Mini-Review: Crystal Key 2 / The Far Realm / Evany

Review written by Andrew Plotkin

I remember Crystal Key as being a competent, if not groundbreaking, adventure game. Reasonably pretty, with a nifty (if slightly awkward) puzzle at the climax.

Momentary pause as I re-read my review from 1999... okay, I hated the interface. And the sense of focus needed a lot of work. And it was buggy.

Hey, that's a great lead-in to my review of the sequel... because CK2 was just like that, except not competent and without the nifty puzzle. I swear this game could serve as an encyclopedia of Things Not To Do. But I'll skip the minor sins, and just talk about gameplay.

CK2 loves, with a dear and heartrending devotion, to make hotspots appear "only when needed". All sorts of things look like irrelevant pieces of scenery, until you reach the Right Point in the Plot, and then suddenly you can click on them. Of course you don't click on them, because you've already learned that they're irrelevant pieces of scenery. You know how this goes, I don't need to explain how dumb it is.

Perhaps to make up for this inconsistency, the NPCs are as constant as the northern star. After an initial introduction, they always say the same thing. Some of them only have an introduction, which they repeat every time you click on them. You make the same replies, too. Identical little conversations. It doesn't even pretend to be a "nothing new" response. I know it's meant to drum the Important Clue Points into your skull, but realism goes up in a puff of sooty smoke.

(Also, half the NPCs are irritating tree gnomes with smurfy voices.)

I got stuck several times, and each time it was "You want me to use what? On what? What's that supposed to mean?" Once I clicked thing B on scenery A, I was able to tell what I'd done. But I hadn't had any notion that that was an interesting thing to do. Even if I knew that thing B or scenery A was important to getting unstuck -- and I generally did know that -- nothing led me to try that particular experiment.

And the "use everything on everything" strategy (which I hate to begin with) wouldn't have helped much... because it was actually go to person F, click him with thing E, then take thing D from him (which he happened to have handy) and combine it with thing C, producing B, which you then click on A. Some of these steps were logical; but inevitably, one would be a complete blank-stare, what-the-hell-were-they-thinking action. Which means you never even start the chain of logic. You can't try using everything on A if you don't have B yet; and you don't know that B is produceable (much less why it makes sense to use it on A) so you have no reason to talk to F about E.

If you see what I mean.

Navigation is annoying, because you have to run back and forth across the map. Three seconds every time you click a movement hotspot. (No transition animations -- or very few -- those three seconds are just load time. It's not disastrous, but I wish it was faster.) You have vehicles to jump from one game region to another, which is okay. But I sure wish you didn't have to change from one vehicle to another so often. That's just tedious. Walk walk elevator switch walk walk boat. And back again. (You can interrupt any animation with the space bar. Knowing this will save your sanity.)

Bah, forget it. I have a page of complaints scribbled down, but it doesn't even feel worth going through them. The game just feels limp and shoddy. Too much stuff is missing. Animations are missing -- things happen that you just don't see. It's not confusing, it's just weak. The Gigantic Tree of Awesome Stature lacks any grandeur whatsoever. The first time you see it, you won't even realize it's a big tree. Looks like a tree. There's a musical sound puzzle. Who thought that was a good idea? The Miller brothers in 1992, that's who, but it turns out they were wrong.

The final puzzle makes no sense. Two-thirds of the way through the game, you find the lever which will (literally) save the world. All you have to do is pull it. You can't pull it. I don't know why. You have to go through the rest of the game to get a thing and hang it on the lever, which then clonks down and so you save the world. I have a theory about why this is, actually, but I won't share it with you, because this puzzle doesn't deserve it. It conveys neither meaning, nor drama, nor complicity, nor excitement. It's a failure. That goes for the whole storyline, actually.

CK2 is buggy, too, but you don't have to worry about that because why would you play it? Wow, I don't think I've ever been this bitter in a review. I've played worse games, you know. There are many, many worse games than this. But CK2 is astonishingly free of anything... astonishing. There's one nice house. I'd live there. (For a few hours I thought the puzzle to enter that house made sense, but it turns out it doesn't, so never mind.) The game is basically a string of fumbles, with no particular high points. And that's what makes me to write a very, very bitter review. Also a meandering review with no particular point. I hope you're at least enjoying the rant.

If you do play CK2, save every 30 minutes. New save file each time. Every two or three hours, save and then quit and then reopen the game and reload your save file. Do the same if your inventory disappears. It worked for me.

Oh, I forgot to mention the game-killing bug, where if you leave the manhole without picking up the crank device, you can't go back and get it, so you lose. I read that in a walkthrough guide -- I didn't run into it myself. Now, neither will you.

Summary: phooey.

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