Review: Legacy of Time (Journeyman Project 3)

Official web page; Presto Studios (creators); Red Orb Entertainment (publishers). At least I think that's right. Don't bother with the Red Orb page unless you can deal with frames.

Review written by Andrew Plotkin

Dialog and writing
Bad for movement; good otherwise
Forgiveness rating
You cannot get stuck or make a mistake.

As we watched the opening of Legacy of Time, I turned to my friend and said meekly, "I'm sorry. I'm just a sucker for this kind of thing."

That's the plot I was talking about. It's the kind of plot which, by all rights -- by movie standards, let alone written science fiction standards -- ought to be laughed off the design table. Or perhaps embellished with a gumball-machine robot commentator.

See, the Cyrollans, the friendly aliens you helped contact in JP1, are suddenly being attacked by the Quo'Thalas, an Ancient Enemy Out of History. Who want some historical artifact of the Sosiqui, an Even More Ancient Elder Race. And, coincidentally, Agent 3, the traitor you chased down in JP2, is leaving you mysterious notes from her hiding place in history. Via Arthur, the Annoying Sidekick. And Elliot Sinclair, the Inventor of Time Travel, said something obscure but Definitely Important on his deathbed. Oh, also the time-travel agency has been suspended by Orders From Above.

And on like that. All played out against fairly nice CGI scenery by fairly awful actors, in a fairly long introductory sequence. With definitely bad dialogue. ("They have returned.") As I said, I can get into space opera of this sort -- the same way I quite enjoyed the movie Lost in Space. It ain't good. If you hate it, I won't be a bit surprised.

I will say one thing in its favor; it ties into the previous two games very nicely. Plot elements connect all through the storyline. I was astonished to realize how rare this is. Riven tied back into Myst, but that's one previous game, not two. (As I said, I haven't read the novels.) The graphical Zork games have been very separate from each other and their text-only forbears. Really, the last time I played a set of story games that really formed an ongoing storyline was the Spellcasting 101 series from Legend.

Anyway, I'm not saying it's good writing. But the authors did put some thought in. And I got a kick out of it.

And so, kicked past the introduction, you find the introduction. The game introduction, I mean. This is an interesting structure; the game (I hope you won't mind me describing the outlines) takes place in three time zones, but it starts with a short scene which jumps to all three of them. A bit of narrative technique; always welcome, I say. Plus, you get to compare the introductory scenes to their counterparts in the body of the story. Either a flashforward or a flashback, depending on how you look at it. Time-travel, you know. Heh.

It's all pretty enough, though things are a little more square and flat than they could be. There's a bit of dirt and wear on the scenery. I don't know if there's much more to say about it. The three time zones have definite styles to them, different feels, but I wasn't particularly lost in wonder.

There's a great deal of NPC interaction in the game. This is a break from most adventure games, which solve the problem of interesting NPCs by keeping them out of scope most of the time. Legacy solves it the old-fashioned way -- a conversation menu system, limiting the topics of discussion, putting in as many responses as the authors could think of, and accepting the fact that the NPCs really aren't very interesting. They're all one-note plot features, and they're mostly passive. A couple of them do take some action; there's even an interesting puzzle worked through the conversation system. But in general, you prod the topic buttons and listen to the recorded responses. No life in there. Plus, as I said, the acting and the lines are pretty bad.

Then, of course, there's Arthur, your Annoying Sidekick. A virus running on the internal processor of your time suit. He's omnipresent, since he acts as commentator, hint book, and even reads your lines when you talk to other characters. (Translating, I suppose.) Okay, yes, he's an NPC with some life to him. I wish he wasn't. Remember when I said the plot deserved an MST3K robot to laugh at it? Arthur isn't what I meant. His big schtick is to make unfunny jokes at the wrong times -- to break the mood as much as possible. I can't imagine who thought this was a good idea. There's no self-awareness showing through from the writers, nothing about the real flaws of the story; just bad jokes. You can't even shut him up reliably; there's a "chatty Arthur", "normal", and "quiet" mode, but "quiet" has a warning that you will miss important plot information if you use it. Well, yeah; that information comes only in Arthur's voice and schtick. Gee, thanks. Oh, yes, he also explains the obvious to you.

That's my biggest complaint about Legacy, really. You don't get credit for any intelligence whatsoever. If you're on the right track, Arthur jumps in -- sincerely, no mocking -- and says, "Hey, Gage! You just figured out thus and whozis!" I really got to hate hearing "Hey, Gage!" More than once I solved a puzzle by trying random things until Arthur told me I'd taken a step in the right direction; then repeat. At least once, this happened accidentally, and I didn't understand what I'd done until later. This is pretty much guaranteed to ruin any feeling of accomplishment I might have.

Contrariwise, when you're on the wrong track, he sometimes jumps in and tells you that too. (Mostly in "chatty" mode, I'll admit.) Explicit "you shouldn't bother with that" messages aren't real good for the sense of mystery, any more than "you're winning" are for the sense of accomplishment.

I understand that it's a hint system, and it's meant to make the game accessible to the unwashed moron masses. I, unfortunately, have had a shower quite recently. Maybe it would work better if you set the game to "quiet Arthur" and live with the plot holes. I dunno; nobody warned me in time.

