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Lora's Adventure Game Reviews: Timescape Journey to Pompeii

Timescape Journey to Pompeii (Game release date: 2000)
A flawed and very short bargain-bin game, but with an attractively intriguing setting and few major annoyances.

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Highlights: Nice graphics, real-world setting is interesting Lowlights: Very short, illogical gameplay, annoying conversations

Everything good and bad about Timescape: Journey to Pompeii can be accurately summed up in the fact that it took me about four hours to solve. There's just not that much there. But on the bright side, there aren't hours of tedium packed into this game, either. The area to be explored is small, so the repeated backtracking and pixel-hunting isn't as frustrating as it is in adventure games with huge areas you constantly have to be criss-crossing, like Riddle of the Sphinx. The dialogue and voice acting are poor quality, and there's a lot of random trial and error where there should be puzzles, but the game is over before any of that has the chance to grate on your nerves much.

So this isn't a good game, but it's not a bad one, either. The environment, a well-reconstructed vision of pre-Vesuvius Pompeii, is intriguing and visually beautiful. The overall plot is interesting, and the interactive historical encyclopedia that comes with the game is excellent. If this were a full-price game it'd be a total rip-off, but it's hard to get too worked up about the play length of a game that cost me $5. Even leaving the thin content out of this, though, there just isn't anything that special about this game and there are many better choices out there.

Style: Timescape: Journey to Pompeii is a standard graphic adventure game, but it uses a Mystlike first-person point-and-click interface most of the time instead of the usual third-person format. The plot, such as it is, is a time-traveling mystery. Combat and leveling are not elements but there are a few timed puzzles and it is possible to die in this game.

Series: Timescape: Journey to Pompeii was intended to be a trilogy of time-traveling adventure games with Adrian and Sophia as their protagonists, but the game developer, Cryo Interactive, went out of business shortly after its release. It's possible that the prolific Adventure Company, who published this game, may decide to commission a sequel for it, but at present there are no such plans.

Finding Timescape Journey to Pompeii: This is a relatively recent game and you can still find it in bargain bins in large computer retail stores, or for buy it online.

Getting Timescape Pompeii to Work: Timescape Pompeii ought to install right out of the box. I had a few problems with the audio while playing on Windows XP, but using the Windows 98 compatability option solved it for me. The Adventure Company is still supporting this game, and I've found their tech support to be extremely helpful on other titles, so if you're experiencing any technical difficulties you should try contacting them.

Hints For Timescape Pompeii: I have a page of Timescape Pompeii 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 Timescape Pompeii: Some of the puzzles are timed, and you're allowed to save the game in the middle of a timed puzzle, so it's possible to save your game at a spot where you've already used up too much time to be able to win the game. Make sure you save your game once at the beginning of each new chapter, and don't overwrite that one; this way, even if you accidentally save your game at an untenable place, you'll have a good backup. Also, make sure you turn subtitles on, since some of the voice actors in this game do a lot of muttering under their breath, snorting and snuffling, screeching and whining, or otherwise doing their level best to make themselves incomprehensible.

Game Length: 6 hours tops.

Age-Appropriateness: This game is rated E (for everyone 6 years old and up). There's no visible sex or violence, but there is strong language for an E-rated game (one of the first characters you meet is shouting "Bastard!" at another one,) and one of the NPC's is a prostitute. Plus, of course, the city does get destroyed by a volcano in the end.

Lora's Timescape Pompeii Review: (So-so)

Plot and Quests: Journey to Pompeii has the dumbest introductory cutscene I've seen in a long time (the Babylonian goddess Ishtar randomly appears from out of nowhere to proposition a hapless Daniel Jackson-type scientist, then gets mad and transports his girlfriend back in time to 79 AD Pompeii when he turns her down.) Once that's over with, though, the plot itself--as the main character tries to find his amnesiac girlfriend and persuade her that Mt. Vesuvius truly is about to erupt--is pretty interesting. Quests are simplistic and not very well-integrated into the plot. "Listen to Eumachia explain how political campaigns worked in the Roman Empire" isn't an adventure game quest, it's a fourth-grade homework assignment.
Puzzles and Mental Challenges: There are no braintwisters in this game; the bulk of the puzzles are simple inventory puzzles with little or no logic behind them. The only thing keeping this game from being ridiculously easy is the unannounced timed challenges and the fact that it's so easy for your character to die, which is more of an inconvenience than a difficulty gradient.
Characters: You control one character, Adrian, over whose personality and decisions you have little control. On the plus side, the NPCs do have distinct personalities, and they did manage to interest me in the question of which of them would survive the imminent disaster. On the negative, their dialogue is badly written and hideously voice-acted, and none of them is even slightly interactive.
Gameworld: In terms of its layout and classical feel, Journey to Pompeii is very well constructed. I appreciate the detail work the game designers put into little things like the mosaic styles, the social structure of the city, the things NPCs are eating for dinner. At the same time, though, I wish that more of these details had been integrated into quests and puzzles, rather than simply narrated at me. Having characters constantly go off on long-winded and unrealistic museum-style tangents like "Seventeen years ago, in Nero's reign, there was an earthquake here that destroyed many buildings" is rather off-putting.
Gameplay: The gameplay of Timescape Journey to Pompeii is strictly linear and can be rather dull. Most of the game is spent either pixel-hunting or listening to NPC's narrate; conversations are non-interactive and monotonous, and there's only one way to solve any puzzle (with one lone exception at the very end of the game.) I missed the kind of creative thinking required of me in Infocom games of yesteryear.
Interface: So-so. The 1st-person 3D viewscreen was a good choice, since the environments are so visually interesting, but the rotation rate is too fast and jerky and can't be adjusted, which makes it less pleasant to use. There's no peripheral vision (why do so many games make this mistake?), so you're constantly having to swing your view to the left and right to see whether there's anything over that way or not. Inventory management is simple and intuitive.
Ambience (Graphics, Sound, etc.): The graphics are very nice, especially the imaginative way in which the ancient ruins have been restored and decorated. Background music is pleasant and unobtrusive. Character animation is substandard, particularly for female characters, and their mouths don't move when they talk (something that's more frustrating than you'd think, because NPC's are never identified by name and the camera angle shifts around randomly during conversation, so it's very difficult to tell who's doing the talking.) Voice acting was of VERY low quality for most of the characters, to the point of being distracting in places.

Lora's Recommendations: Journey to Pompeii is an attractive game with an interesting premise, but it doesn't have much substance. There are only a handful of puzzles, only 20 minutes or so of plot. I spent an enjoyable afternoon playing it, but there are a lot of better computer games out there and I wouldn't recommend anyone go out of their way to buy it unless you're a particularly avid fan of historical adventures in general or the Roman Empire in particular,

If You Loved Timescape Journey to Pompeii: You may enjoy Egypt: Tomb of the Pharoah, a mystery adventure set in ancient Egypt. You might also want to take a look at The Omega Stone, an archaeological game that takes you on a long scavenger hunt through Chichen Itza, Stonehenge, and three other real-life ruins. 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 Timescape Journey to Pompeii, and they are set in an absorbing gameworld to boot. If what you liked about Journey to Pompeii was how easy it was, on the other hand, then I recommend Syberia, which is a gorgeous graphic adventure with a mysterious ambience that has very easy puzzles and much more forgiving gameplay than Journey to Pompeii. Finally, if you're looking for another educational 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 Timescape: Journey to Pompeii involving spoilers, please see my Backseat Game Designer page. Happy gaming!

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