Adventure Gamers Awards
Physicus, a two-disc science adventure game, is the first Tivola-published edutainment title created by the developers at Heureka-Klett, and as such, an innovation in itself; it is the first adventure game that I know of that incorporates the science of physics into its plot and puzzles.
If you shy away from anything that states you can have fun while learning (i.e., the Public Broadcasting System), you can put your mind at ease. Physicus is very much an adventure game, and you don’t need a wok-sized brainpan to enjoy it, or make sense of the puzzles. The target audience is 10-102, and if I’m not mistaken, that’s pretty much everyone.
If you select the full-install option, you won’t have to swap discs, and you’re off and gaming. After the intro movie, you “land” on an island (where are all these uninhabited islands anyway) and immediately get your hands on a communiqué that details a dire need for you to save the world using the science of…drumroll…physics! No ambiguity there. The earth has been knocked out of alignment, causing extreme temperatures worldwide. It’s your job to get a huge magnetic pulse machine working so that it can effectively jumpstart the earth’s normal rotation. You accomplish this by completing physics-related tasks, and learn practical application of this science in the world around you.
By the way, that cathartic voice that requests your help will also be your guide during the “database” portion of the game, where basic physics lessons are taught through a combination of narrated animations and text. He only returns in the end to congratulate you, if you succeed that is. Other than that, there is no other character interaction in this game. While not uncommon in adventure games of this type, this is somewhat of a lonely proposition.
If you’ve played either of the other two widely known edutainment titles—Bioscopia, and most recently Chemicus), you will already be familiar with the format of Physicus, and just how well it works. Each of these games offers similar gameplay: first-person perspective, point & click slideshow, excellent 2D pre-rendered graphics, and an interesting storyline that is predominately overshadowed by the interactive documentary portion of the game. The difference between these titles is in the subject matter and variations on puzzle and interface.
In Physicus, your travels are limited to a small village, some outlying structures, and a sunken ship that refused to sink. The scenery is ethereal and reminiscent of that much-debated series we all know and…feel differently about. In this game, the developers use Quicktime and Shockwave to effectively animate certain areas of the landscape, such as the undulating ocean, a windmill, generators, as well as the devices with which you will use your inventory.
You can complete your “lessons” separately, or in game, with a neat little hyperlink which appears above the puzzle you’ve approached. This is possible because of a laptop that you carry with you, allowing access to all of the information on your database with a single click.
The music in Physicus is what I wittily refer to as an under-score with mini- crescendoes here and there, such as when you open a certain door or complete a certain sequence. It reminded me a little of Tomb Raider in that respect, and it serves as an effective means of capturing your attention as to your surroundings. I don’t recall an abundance of environmental sounds, but then I haven’t visited any uninhabited towns lately to check the level of ambient noise.
A couple of minor irritants: instead of just picking up an item and dropping it into your inventory, items are scanned in vis-à-vis Star Trek transporter beam. After the first couple times I wanted an inventory warp factor, and make it so. Movement can get tricky in certain areas, necessitating a backtrack to get where one click would have gotten you were you allowed to; this isn’t serious enough to impede game play. Also, this is a pretty short game, and it’s nearly impossible to get “stuck,” with all that is provided you. Much like Bioscopia, it is fully playable in less than seven hours, perusing the database at your leisure notwithstanding. Without the database/tutorials, there is very little replay value in the game itself, as there are no differing paths, branches or alternate endings.
Having said that, Physicus is an excellent audio-visual reference tool for middle-school tutelage. Those still in school, or just plain interested in honing up on fundamental physics like myself, will likely refer to it often, well after having played this enjoyable game through.