Reviewed: November 1, 2002
Released: October 16, 2001
DVD System Requirements
Dreamcatcher is known among adventure game fans for bringing quality adventure games to the PC at affordable prices. Schizm, which is now being marketed using its original subtitle "Mysterious Journey," is a game that fits that description very well. The game is in the first-person exploratory style that dates back to the mega-hit adventure Myst. Schizm offers some innovations to the Myst-style gameplay as well as an enhanced DVD version which is somewhat rare to see these days.
The story of Schizm is that of a futuristic Mary Celeste situation. The Mary Celeste was an abandoned ship discovered in 1872 drifting on the Atlantic Ocean 590 miles west of Gibraltar. The ship was in a perfect state as if its passengers and crew simply vanished. What happened to the crew and passengers is still a mystery to this day.
The same situation has occurred on the planet Argilus in the year 2083. A complete alien world, with cities and working high technology, with not a living being to be found anywhere. You play the role of two crew members of a supply ship that were sent in to Argilus to resupply the initial science team that discovered Argilus. There is no sign of the scientists, and your own ship had to make a crash landing. Figuring out what happened to the scientists and the natives of Argilus is key to getting home.
Schizm is almost completely controlled by the mouse. Point and click, it really doesn't get much simpler than this. You can drag the mouse left or right to turn your view 360 degrees. You do not have complete freedom of movement and can only visit certain specific points, much like mosts adventure games of this nature, but the game does a pretty good job of giving an illusion of movement. Click on things to interact with them; sometimes dragging or holding and clicking is required.
The game offers 16 saved game slots, and you'll need them. In fact, the game could have used a few more slots or even unlimited save game slots. You'll want to save before attempting any puzzle, because sometimes you'll figure out that you've screwed up the device making it hard to undo back to the beginning. Starting the puzzle fresh once you know the trick is usually the best way to go about it. Save after each puzzle so if you make some mistakes later you don't have to redo them.
You'll spend a lot of time wandering around and looking for clues for the puzzles, and it makes things faster to save the game at certain locations that have interesting things for clues. Save again when you think you need to review the clues, then load the previous location to study the clues, and then restore back to where you need to use the clue.
Most of the puzzles are logical and make quite a bit of sense...that is, once you've figured them out. Many of the puzzles involve learning the strange alien written and verbal language found around Argilus. There are puzzles that are audio in nature, so listening for clues is just as important as looking for clues. Most of the puzzles make sense in the story and do not seam out of place or put there for no purpose. Much of it is figuring out how a piece of alien technology works, or unlocking an alien combination lock by studying the language of the Argilians.
Some of the puzzles are very tricky and may require a lot of thought and a lot of patience, but they are not arbitrary or illogical. There are also a lot of clues around the planet, and many of them aren't always right near the puzzle they belong to. One downside to the puzzles is that sometimes you may have to travel to see the affects of "solving" a puzzle, so you may not know right away if you have solved a puzzle even though you have.
The biggest innovation that Schizm brings to the Myst-style adventure genre is the ability to control two characters. You play both Sam and Hannah, two members from the crashed re-supply vessel that are trapped on the mysterious planet Argilus. They start out in completely separate areas of the planet and the first few puzzles will have you attempting to get Sam and Hannah to the same location. Sam and Hannah speak to each other to develop the story and even work together as a team to solve a few puzzles.
You also will find personal logs of the missing scientists, encounter strange "ghosts" of other scientists who seem to want to help you, as well as some aliens themselves. The nice part about having all of this character interaction is that it tends to lessen the feelings of being alone in a desolate alien world, plus it helps move the story along.
The story of Schizm is well told and the plot is intriguing enough to keep you moving from one puzzle to the next. The "cut scenes" with Sam and Hannah talking to each other helps move things along, as well as the occasional NPC visit. The only downside to the story is that the ending is somewhat less than revelationary and shouldn't really shock most players. It's well worth playing through to see, though.
