Reviewed: January 19, 2003
Released: November 5, 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.
Chemicus is the third installment in the education game series that started with Physicus and Bioscopia). Chemicus takes everything you learned in high school and college chemistry classes and blends it into a fascinating Myst-style adventure. Best of all, you canít blow up the science lab and get kicked out of school.
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 Brain Center that gives you access to topics such as Substances and Properties, Transformations, Atomic Structure and Chemical Bonding, Electrochemistry, Acids, and Organic Chemistry. The level of information ranges from very basic stuff to some seriously advanced concepts that will test college graduates. You will definitely leave Chemicus 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 Chemicus 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. Chemicus is a parallel world that lies in perfect balance with our own. When an intruder discovers an amulet that gives him access to this other world the tranquility of Chemicus is disturbed. Itís up to you to journey to this virtual world of science and restore balance.
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 chemistry. 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. The Brain Center will give you all the chemistry information necessary to solve any given puzzle. Even so, the answers arenít just handed to you. You will have to do plenty of thinking.
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. Puzzles are often illogical and not really tied into the environments. You solve them for the sole purpose of moving on to the next area and the next puzzle. Those who are having trouble with the game will be glad to know there is a PDF help file included on the CD.
Chemicus 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 chemistry. 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.
Chemicus is by far the most visually pleasing of the three games in the series. The static screens and movies are colorful and much crisper than the images in the first two games. Chemicus maintains the traditional slideshow approach to adventure gaming. There are hours of animated cutscenes and more than 2,000 stunning 3D images that give you detailed and often breathtaking views of every location from every major angle. The still images often have animated components that liven up the imagery and breath life into the scene.
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.
As with the other games in this series, 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 Chemicus 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 futuristic techno music is rather soothing while you browse the massive database of chemistry information, but it is certainly no substitute for the lack of a verbal guide. Iím not sure why this particular game had not voice instructor but it made the learning part of the game quite boring. Itís basically the difference between reading a textbook and listening to a lecture.
All of the gadgetry and puzzle items have creative sound effects that fit the game perfectly. What little voice acting you will hear is all of good quality, but the ambient environmental noise is the stuff you hear the most and it all works quite well.
Chemicus is only $19 and thatís about as much as I could justify spending. Sure, I re-learned some things that I had forgotten and learned some new stuff I never knew, but having to read everything was too much like going back to school or surfing the web.
Seasoned adventures will walk through this game in 10-12 hours and those with a good knowledge of chemistry will probably do it faster since they wonít be consulting the database 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.
Chemicus 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.
Based on my experience the first two games in the series, I had high expectations for Chemicus. Unfortunately, my second favorite science became my third favorite game. Even so, this is one of the interactive learning experiences that would make this a great addition to every schoolís computer learning center, and whether you have a personal interest in chemistry or just want to get your kids excited about science, this is a good title to add to your software library.