Adventure Gamers Awards
Imagine the following as soft elevator music plays in the background: You peer down to see that you dress like a lumberjack. Then examining the surroundings, you suddenly realize you have been transported to an office. Here, you are greeted by two transparent human beings who work at their desks. Not surprisingly, the door standing before you is locked. Knowing you must move on, you wrack your brain, staring at the only item sitting in your hand: a box. It must open the door, you think to yourself. Miraculously, when you press the box against the doorframe, it sticks to the door handle. You wiggle your head in utter confusion and watch as the box unexpectedly smacks down into a crack in the door, swinging it wide open. You take careful steps through the doorway, and then everything freezes. You are stuck for eternity, staring at a black wall, eating chocolate.
No, this is not a temporary adventure game nightmare that can be ended by waking up and drinking warm milk. This is a frightening scene that could haunt you forever if you dare to load it onto your computer. I did. I ventured into the mysterious realm of Forever Worlds, and my experiences there, to say the least, will never be forgotten…no matter how much I desire to erase them from my memory.
Hexagon Entertainment presents Forever Worlds, where the player becomes the hero, Jack Lanser. Dressed in lumberjack gear, you head out to a magical tree in search of Doc Maitland, a missing paleontologist. Early on in the game, the story takes an outlandish turn as Jack becomes someone else, and that someone else becomes Jack during a confusing game of twister. When you realize that you have traded places (if you ever do), you will notice that the world around Jack is not quite normal, featuring magic stones, oddly colored bananas, chocolate, transparent beings, chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate. This new world functions on a different kind of logic, if you can even call it logic, and this illogical world sets the stage for a variety of complicated puzzles and pathways.
Since it is minimal, let me begin with what truly delighted me about Forever Worlds. The opening cutscene effectively sets the stage for the story, presenting players with gorgeous, animated visuals, intriguing music, and an overacted, but fun voiceover. The voiceover pulls players into the story and hints at a tinge of offbeat humor that runs throughout the remainder of the game. I must say, it succeeded in grabbing me immediately.
Another redeemable highlight of the game comes when Jack meets IX, a talking Lizard with an attitude. This Lizard is the saving grace of this game for the minute amount of time he actually engages with Jack. This character instantly reminded me of the lantern wizard from Zork: Grand Inquisitor, a loud-mouthed and truly fun character who helps guide Jack along his journey. In fact, the game seems to have been inspired by the Zork series, its witty and magical stories. In the end, and in the beginning, however, the game never succeeds. Two paragraphs dedicated to good news are already too much.
Now let’s spiral into the Forever nightmare. Please note: I may scatter a few kind comments here and there as I run through the bad news, but that’s only because I found moments of great promise. These kind words should only help to emphasize my criticisms of the game, proving that the developer’s potential--of which there is plenty--is never fully, partially, or even somewhat tapped into.
While the opening cutscene and many other scattered cutscenes look gorgeous, the graphics lack depth and polish overall. Jumping from the first cutscene, which surprisingly impressed me, to the first shot of a static, gritty boat in water is equivalent to taking a nice warm shower and then jumping out into the freezing snow; the shock is incredibly painful. While the basic backgrounds are colorful, the game has a patchwork appearance to it. For example, one of the many stones the hero must pick up sits on the screen as if someone has placed a sticker of a digital rock on the monitor. While this sometimes makes it easy to identify items Jack must place in his inventory, this graphical flaw is certainly not as useful as it is laughable.
Near the opening boat, a jungle surrounds the river. It is a complete mess of repeated 3D leaves and trees, featuring a variety of green and blue shades. The jungle seems to be a favorite environment for the developers to create since there is so much of it that Jack must weed through. I am not sure if the designers intend for the jungle to be a maze, but it is--by far--the most confusing maze-like pathway I have ever experienced in any game. This may have been unintentional since the graphical nodes are simply buried in the identical patches of jungle, making it difficult for players to maneuver. The remainder of the game is much the same. A room or scene will feature a wonderful graphical idea, concept or creature, like a butterfly, and then it will repeat the graphic over and over, changing only the colors and position. Like a surreal nightmare, I was haunted by the same images throughout Forever Worlds.
This graphical repetition only further complicates the game’s already confusing and dysfunctional control scheme. Forever Worlds is actually like many other adventure games The Adventure Company has published: first-person, 360-degree rotational scenes connected by a series of nodes. While some gamers have expressed their dislike for this perspective, I have often loved its engaging nature, pulling me into the role of the character, into the story, and into the mysterious environments. Crystal Key II is an example of a mediocre game that uses this perspective to its advantage, however small that may be. I must now admit that Forever Worlds, on the other hand, has demonstrated that this perspective can actually alienate, irritate and destroy a gaming experience.
