Reviewed: February 27, 2008
Released: February 5, 2008
The Adventure Company is known for publishing some of the best adventure titles out on the market. So it should be no surprise that they bring the works of some of the greatest minds in gaming history to North America. One such talent is the developers at Lexis Numérique, the creative minds behind “Missing: since January.” Missing and its predecessor Evidence are two of the most innovative titles that I have ever played in the adventure genre. That is until now. Lexis Numérique returns this year with The Experiment for the PC.
In “The Experiment” you play as an unknown person, whose identity is discovered much later in the adventure. You wake up in the locked operations room of a five level supertanker. In front of you is an array of electronic panels and computer terminals. While you search the ship via cameras you happen across Lea Nichols, a survivor of the steel mammoth. It is up to you the player to help her escape the ship and to free you, another unwillingly trapped soul.
The interface of The Experiment is one of the most innovative I have seen in some time. Lexis Numérique took the preverbal rule book and chucked it over the ship’s guard rail. The interface is essentially a computer desktop, so anyone who is fluent with multi-tasking shouldn’t have any trouble playing this one. One the left side of the screen is the toolbar. When you move your cursor over the toolbar it scrolls out much like your “actual” computer taskbar does when you set it to auto-hide. From here you can see who’s in game session is running, the Intranet, Surveillance system, and the Application maintenance.
At the beginning of the adventure, you only have access to Lea’s session, but you will gain access to others. By entering their User Name and Password, you can gain access to files, clues and even codes that you previously didn’t have before. The most important of all this data being the codes, these will be used to unlock doors, activate robots, or other various objectives. The Intranet is the ship’s mail system, which not only gives you insight about what’s been going on before the wreck, but also valuable information needed to progress.
The Application maintenance is your means of changing your game options, as well as saving, loading and exiting your current game. I really like how you have a choice of how many camera windows you have open(up to three) as well as what your background looks like. This is nice considering you will be staring at the same background the entire time.
While all of the above is very cool, the true gem of this title is the Surveillance system, which the opening screen gives you every indication, when you boot up the game. The Surveillance system is broken up into two parts: the area map and the camera options. The camera options are what allow you to things like zoom in/out, brightness (or night vision), rotation of the cameras and much more. While the rotation feature is the only option available in the beginning, the rest are found via Lea throughout the adventure. You can even resize the windows via the icons at the top of each window. The only downside to going real big on the window sizes and having three open at a time is that you will experience some mouse lag.
The Area Map is you best friend in The Experiment. You will spend the majority of your time watching this screen with a passion. The area map is a 2D representation of the ship in all it eerie glory. I must admit I was blown away at the simplicity of the navigation system. First off you , must realize that you do not control Lea directly. You must lead her by turning lights on and off, or using the ships sound system to attract her attention. If you want Lea to enter a room you must first get her near the door via activating the door. Most doors are unlocked but many require codes, which you have to search the ship for. Usually the codes are never that far away and require you to put the cameras to use to find them. One thing I noticed while playing is that Lea moves like she is in no real hurry to leave the ship. For someone really wanting to get out of there, she moves like Yoda. I know if I was stuck on that ship I would be high-tailing it. Oh wait.. I am. Blast you locked door.
One of my favorite parts about The Experiment is that nothing about this tile seems staged. It feels completely natural in its approach. Sure there are “puzzles” of a sort but they are not obvious. I particular liked one part where a spotlight on the upper deck allowed me to search the room below the damaged deck below it. I thought this was a real neat trick. And this isn’t the only instance of these camera tricks. I won’t spoil these for you so happy hunting. Also there are a few robot parts in the adventure where you not only have to use the ship’s cameras but the robots camera as well to manually steer the robot. That’s right you actually get to do something other than direct Lea around.
The graphics of The Experiment are not next gen quality like so many of the current releases on the PC, but yet they hold their own. Since you are viewing the world through small windows via cameras you tend not to notice the titles less than perfect graphics. The only time you really notice is when you zoom on object or walls with the camera.
The atmospheric lighting gives you a foreboding sense of some unknown evil. The nicely done shadows on the wall as you walk past a window letting in light is actually good. The numerous corpses littering the ship are all done with that a certain quality reminiscent of Resident Evil. Only these corpses don’t get up and try to eat you.
The cameras are still by far my favorite thing about The Experiment. The freedom to look around the ship at any given moment in any given place is a change in gameplay that I seldom see. Lexis Numérique really did a number on this title, and they did it in diamonds. The cool thing about the cameras is that they are not all crystal clear. You may have one that is fogged over or out of focus. My favorites are the ones where the images twitch , due to a damaged signal or box.
The sounds of The Experiment compliment the environments to a tee. While you are inside the ship, you can hear the creaks and moans of a ship that has abandoned for what seems like an eternity. Little things like the sound of a door hatch opening to the hum of the robot as it moves are all nicely done. Once you dare venture to the outer decks of the ship you are presented with a totally different set of sounds.
You almost constantly hear the sounds of the ocean crashing against the side of the ship and different birds flying in the air. Here you also meet some of the weird animals, complete with sound as you must find your way around them. You also at random and not so random time will hear nicely performed music pieces. There are no words of course but the effect is pretty cool.
I’m not lying when I say The Experiment will keep you busy for a while. The boat is huge and some task will require a roundabout way to complete. You will also need some patience as you can accidentally miss out on something important if you get in too much of a hurry. Clues are everywhere and it often takes a sharp eye to find them. There is no real reason to play this game again after beating it, but those of you who like innovation, like me, will surely load this one up again. Lexis Numérique really knows how to entertain people with a deep, eerie tale of survival. The Experiment retails for $30.00 and I would gladly pay it to play this title.
All in all, at the end of The Experiment I was left with a sense of fulfillment. What could be better than saving the girl, and finding out who you are. The cryptic and eerie story adds to the title's appeal and will draw you in almost immediately. If you are looking for the next step in innovation, look no further than The Experiment.