Mini-Review: Timescape: Journey to Pompeii (The Legend of Vesuvius)

Official web page; Arxel Tribe (creators); Dreamcatcher (publishers)

Review written by Andrew Plotkin

So, my first comment about this honker was as follows: "I am in a house consisting of three very large rooms and several smaller rooms. All of these rooms are entirely empty, except for a single locked chest. I have been exploring for 45 minutes. The chest is still locked. Am I having fun?"

I tell you lies. My actual first comment was "I don't understand the setup of this story." The game begins in the middle of World War One, which seemed a little... subtle... for a story ostensibly set entirely in ancient Roman Pompeii. By "subtle", I here mean "Say what?" But the narration quickly zips through some business with oaths, love, the goddess Ishtar, and a horrible fever, and dumps you in Pompeii before you can reach for the Tylenol. It's five days before Vesuvius erupts, and you have to find your girlfriend, who has been dumped here also.

None of this makes any sense, but none of it makes any difference either, so I guess that's okay. Underline the words "You have to find your girlfriend", and "five days before Vesuvius erupts". Go on from there.

As it turns out, the key to the locked chest is lying on the floor nearby. I happened not to see it. Thus, 45 minutes in a totally empty house. It's a nice house, if you like realistic depictions of Roman architecture.

After you open the chest, some characters show up and give you some plot directives. Then you go outside and two more characters beat you to death while arguing over a mule.

I really shouldn't spend so much time lamenting Timescape. It's just that, um, lamenting is more fun than actually playing... ahem. I didn't hate playing this game. A bunch of characters and plot threads are woven together. The storylines are acceptably complex. They're not acceptably well-written; a lot of what happens makes no sense at all.

The game design is one of those setups where, whenever you're stuck, the answer is to run all around the city, looking into every corner and crevice, because some character is hanging out somewhere waiting to push you along. This is tedious, so I used a walkthrough frequently.

You can also die, as I mentioned. You can die in timed puzzles; you can die and not know it for a couple more moves (so you can save the game in an unwinnable state). None of this adds to the game in any significant way. It's just frustrating. (Sometimes very frustrating. Such as the chase scene in which walking the wrong way produces the message "Game over -- you cannot complete your mission." Say what? Perhaps the starship Enterprise crash-landed on your time-displaced nouveau-Pompeiian heinie. I like to imagine that's how the game ended, anyway.)

Everything is very realistic, though. Realistic Roman architecture. Realistic Roman politics. Realistic Roman characters. Realistic Roman events (bar the occasional prophetic vision, and, oh yes, you were sent back in time from World War One).

I don't like realism that much. And that's why I'm going to stop typing now and boot up Myst 3.

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