Reviewed: January 19, 2003
Released: March, 2002
After 20 years of playing computer games itís hard to pick my biggest favorites but there are a few titles that I always look back on and smile. Two of my favorite titles were the Dr. Brain games from Sierra and another little non-game title called The Way Things Work. If you were to combine those two titles taking the gameplay of the first and mixing it with the educational aspects of the second you would have the makings of a very interesting game.
Bioscopia is the sequel to Physicus and when it released in March of 2002 was the unknowing prequel to Chemicus, which would release several months later. Previously billed as ďedutainmentĒ, this unique hybrid is currently being repackaged and remarketed as an entertainment title. Bioscopia takes everything you learned in high school and college biology classes and blends it into a fascinating Myst-style adventure. Best of all, you donít have that nasty formaldehyde smell when dissecting the frogs.
The scariest, and perhaps the most interesting element about this title is how much you actually learn while playing it. From the main menu you can launch the menu that gives you access to topics such as Genetics, Human Biology, Cell Biology, Botany, and Zoology. This is great stuff, and while you wonít be cloning any sheep after you play Bioscopia you will still come out of the experience with a lot more knowledge than you had going in.
Games that try to educate or educational games that try to entertain seldom succeed, but Bioscopia manages to rise above this unspoken curse and delivers both a fun and educational experience. We start off with a respectable story that is worthy of a movie or at least an episode of the Outer Limits. Scientists have created a race of slave labor robots that revolt and pump the air full of a poisonous gas. A female explorer is trapped while visiting Bioscopia and you will need to use all of your knowledge of Biology to rescue her and solve the mystery of Bioscopia.
Gameplay is much like the original Myst. Using a QuickTime interface, you travel from screen to screen and interact with any objects you can find to gather clues and solve the various puzzles that all have their roots in biology. Itís all pretty standard adventure gaming stuff with various hotspots on the screen that will change your cursor into an arrow or hand. As with most games of this type, some items and hotspots are often hard to spot so you need to thoroughly scan every pixel of every screen to make sure you didnít miss something you will need later.
The puzzles are quite ingenious and naturally relate to the information in the encyclopedia portion of the game. Big Brain, the biological database will appear during strategic parts of the game to educate you on the right topics to solve any given puzzle.
The encyclopedia is my dream of what textbooks will be like in the future. Fully narrated and loaded with interactive models and diagrams, you can enjoy the visuals while you listen to the text then click on various objects to conduct virtual experiments and observe the results. Itís like a lecture and a lab all rolled into one. Youíll learn all about the human body, all sorts of animals, plants, photosynthesis, DNA strands, and much more.
Gameplay is rather linear. You canít explore very far outside of the confines of the game or the puzzles required to solve it. The nice thing about the items and the puzzles that require them is that you never have a huge selection of objects at any given time and most objects are found fairly close to where you will need to use them. These items also auto-arrange themselves so the item you need next is always in the front and objects that go together are kept together.
Bioscopia is marketed for ages 10-102 and rightly so. If your preteen plays this game they will be well on their way to amassing a good basic understanding of biology. Adults may choose to skip the game and just explore the informative interactive lessons in the encyclopedia, or families can come together to learn and have fun at the same time.
Bioscopia has a visual style that is charming and pays homage to traditional slideshow adventures. The static screens are colorful works of art with the occasional animated objects like a turning crank or rusty door that creaks when opened. There are hundreds of beautiful painted scenes that give you a detailed view of every location from every angle including some rather stunning shots.
As mentioned earlier, the interface is exquisite. The in-game interface consists of an inventory pod and a CD to launch the control menu. To make it even less unobtrusive, these areas remain dark until you pass the mouse over them then they brighten, waiting for you next command. The encyclopedia interface borders the entire display and offers VCR controls to navigate the lessons and chapters.
My only minor complaint is that the game runs in a locked 800x600 resolution and does not use DirectX. This means you may need to adjust your screen settings before and after playing this game. Thankfully, the game doesnít require this resolution so you could conceivably play Bioscopia in something higher, but it will be in a tiny window in the center of your screen. There were times I really wished the game played in a window, such as while I was grabbing screenshots and writing this review.
The music for Bioscopia is pretty good and there are plenty of ambient sound effects for the outdoor environments. All of the gadgetry and puzzle items have creative sound effects that fit the game perfectly.
Thereís not a lot of voice acting in the game but what little there is was all of excellent quality. The instructor who walks you through the various lessons isnít as charming as the English-style professor from Physicus, but he still speaks clearly and with authority. There was a major sound glitch on my particular review system where the instructor would start repeating himself after the first 7-10 words and it would get stuck in an infinite loop until I backed out of the lesson. I uninstalled my ďfull installationĒ and did the smaller one and that seemed to fix the problem.
Bioscopia is only $19 and frankly I thought the information alone was worth that. The fact that they threw in a game was just icing on the cake. I re-learned things that I had forgotten and learned some new stuff I never knew. Chances are I will never use any of this knowledge, but it was still fun to learn and who knows, someday I may get on Jeopardy or something.
Seasoned adventures will walk through this game in 10-12 hours and those with a good knowledge of science, particularly biology, will probably do it faster since they wonít be consulting the encyclopedia as much. If you have a family then this is one of those games you can keep handing down as your kids prepare for junior high.
Bioscopia has very modest system requirements. Chances are, if you have a computer capable of getting online and reading this review then you can play this game. It even runs on the Mac.
Bioscopia is a perfect example of how learning can be fun. This game should be in every schoolís computer learning center, and whether you have a personal interest in biology or just want to get your kids excited about the science and various life forms whether they are human, plant or animal, this is the perfect title to add to your software library.