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Lora's Adventure Game Reviews: The Omega Stone

The Omega Stone (Game release date: 2003)
If you're good at suspending your disbelief, this game makes a lightweight but fun romp through your favorite ancient ruins.

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Highlights: Nice decipherment puzzles, real-life ancient monuments make fun dungeon settings Lowlights: Plot holes, dull gameplay, contrived illogical puzzles, incredibly annoying NPC

It was with great trepidation that I finally popped this game into my CD-ROM drive, more than two years after its release. This was the sequel to one of the worst games I've ever played, Riddle of the Sphinx, and I was fearing a stale retread of that fetid piece of lion dung. To my relief, Riddle of the Sphinx II was not anywhere near as bad as its awful predecessor. With a full production team on hand this time, The Omega Stone features attractive graphics and an interface which, though it has its share of flaws, is entirely bearable. The game was genuinely fun in places, offering a Mystlike ability to explore five ruins at your own pace. There was even some humor here and there (my kids were howling with laughter when we discovered a clue floating in the toilet!) So I'm pleasantly surprised to report that The Omega Stone was a decent, playable game far better than Riddle of the Sphinx; unfortunately, that still doesn't mean it was better than average. Omega Stone is your basic Myst clone, with no interesting plot, character, or gameworld depth to help it distinguish itself. Like Riddle of the Sphinx before it, it indiscriminately presents history, myth, and fiction as if they were identical, forcing me to spend a lot of time debriefing my kids on what was and wasn't true and ruining its potential value as an educational game. The doomsday plot is heavy-handed and rather silly, the puzzles are illogical, the Ark of the Covenant just sits there irrelevantly the whole time like a glowing doorstop, and there's way too much pixel-hunting in dark corridors. Still, it was an entertaining effort and if the Toblers continue on this learning curve, their third game, due out soon, could be a real winner.

Style: The Omega Stone is a simple puzzle adventure game with a 3D first-person view of the environment and a point-and-click interface. The plot, such as it is, is a supernatural thriller. Combat and leveling are not elements but there are a few timed puzzles and it is possible to die in this game.

Series: The Omega Stone is the sequel to Riddle of the Sphinx. The two do have a plot connection, but the plot of Riddle of the Sphinx is accurately summarized in about twenty seconds at the beginning of "Omega Stone," so you really have nothing to lose by skipping it completely. Even if you've bought the two games bundled together, you may want to consider skipping straight to Omega Stone; the interface and gameplay of Riddle of the Sphinx were so wretched it was barely playable, and there's nothing in it worth the effort.

Finding The Omega Stone: This game can still be found in some software stores (particularly in jewel case format,) or else you can buy it online for either PC or Mac.

Getting The Omega Stone to Work: I did not encounter any problems running The Omega Stone on XP, and the game producers even claim it is compatible with Vista. The Adventure Company is actively supporting this game, so you can contact them with any problems you might experience.

Hints For The Omega Stone: I have a page of Omega Stone hints up online, with general gameplay suggestions and a low-spoiler walkthrough that includes no puzzle solutions. If you're looking for a puzzle spoiler, there is a really good hints page at UHS which reveals only one solution at a time, so you won't accidentally learn the answers to future puzzles while scanning for the one you're stuck on.

Pitfalls In The Omega Stone: There are no subtitles and several audio sequences are key to the game (and very poorly paced and articulated too, with no easy way to give a second listen to a critical part you missed when your dog suddenly started barking or something like that). The Omega Stone is not a game for those with hearing problems, bad speakers, or noisy children in the house. There are no timed elements and no appreciable manual dexterity is needed (though there's a lot of pixel-hunting in dark corners).

Game Length: 30 hours or so, about standard for a puzzle adventure game.

Age-Appropriateness: This game is rated E (for everyone 6 years old and up), but some of the decor is rather macabre, and it's possible to die if you solve puzzles incorrectly. Parents should also be aware that it is necessary to take a very criminal action at one point to solve the game. There's also a romance novel at one of the locations with both a necessary clue and a fair amount of gratuitous sexual content in it; it's not graphic, but it isn't exactly the Disney channel, either. I don't think I would have given this game an "E" rating if it were up to me, frankly.

