Haunting music plays as the San Francisco, a 457G class ship, gently moves through the pixel-drawn Gargan system in deep space, stars twinkling in the background with a giant black hole in close proximity. Inside the large dark spacecraft is Odysseus Kosmos, a lazy, corner-cutting engineer with an unhealthy obsession with donuts, who has been left all alone by his crewmates with the sole task of keeping the vessel operating. Oh, and there’s the oddly named robot companion, Barton Quest, to keep him both sane and on-task.
As you start Odysseus Kosmos and his Robot Quest, this is pretty much all you know, and unfortunately you won’t have much more information at the end of the couple of hours it should take you to finish the first chapter. To be fair, this is intended to be a serialized game with five chapters in total, so it’s to be expected that the story and characters will be developed in greater detail as the series progresses.
Odysseus, Oddy for short, is the engineer on the San Francisco and his only task is to maintain the ship while the rest of the crew are off on a mission. That mission, you discover soon enough, is on a planet that is near the black hole you’re orbiting and is experiencing major time dilations. In short, what is mere minutes for the crew could turn out to be longer than Oddy’s natural life span.
Oddy isn’t what you would expect from an engineer. He’s capable, but unmotivated. His sole focus seems to be eating, and when he is called on to repair something, he might not bother to fix it properly, instead doing just enough for the moment and hoping that it will hold up in the future. He also has a marked capacity for misplacing things that he just might need to solve the next puzzle.
His frustrated robot friend Barton Quest is the voice of reason on the ship. He’s the one who advises Oddy what needs to be fixed and offers advice at times. This is a character that could have simply been inserted as someone for the protagonist to talk to, but instead actually serves a practical purpose as well, such as one puzzle in which Barton helps Oddy to fix a broken circuit. If you’re a Sierra fan from years gone by, think Cedric the Owl in King’s Quest V, except useful.
Everything you learn comes from either introspection on the part of Odysseus, or from the interaction between the two characters. This is where the first major disappointment of the game lies: the dialog is tedious.
While the events that occur while Oddy is alone on the ship do create a desire to know more of the backstory, when a conversation starts you really want to stop reading. The banter between Oddy and Barton is over-written and misses the mark in its comedy and timing, something that might have been fixed (or at least lessened) with real voice work. There’s a gem of a good idea within all the dialog: the dynamic of their relationship – Barton being frustrated at Oddy’s laziness and Oddy not caring – is good, but it’s hard to stay interested when the majority of the conversations are so repetitive. A great example of this is during the introduction, where the entire discussion revolves around donuts and Oddy’s love for them. While it’s a nice little character quirk, it’s not interesting enough for the amount of time devoted to it. Another issue with the text is the grammar. “To” and “too” mean different things and apostrophes are important. They’re little things, but issues that could have been improved with proper editing.
Puzzles so far are largely of the fairly standard fetch-and-use type. The main task in this debut installment is to repair what seems to be an endless stream of mechanical problems, made worse by the strange gravitational forces of the black hole just outside. Fixing something might be as simple as getting a component from the ship supplies and placing it in a machine, or gathering a number of items to restore your broken clock radio. While most of these obstacles are reasonably logical, there are some strange combinations that only old-school adventure game fans would appreciate, like using a rubber duck, back scratcher, or a mouse (the animal, not the computer accessory) to resolve a dilemma.
One of the interfaces you’ll be interacting with a lot is your onboard computer terminal’s SanFran.net. Logging in brings up a classic retro display, all black and green, which tells you what your current task is (usually repairing something that’s broken). There are a few of these terminals throughout the ship and they serve both as a plot device and a convenient quest log. One very early quest involves getting your misplaced screwdriver from on top of an intercom speaker, and doing so actually involves using SanFran.net in a very tangible way.Continued on the next page...