There are two versions of Schizm - Mysterious Journey. The "master" version comes on a double-sided DVD-ROM. This version features graphics that are much sharper and it also contains a few additional puzzles and several additional scenes that are not on the "cut down" CD-ROM version. I reviewed the CD-ROM version, which comes on 5 discs. The problem with the 5-disc version is that it either requires 3.5 gb of hard drive space to install, or it requires a lot (and I mean, a LOT) of disc swapping. The disc swapping is very immersion breaking, so my suggestion is that anyone who seriously wants to experience Schizm the right way get a DVD-ROM drive if you don't have one, or at the very least clean enough hard drive space to do the full install.
Even on the CD-ROM version the artwork of Schizm is amazing, the only downside is that the graphics are somewhat grainy, which is not a problem with the crisp DVD version's graphics. The graphics on my Athlon 850mhz with 512 mb RAM were somewhat choppy at times, but this may have been due to me not doing the full install and it having to read from the CD-ROM drive from time to time.
The game features a fair amount of full-motion video of live actors against a computer rendered background. Most of the graphics are computer rendered in the Myst-style, and the rendering is very well done. Many times during the game I found myself just goggling at the scenery. The artistic style truly makes you believe you're in an alien world.
The sound effects of Schizm are very well done and are integrated nicely into the gameplay. You'll hear a lot of audio clues to puzzles, so it is important that you pay attention to everything you see and hear, and take notes. You may have to play a giant alien "tuba" for some clues, or ring giant religious bells to hear clues for solving a puzzle. Learning the verbal language of the Argilians is important to a few puzzles. The voice acting for the "ghosts" of the missing scientists is also well done, as is the voice actors of Sam and Hannah.
The music for Schizm really feels alien and mysterious, adding to the mystery of exploring this very alien world -- haunting melodies for the quiet exploration of an empty temple, or bold orchestral pieces for the dramatic moments. Overall, the sound effects of the game were well above average, and are integral to the gameplay. There were a few times when the game seemed too quiet, but most of the time your ears are treated as nicely as your eyes.
A play through of Schizm will take over 20 hours for all but the serious brainiac adventure veterans. There's not a lot of replay value to any adventure game, and Schizm is no exception really. There are no branching story arcs or alternate endings. Your game could play out differently than another player's, just by the choices you make of who to use to solve what puzzles, but having the dual characters does not add any meaningful replay value. A few of the puzzles do change each time you play the game, but they aren't different enough to warrant another play -- this feature mainly serves to make playing with a walkthrough more difficult.
On the plus side, Dreamcatcher prices their adventure games attractively, and Schizm is no exception to that rule. You can get the DVD version for a mere $19.99 list price, which is an amazing price for a DVD-ROM game of this quality. If you lack a DVD drive, the CD-ROM version is available for the same list price, and you might even find it cheaper since it's a bit more widely distributed. With the high quality of the puzzles and production values, adventure game fans shouldn't worry themselves about the value of Schizm; it's a good deal.
Schizm is a game that lets you explore a truly alien world. The sense of immersion is good, helped by the first person view. It has an interesting story, and the puzzles make a lot of sense given the story and the setting. The puzzles should challenge even a seasoned adventure game veteran, but anyone with enough intelligence and time should be able to work out the solutions themselves, since they are not illogical and there are clues scattered around to help you out.
The production values of Schizm are top-notch for the adventure genre. People with a DVD-drive will want to be sure to order that version of the game to take advantage of the higher quality visuals, but even the CD version looks very nice. High quality sound, voice acting, and music also rounds out the experience.
Schizm - Mysterious Journey may not be a game that will attract many newcomers to adventure games, but it will probably please most existing fans of the genre. In a nutshell, Schizm is a well-built, solid adventure game. If you like adventure games, or especially if you liked Myst or adventure games similar to Myst, then you definitely should consider picking up Schizm - Mysterious Journey.