When I received my review copy of Chemicus: Journey to the Other Side, published by Tivola Entertainment, I had all intentions of having the review finished before the game hit retail shelves. Little did I know the scope of this game would require more than the nominal one-day marathon to complete. This game is, in fact, much more than a chemistry book with a GUI, as I at first feared it might be. Prepare to add a dash of adventure to the ole’ cerebral soup, and refresh the axiom “Better living through chemistry.”
Better Adventuring through Chemistry?
Saving the world through the sciences is something the German developers at Heureka-Klett are very familiar with. Couple that experience with Tivola’s tagline “Quest for Knowledge,” and you’ve got the perfect marriage between developer and publisher. Anyone familiar with the previous titles Physicus and Bioscopia by this developer, will be pleased that chemistry is the focus of this adventure.
In Chemicus, you play a friend to a slightly melodramatic man named Richard, who has discovered an ancient amulet which opens the portal to a mysterious city called Chemicus. He is then whisked off by the portal police, leaving you a cryptic note and cool communicator (which overtakes part of your screen from then on) to aid in your attempt to rescue him, restore harmony, and uncover a vast repository of chemical knowledge along the way.
Chemicus features a very pleasant Myst-opian undercurrent; slideshow format, first-person perspective, beautifully surreal pre-rendered backgrounds, scores of uninhabited locations, and lots of chemistry-based puzzles. The sound effects are excellent and very well implemented. The little music I noticed in Chemicus is also perfect for the setting. The frequent animations in this game are very clean, and splendidly produced. By the way, did I say there were lots of puzzles? Grab your beaker and crank up the Bunsen burner, you’re going to need them.
A mixed bag (of sodium nitrate)
All of the locations you are to visit are connected via transit in a bean-shaped pod that travels much like a futuristic subway. The control board of the pod is actually a periodic table, and you have to find the various chemical component blocks to be allowed access to other destinations.
In each location you visit you will also come across knowledge chips that you can access via your communicator. Here’s where the virtual chemistry book I mentioned earlier comes into play. With text and visuals, this area provides all the clues to completing each of the many puzzles of Chemicus. It’s fairly comprehensive, and highlights word-links for quick access to associated subjects.
You will find that your inventory becomes loaded down at times with all your findings; at one time I had 35 items. Chemicus will not, however, allow you to make a pipe bomb, or create a caustic mix that’ll melt your save games. It will allow you to mix solutions that are not intrinsic to the puzzle in question. Wrongly mixed components are always regenerated, which makes the, if I can use this word, solutions much easier at times. You also cannot die, which is fine, but in a way you lose any sense of urgency in your quest to rescue Richard. Let him rot, you have some nitrous oxide you want to play around with!
The Erlenmeyer Flask
Herein lies the problem. Solving puzzles and saving Richard often have little to do with one another, exhuming the big picture. This somewhat underscores that this is an education-based game, and not just an adventure game with a healthy dose of real world logic. While this is a great way to make potentially dry material fun to learn, it could have been much more immersive had the focus been canted equally to the adventure portion.
After playing the game for a couple days, my original excitement in the story potential was relegated to my interest in chemistry. The game could have held both curiosities successfully, it just didn’t. The story certainly has potential, but it rarely exceeds the boundaries of Richard’s static-severed comments on your communicator, or the odd sense that you are being pursued through a quick glimpse of some personage here and there.
This game will keep you busy for many hours, 20+ if you read through the wealth of material provided and don’t resort to a walkthrough. However, due to the difficulty of some of the puzzles, I’m afraid many may turn to a walkthrough by default. Those who don’t will either have a penchant for chemistry, such as myself, or resist by principle alone. This game is very non-linear, and it doesn’t appear to matter in which order the puzzles are solved--but you better be sure you’ve acquired the appropriate knowledge chip first. They are rarely hidden, so this shouldn’t be a problem.
This is a very good title for the money, and it is obvious a lot of work went into the game. There is much practical chemistry that can be gleaned from it, adding greatly to its replay value. It proves the point that learning can be fun, and while it could have been exciting, it comes just short of the mark.
It is obvious Tivola is dedicated to producing excelling software. To successfully combine education and entertainment is a daunting task indeed, and I’m looking forward to Chemicus II, as I am sure there will be many improvements.