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Lora's Adventure Game Reviews: Schizm

Schizm (Game release date: 2001)
One of the better Myst clones, compensating for its formulaic gameplay with an engaging sci-fi storyline and a bevy of challenging puzzles.

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Highlights: Challenging puzzles, well-done sci-fi storyline, pretty graphics Lowlights: Aggravating interface, shallow characters, formulaic play

Schizm is a Myst clone plain and simple. If you don't like Myst clones, hit the 'back' key now; this game doesn't even try to push the boundaries of the subgenre. If you do like Myst clones, though, Schizm has some intriguing elements that make it a more worthwhile play-through than most Myst-like games. First and foremost, it has an interesting, fitting plot. Like the original Myst, Schizm offers a storyline that is simple, spare, and draws you into the game by giving you clues enough to figure it out. The emptiness of the gameworld is an actual sci-fi plot element, not something for the game designers to awkwardly sweep under the carpet and hope their players will suspend their disbelief for. Second, there is a slight twist in this game: rather than switching back and forth between worlds or Ages, the gamer can switch back and forth between stranded crew members. This sets up a few truly compelling dramatic moments as the game progresses. The graphics are also excellent on the DVD version of the game.

The gameplay is utterly formulaic, of course. Other than switching character perspectives, there's nothing in Schizm that wasn't routine in first-person adventure games of the early '90's. The acting is poor, the dialogue is bad, and the interface is much worse than average (the unskippable animations every time you take a step in any direction are particularly grating.) Some of the puzzles are rather contrived, too. But they don't flinch from presenting you with a real challenge. This is a tough game, one you can feel very satisfied with beating. If you're a puzzle fan and your tolerance for interface tedium is high--if you enjoyed playing Riven, for instance--Schizm will make an entertaining, if not especially innovative, experience.

Style: Schizm is a first-person puzzle-adventure game with a rudimentary point-and-click interface. You control two pre-assigned characters. The plot is a science-fiction mystery. The game is untimed and no manual dexterity is required. Combat and leveling are not elements.

Series: Schizm has had one sequel, Chameleon. Though the feel is similar, the characters and plot are completely different, so it doesn't really matter which order you play them in, but the interface does improve from the first game to the second.

Finding Schizm: There are two versions of this game, a CD-ROM versionand a DVD-ROM version. Unofrtunately, only the CD-ROM version is still being produced. The DVD version has far superior graphics, but it's harder to come by a reasonably priced copy of the DVD anymore.

Getting Schizm to Work: I encountered no problems running this game on XP, and it's even reputed to work smoothly on Vista.

Hints For Schizm: I do not have a page of Schizm hints up myself. If you're stuck on a puzzle, there is a really good hints page at UHS which reveals only one hint 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 Schizm: Several puzzles require audio to solve, including distinguishing indistinct mumbled sounds by ear. Not a game for those with hearing problems, bad speakers, or noisy children in the house.

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

Age-Appropriateness: This game is rated E (for everyone 6 and up) and has nothing objectionable in it whatsoever, though it would be much too difficult and frustrating for young children to play without a parent.

Lora's Schizm Review: (Pretty Good)

Plot and Quests: Schizm's plot is simple and highly linear but well-suited to the Mystlike genre, giving the player enough clues to figure out the sci-fi mystery before the characters do.
Puzzles and Mental Challenges: This game is brimming with a variety of challenging puzzles, particularly spatial and memory puzzles; some of them are even well-integrated into the gameworld. The only problem is that the game designers artificially increased the difficulty rating of several of the puzzles by giving the player insufficient clues to solve them logically. A "black box" gadget whose function cannot be accurately deduced may take longer to solve than a well-constructed logic puzzle, but it actually takes less brainpower... and is significantly more frustrating.
Characters: You control two crewmembers, which is important for plot purposes but not for character purposes--neither of the two has a discernible personality, nor (unfortunately) a different attitude or reactions toward the locations they visit. The NPCs are generally unmemorable.
Gameworld: Most of the puzzles and designs in this game fit together in a consistent way that complements the plot, but there are some glaring exceptions that seem to hearken back to early adventure games like The 7th Guest--puzzles that pop up out of nowhere when you enter the appropriate area, silly strategy games you must play against the computer before you are permitted to cross a bridge.
Gameplay: The gameplay of Schizm can be repetitively simple. Basically you move from screen to screen until you find something you're allowed to click on, then click on it. This task was made significantly more boring by the artists' habit of drawing doors, tunnels, and alien devices as window dressing on their backdrops; sure it looks nice, but it forces players to waste too much of their playing time waving their mouse uselessly over plainly visible puzzles that aren't and pathways to areas that don't exist.
Interface: Most Myst clones have pretty bad interfaces, but this one is worse than most. Each area is static--you can't move yourself freely around it--but unlike other Mystlike games with static views, there's no simple way to just rotate left, right or about-face. You have to hold down the mouse button and waggle it the proper amount. Then, once you've located the exit, clicking on it triggers an unskippable cutscene of you walking to the next static area. Travelling across well-known terrain is slow and tedious, without any shortcut mechanism at all.
Ambience (Graphics, Sound, etc.): The graphics are excellent, but the game has a generic Star-Trek sort of feel to it overall, and the inability to go anywhere in the attractive-looking environment except for the few designated 'rooms' keeps Schizm from feeling immersive at all. Even in the slideshow presentation of the original Myst, there were no buildings you couldn't try to enter or strange structures you couldn't walk towards. It's very off-putting.

Lora's Recommendations: I recommend this game for anyone who already likes Myst-type games, or for puzzle enthusiasts who aren't easily dissuaded by bad navigation. The plot, graphics, and shifting viewpoints of Schizm raise it out of the slush pile of routine puzzle-adventure games.

If You Loved Schizm: Then you should play its sequel, Chameleon, which has a plot that is just as appropriate to the genre as this one, but more complex. If you haven't yet, you should really play the classic Myst series of puzzle games that inspired this one (Myst, Riven, Exile, and Revelation). I might also recommend Sanitarium, a third-person puzzle-adventure that also uses a mystery plot to good effect (though it's darker and creepier en route).

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