pool in Chichen Itza. It was beautifully illustrated, and eerily evocative.
Low Point: Probably having to read through that horrifically bad romance novel to find the pointless trilithon clue. It was cheesy as hell when the scuba divers brought the Ark of the Covenant underwater to use as a power source, too. I suppose it's only fair for a game that treats other cultures' sacred artifacts as silly magic items to give the Old Testament the same treatment, but it was still pretty darn campy.

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