"Perry Rhodan, for the uninitiated (or rather for those who haven't Googled his name for review purposes), is the star of a forty year old German space opera. Beginning life in print, the series is now a massive phenomena in its native land, spawning TV shows, Graphic Novels and now, a point and click adventure game."
Adventure games live and die by two things: their story and their puzzles. You could have a Lord of the Rings style sweeping epic, full of suspense and intrigue at every turn, but if the puzzles are bad you won't make it halfway through. Conversely, a game full of fiendishly ingenious puzzles falls flat if the story's poor. Why help someone escape from a locked room when you don't know how they got there and you don't care if they get out? Rhodan: Myth of the Illochim appears perfectly aware of the pitfalls it faces, but can a game that concentrates on what not to do ever succeed?
Perry Rhodan, for the uninitiated (or rather for those who haven't Googled his name for review purposes), is the star of a forty year old German space opera. Beginning life in print, the series is now a massive phenomena in its native land, spawning TV shows, Graphic Novels and now, a point and click adventure game. Despite being quite a lot of a geek, I must admit to never having heard of Perry or his adventures prior to this game, which seems to leave me at a disadvantage. The developers claim that this game is a perfect entry point into Rhodan's universe, but after ten minutes of play I was utterly baffled. A cat in a helmet seems to hold an important role in an intergalactic government. As does a man called “Bully”, who collects real guns and toy spaceships. It's all a bit... unsettling. Also, Perry Rhodan himself is immortal. He can not die, which does seem to eliminate any threat from the proceedings. And leaves his temporary incarceration for safety reasons at the start of the game utterly nonsensical. I ploughed on though, determined to see whether behind this dense chronology lay a decent game.
Graphically Rhodan fairs reasonably well. The world feels solid and real, with the polygonal characters sitting comfortably on top of pre-rendered backgrounds. It's no Crysis, but then it doesn't have to be. It's functional and occasionally pleasing. There are rough edges, such as glitches in the UI and some odd clipping on interactive objects within the world, but they don't break the spell that the game casts. It's clear that the visuals take their cue from various other sci-fi series, reminding me in turn of Star Wars, Dan Dare and, strangely enough, Buck Rogers. There's a nice familiarity about everything and it allows gamers unschooled in the setting to appreciate the aesthetic. The cut scenes are cinematic, but lack any sort of visual bite, feeling a little cold and lifeless, which is disappointing, as a lot of the story is revealed through them.
The audio again is passable: the beeps and twiddles of computers are clichéd, but the music is suitably epic, avoiding the perils of German techno. The vocal performances aren't exactly phoned in but the actors often sound bemused, struggling to make sense of the lines they've been dealt.
I don't want to give too much away storywise, but it concerns the appearance of a new race, the kidnap of a trusted friend and the ramifications all of the above have on Perry's universe. If, like me, you've never dabbled in that universe, then the narrative is going to leave you cold. Even after a couple of hours I still felt like I was stumbling around in the dark. The game attempts to flesh out four decades of back story with dialogue snippets and asides but they feel more like in-jokes than exposition. It's not the developer's fault, they've been given the almost impossible task of filling in one corner of an already enormous tapestry in such a way that it can stand alone from the rest. Their attempt is admirable, but the uninitiated will always feel like they're missing out on the punchline.
As for the puzzles, they're not from the top drawer. The first one involves you finding some numbers to open the doors to your friend's offices. Essentially you're looking for the equipment to break into rooms that a simple phone call, or space phone call, would get you access to. Maybe your immortality means that you can't use a space phone. Maybe I just invented space phones. It all feels very pedestrian though, all very early 1990s. Lucasarts made better puzzles nearly two decades ago, with a sense of humour and cool. Nothing about Perry Rhodan is cool. It feels old and tired, and whilst the puzzles are challenging, it's only because of sloppy design and incomprehensible logic.
In the end, Perry Rhodan fails because it's not trying to be a good game, it's trying very hard not to be a bad game. There's no innovation, nothing new or special to set it apart from a crowd choked by mediocre adventures. Fans of the series will probably lap this up, roll around in it and then decide that it's not true enough to the original vision. The rest of us should just avoid it and let the Germans have their fun. Besides, who on earth would dream of being a hero called Perry? That's not awesome. Heroes should be called Han, or Indiana, not Perry. No one should be called Perry.
Freelance review by Harry Slater (May 28, 2008)
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