Lora's Omega Stone Review: (So-so)

Plot and Quests: The plot begins with a long boring monologue by a pointless NPC, and it never gets much better. It's a heavy-handed "save the world from doomsday by collecting a matching set of magic items" kind of affair, not very well-written, and there's one potentially interesting subplot that is never resolved.
Puzzles and Mental Challenges: Mostly pattern-matching, code-solving, and inventory puzzles. There are a good number and variety of puzzles, but unfortunately most of the challenge comes from finding hidden clues with the patterns and codes you need written on them, not figuring them out for yourself. Most of the puzzles are very obviously just stuck randomly in there to entertain players, serving no logical purpose in the gameworld itself. There is also an inordinate amount of pixel-hunting.
Characters: There are none. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it lets you play the game as yourself and adds to the immersiveness of the experience. NPCs, on the other hand, are boring and non-interactive, and unlike in Myst, there is no real mystery to be solved, so there's no impetus to learn more about them. All the characters have minimal personalities, the acting is terrible, and Gil's cowardly, untruthful, and arrogant behavior makes him particularly hard to care about.
Gameworld: There's a welcome attention to detail in this game that didn't exist in Riddle of the Sphinx--a consistency of decor in each of the ruins suggesting that each was created by a genuinely different culture. The gameworld is still very contrived, though-- a string of increasingly lame excuses for why each major tourist site is completely deserted, never-been-opened secret doors in the most obvious of places in monuments that have been studied for centuries, ancient stone elevators that respond to passwords, a chauffeur who blithely jets you back and forth between Mexico and Egypt as if he were driving you to the grocery store, and then there's that stupefyingly pointless Ark of the Covenant just lying around. The real-world setting just makes it that much harder to suspend your disbelief... and frankly, it's kind of a letdown to think that the ancient Mayan ziggurats really weren't any more impressive or exotic than the kind of dungeon your middle-school dungeonmaster would have come up with, or that the Lost Ark is just a pretty shiny shoebox that would look nice on the mantel.
Gameplay: The gameplay of The Omega Stone can be repetitively boring. There is only one way to interact with any given object, and only one solution to any puzzle; the intermediate time is spent trudging back and forth between puzzle stages, which are inconveniently located dozens of screens apart, and searching the dark screens for inventory items. I found myself missing the kind of creative thinking required of me in Infocom games on a regular basis. On the bright side, the game design of Omega Stone practically ensures that you'll never be trapped in a dead end--there's always a new location you can travel to if you're getting tired of the one you're wandering around in.
Interface: Generally pretty good, with intuitive movement controls and a decent inventory management system. The biggest flaw was the lack of any navigation shortcuts, adding still further to the amount of time spent laboriously jogging between useful locations. A "warp" feature was evidently planned for this game, but never implemented; it was sorely missed. There are also some spacing problems. The camera feature, for example, is worthless because it can only capture about 1/3 of the screen, and most in-game clues are larger than this. Several inventory items don't fit on the screen at all, making them difficult to examine or read, and individual areas fill your viewscreen so completely that you have no peripheral vision and have to swing 90 degrees to the left or right to see if there's anything there worth investigating (a chore you will quickly tire of).
Ambience (Graphics, Sound, etc.): The music is pretty good, and the graphics are very nice (not Myst Exile kind of nice, but nice nonetheless). The ancient ruins have an evocative feel to them. The voice recordings are of surprisingly low quality, and the acting is just awful. (Jeff Tobler needs to NOT act in his next feature, much less try to impersonate a British scientist.) The overall mood is OK; it could have been better, but it's impossible to get truly immersed in a game when you're busy struggling to suspend your disbelief of ridiculous circumstances and nonsensical puzzles.

Lora's Recommendations: A confirmed fan of Myst-like puzzle adventure games could do worse than to pick up this game. There's nothing extraordinary about it, but it's a fun addition to the genre. It's also a good game to play with your kids if you don't mind make-believe plot elements being presented as historical fact with annoying regularity.

If You Loved The Omega Stone: Then if you haven't yet, you should really play the classic Myst series of games that inspired this one (Myst, Riven, Exile, and Revelation). The puzzles in those four games are more interesting and far more sensible than the ones in The Omega Stone, and they are set in an absorbing gameworld to boot. Other graphic adventures you may enjoy include the gentle industrial fantasy Syberia or the outstanding epic adventure The Longest Journey. Finally, if you're looking for another good puzzle game for your kids, you may want to try Physicus, a basic sci-fi adventure with the interesting twist of using real-world physics for its puzzles, so it teaches as it goes. It's a refreshing change-up from all the "put the amulet on the altar and a secret door will magically open" kind of puzzles these games usually feature.

For a more detailed critique of The Omega Stone involving spoilers, please see my Backseat Game Designer page. Happy gaming!

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