So the game is quite easy, even without explicitly using the hint system. It's also quite short for a four-CD game. I solved it in two days, perhaps eight hours of play. (And some of that was waiting -- see below.) I was stuck in about two places. One was because I didn't recognize that I needed an item from one time zone in another. (This happens a few times; watch for it.) The other was simply not spotting a moveable panel. In both cases, the hint system pointed me right without trouble.

The game design is rich in some respects. The worlds are, well, non-linear, for lack of a less buzzy word. You move around them, back and forth, discovering more things -- areas have more than one use. Puzzles, also, have more than one solution. There are typically a couple of ways to approach each time zone sequence, in different orders. That's good.

On the other hand, the plot integration is often weak. Soup Can Syndrome, I called it once. Everything around you is rather blatantly built around the game puzzles; there's no feeling of a background reality in which it all makes sense. For example: at one point, you talk to a monk who says he usually sacrifices a particular item at a particular shrine to placate the pretas, the hungry ghosts. But recently he can't find any such items. Very sad. Okay, that's a plot pointer; you find the item, sacrifice it, and get a magic token to be used in a different puzzle. Only I thought, gosh, doesn't the monk get these tokens too? Wouldn't he have a whole chest of them lying around? Could I borrow some? You see what I mean; it's all just setup. No sense that life goes on outside your quest.

This brings me to a related point, which is that in several cases, the characters are all setup as well. I'm thinking of one puzzle (the subject of the interactive demo so I've known about it for months actually). You have to trick one character into leaving by promising you'll do his work for him -- several hours' worth. Naturally, you then borrow his tools and run off to the next puzzle. It left a really bad taste in my mouth. You can't stay and do what you promised; game time doesn't work like that. There are similar examples elsewhere in the game. In all three worlds, in fact, you leave a trail of wreckage and lies behind you. This could have been an interesting game theme; but it's entirely ignored. Presumably these people just don't count for anything except puzzle tokens. Phooey.

(Yes, you could make the argument that none of them are going to live long enough to curse you -- you have that much foreknowledge from earlier in the story. Well, maybe I've been reading too much Terry Pratchett, but I still think it stinks.)

Legacy has a typical panning interface. I found it awkward somehow, compared to the panning systems in Luxor. and Zork Nemesis. I'm not sure what the problem was, but over and over I found myself moving down a path when I meant to pan around and go elsewhere. Very frustrating. Pay attention to the cursor shape before you click. Also, you do have to do a lot of cursor scanning; watching the cursor shape is the only way to tell which objects are grabbable. Lots of busy scenery, no sense of focus to tell the player which bits are important. Oh well.

Speaking of frustrating movement, this is the first game I recall which has both panning rotation and progressive movement movies (as opposed to jumping ahead a step.) There's a conflict there; when you click on a movement hotspot, the game has to pan you around so that your angle matches the beginning of the movement movie! This got astonishingly annoying after a few hours. Click, rotate, pause, slide, stop. I wasn't happy with it. Apparently playtesters weren't either, because there are three shortcuts, none quite satisfactory. If the caps-lock key is down, all movement happens at double speed -- well, most of it. If you click to move and hold down the mouse button, and the destination has another movement spot straight ahead, you'll move through it without pausing. And hitting escape aborts any movie. (That last is not mentioned in the documentation. I wasted a lot of time before I discovered it.) Annoyingly, escape and mouse-hold don't mix; you can't begin moving down a long hallway and hit escape several times to jump to its end.

Manipulating objects, on the other hand, is no problem. Click and drag and wait for a "you can use that here" cursor. (You can examine objects, but there are no special actions or manipulable sub-parts; you use it or you don't.) They've ditched the "biochip" system of (essentially) magic spells. All the puzzles are based on objects and conversation, plus your single special ability: a chameleon circuit which can imitate any person you've met in a given time zone. This is a nice gimmick, and the authors build a good class of puzzles around it.

I didn't encounter any bugs, except for one unexpected crash. It was a very frustrating crash, though, because I hadn't saved recently, and replaying pieces of the game is boring. (See above; this was before I discovered the escape key.) (In fact I can blame one of my stucknesses on this. When I started again, I went to a different world, just for variety. And I didn't have an item I needed, which I'd gotten in the first world, and then lost in the crash. If I had just moved to the second world, with no crash, I would have had that item.) Anyway, save every so often, and it'll work out.

And, in the end, you wind up with a (very short) endgame puzzle, and then a climactic movie scene just as overblown and trite as the opening. Oh well. It was still kind of fun.

Conclusion: Not the best game you'll ever play, or even that you've played recently. But you may find it worth the cover price.

Availability: On store shelves (hybrid Mac/IBM games have that advantage) and can be ordered from the usual places.

System requirements: The box says Power Mac, 80 MHz or faster; 16 meg RAM; 70 meg hard drive space; 4x CD-ROM; 16-bit color display; System 7.5 (recommended 7.5.3.) I'm rather pleased to note that this is the same as what Obsidian required many months ago. Raw power is not the only criterion for good gaming.

Bugs: One crash, as I said above.

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