Schizm: Mysterious Journey (inexplicably renamed Mysterious Journey: Schizm in North America) is an adventure game developed by some extremely artistic and creative people at Detalion and published by The Adventure Company (when it was just DreamCatcher). It is also a very large game, spanning four discs on the CD-ROM version. One would be advised to choose the maximum install option. Swapping done away with, we begin.
With a triple-A sobriety, a female voice narrates a few paragraphs of dithered text to varying backgrounds that might indicate someone misplaced their Photoshop quick-reference card and was just winging it. Intro impressions notwithstanding, this hefty game makes up for it in spades once inside.
After this brief, CGI-less intro, you find yourself on the planet Argilus. It’s the Mary Celeste on a planetary scale: towns, cities, and the associated technology all showing signs of recent abandonment. The game begins after the two main characters escape a failing ship in their lifepods and are soon stranded on Argilus.
Our respective hero and heroine start out on opposite sides of the planet, and as the song says, "working my way back to you, babe" becomes your primary goal. You will have the opportunity to play as both Hannah and Sam. Along the way you unlock clues as to the prior parties’ disappearance and their enigmatic messages, and try to figure out what in the Argilus is going on around here.
Schizm uses a simplified interface with a static cursor that changes to indicate directions in which you can move and inventory items you can acquire/use. The options menu is intuitive and I also found the sixteen save slots more than sufficient. Each movement offers a transition cinematic that is smooth and reminiscent of the Beyond Atlantis series. While this method is initially pleasing, it tends to needlessly draw out the game when backtracking. This highlights the need for note-taking to keep track of important information. You'll still have to backtrack at times, but writing down all those symbols and clues you’ll run across is the best preventive. There are no red herrings in Mysterious Journey either; if it looks important, copy it down.
The jaw-dropping graphics of Schizm are its strongest point. They succeed in being clever, creative, colorful, and awe-inspiring without ever being repetitive. As an example, on one of the four main areas you will visit, you’ll see some organic islands that float and look similar to hot-air balloons; this area alone will give you an idea of how beautiful this game is. This not only enhances but also validates the idea behind exploratory game play, as each rounded corner is met with an innervated expectancy as to what new wonders you will behold.
I’m sure that graphically, the DVD version is superior, yet the CD-ROM version is no slouch. While there is a notable difference from transition (node movement) to stills, where some mottling results from resolution reduction, it's never particularly distracting. You can pan 360 degrees from side to side, but instead of static pictures, you're treated to lots of little animations that add greatly to the atmosphere that Schizm successfully crafts within the confines of your monitor. Water will ripple, lights will dim and flicker, cloth will undulate from the touch of a breeze. Of course there are the many ways in which you’re transported from one area to the next: by airship, various rail-cars, pods and elevators that all come with the obligatory cut-scene, and though these are a joy to watch, they are a little on the grainy side.
I also particularly liked the music of Schizm. The music’s recurring theme is haunting, sweeping at times and appropriately subdued and dramatic at others. Sound effects are a good compliment, though nothing outstanding. Just ambient white noise appropriate to your current environment and the walker’s soft-shoe as your feet negotiate those vast halls and pathways.
The only real non-player characters are the various electronic tablets with video messages or node-triggered holograms of the previous residents/scientists. Their cryptic messages serve more as comic relief than actual plot threads, as the acting is terribly cheesy. So if you're looking for a character-driven, dialogue-intense experience, you won't find it on these colorful shores.
As mentioned, Schizm is driven by exploration. It should come as no surprise then that the puzzles are mostly organic and few are associated with inventory. They range from math-intensive to symbol-matching to auditory. Yes, the sound puzzle, perhaps the only other contender to the dreaded slider. One problem with sound-related puzzles is that sound quality seems to be a consistent problem for many adventure games. Often the music and ambient sound relegate spoken dialogue to the background, rendering any sound-related puzzles a non sequitur. One in particular requires that you translate these muted, vaguely demonic grunts into something legible. Volume adjusting was of little help. This type of obstacle impedes the game’s pace and reduces the player’s overall enjoyment to that of a chore.
Schizm is certainly full of puzzles one can sink one’s teeth into. For me, it was more like getting by on the skin of my teeth. I felt like I solved some by chance alone, and there were times where the temptation to peek at a spoiler-free guide were just more than I could bear. The right kind of patience, of which I'm rarely capable, is required for these kinds of challenges.
As adventures these days are trying to target a larger group of people, this is definitely narrowing the market somewhat on the salability of this game. Many may be turned off by the game’s difficulty level. This game lost half a point in my final score for this area alone, and could easily have merited a higher rating were there some sort of hint system built into the story that the frustrated, patience-challenged player could take advantage of.
I did make it through the entire game, which is a decent investment of time - a lot of which will depend on how long you strike The Thinker pose. Certain areas of this game caused me to slough off a few days, but the story’s pace is sufficient to keep the hardcore adventurer vested until the end; those new to adventures will likely find this game a bit more challenging than anticipated.
Schizm certainly delivers an adventure experience on a grand scale that will challenge the most deductive intellect. If you can look beyond its difficulty level at the living, breathing world around you and pursue this journey to its mysterious end, I guarantee you will feel it was worth it. The good news doesn’t end there, as we will very soon see the release of a sequel that promises to improve on its predecessor in many ways!