As in a nightmare, the simplest tasks, like looking around a house, become insurmountable and frustrating. Forever Worlds, being the nightmare that it is, requires its players to suffer with an unreliable gameplay engine, and the ever glitch-filled video, powered by the DivX codec. In order to move, you cannot simply move the mouse; you must click, hold the button and move the mouse, until of course the cursor hits the side of the screen. Then you must stop, move the cursor to the opposite end of the screen, click and scroll again. As I scrolled in the computer-unfriendly world, the graphics shimmied and popped sporadically.
Technically, on Windows XP, the game engine is a nightmare, suffering from choppy frame-rate, slow reaction time, and even moments of no reaction at all. For example, as I stood in a hexagonal butterfly room, I clicked on the changing cursor over a door; this changing cursor usually indicates a puzzle or action. Upon doing so the first time, the game stopped responding. The cursor moved pleasantly enough, but nothing happened. Luckily, I had just saved the game and could jump back into action in the hexagonal room once more. The second time I clicked the door, nothing happened. This time, however, the game never locked up, so I went inside another room. As I searched the previously undiscovered area, the game finally registered my click on the first door and shot me instantly into the other room. If these instances only occurred once, I would have been irritated only temporarily, but the fear of having to Alt-Tab out of the game into Windows paralyzed me with utter dread as I paced halls and wandered down pathways. My strategy: save at every point in the game, around every corner, after every time I picked up a new piece of chocolate. No amount of humor and lightheartedness in Forever Worlds could ever overshadow the feeling of frustration over the above-mentioned technical glitches and awkward control scheme.
This adventure game strives so hard to be magical and humorous that the developer’s excitement over creating an entertaining combination of the two only produces a world of nonsensical puzzles. Case in point: Forever Worlds comes packaged with a walkthrough which continually references and even makes fun of the game’s complete lack of intelligence. One surreal puzzle involves setting chocolate at various stations to unlock a closet with wings. Why am I gathering chocolate? I don’t know. Why am I setting them on stands in a house? I don’t know. Why am I picking up a pair of wings? I don’t know. The game’s world seems to be one big joke, filled with joking puzzles involving handfuls of chocolate, bananas, candle sticks, and whatever else Jack can find. Playing through the game, I had hoped some character, somewhere would finally explain the joke to me, but I never heard the punch line. Most of the puzzles function the same way: turn the puzzle on, put something on it and then click again. While at first the game’s nonsensical puzzles can seem cute and goofy fun, they soon become tedious and mar the entire gaming experience.
The above disappointment in the game is actually symptomatic of a more prevalent problem: the story and the characters in it. By the end of the game, it appears that Jack was never even directly a part of a story. He simply wanders around solving pointless puzzles in order to reach the next cut scene and have the next plot-point (if you can call it that) explained to him. In nightmares, people do things without motivation, exist with no logical purpose and speak to frightening characters, and Forever Worlds satisfies all three criteria, making one of the most meaningless adventure game experiences possible.
I first realized that this game’s story may be vague and insipid after I finally wandered my way through the famous jungle of repetition and stumbled upon a tribe in a camp. The characters’ voices were so irritatingly cartoony and at the same time wooden that I struggled to comprehend what they were saying, even though I clearly heard every word they spoke. This isn’t even an experience in the parallel worlds; this is in the beginning, in the supposedly “normal” world and home to normal-looking people like Jack. Though, on the other hand, both the Lizard IX and a Mask you meet in the great tree feature competent and somewhat engaging voices, what they say still makes little sense. The opening cutscene is the highlight of the game, its story, and its characters; everything that happens afterward sends Forever Worlds spiraling downward, past mediocrity, into oblivion.
I have reluctantly awarded Forever Worlds a single star because of its attempt to look pretty, its attempt to put a story together, and its attempt to be a game. These attempts, however, never take off to elevate Forever Worlds above a pile of dung. Beyond a doubt, this is the worst adventure gaming experience I have ever had.
Not all nightmares begin as nightmares, and the same can be said for Forever Worlds, which opens with promise and subtle humor, and even carries on a sense of liveliness through the introduction of the tag-along magic Lizard, IX. Eventually, however, the true hollowness of the game is made clear. The protagonist Jack is merely a puppet with no real motivation, unwillingly dropped into an irritating world of randomly scattered items, technical glitches and poor voice acting where story takes a backseat to overbearing and nonsensical puzzles. If you desire to play a game filled with offbeat humor and magical creatures, check out any Zork title on the shelves. Heck, even import one of the games from Mars at the price of $100,000. Whatever you do, do not turn to Forever Worlds, no matter how desperate you become and no matter how unique the game’s art design may seem. A few pretty images and an interesting art design cannot save Forever Worlds from burning in my trash bin. No one deserves to suffer this surreal nightmare. Those who decide to may end up like me, dressed in lumberjack clothes, frozen in a doorway, and eating the useless chocolate still sitting in my inventory.