Adventure Gamers Awards
You might think a game called The Fall of Lazarus is a biblical tale in ancient times, but really it’s a story-driven sci-fi adventure set aboard the eponymous spaceship, on its way to colonize a planet from the Ancora system in the year 2279. You are awakened from cryostasis by the ship’s AI to deal with a serious mechanical problem. You have almost no memory of who you are or why you are there, but as you work to effect repairs you slowly begin to experience both pleasant and painful memories, so you need to find a way to not only fix the vessel but also come to grips with your past. Surprisingly, much of your effort comes in the form of casual-style puzzling, but the setting is an interesting one to explore, and the ending leads to a satisfying conclusion, though perhaps not in the way you might expect.
To launch the game you need to move towards a mysterious black cube, which appears again later in the story (and as you will discover has ties to a terrorist group). The real action begins when you awaken to a greeting by a mechanical but pleasant sounding feminine voice, welcoming you back to the USSC Lazarus, explaining what has happened to you and providing instructions on what to do next. Your memory loss and disorientation may be a side effect of being frozen, or perhaps it’s something else?
You soon learn that the mechanical voice belongs to Hybris, the AI unit that runs the entire ship. Hybris is a curious character, at times cracking jokes, sometimes taunting you, and yet in other situations helping you out. As the game progresses you will develop a love/hate relationship with Hybris that ultimately makes the experience more enjoyable. It turns out you are the only crew member who has been revived, so there are no other characters to interact with, though you do hear your husband’s voice during some of your hallucinations, plus that of a mysterious male character who briefly appears in certain sections of the ship.
Your first order of business is to hit the showers, get dressed, and find your locker, which is not labeled with your name, just an alphanumeric tag, but it must be yours – right? Once opened, you find a vial of “Ku” that you need to hide, an item that foreshadows an important story element. You also pick up a flashlight which is useful in the darker areas of the ship. Next you need to meet Hybris in the examination room. On your way, you notice the ship is falling apart in numerous additional ways, with Hybris promising to make repairs.
While the Lazarus is not a huge ship, there are a fair number of twists and turns, as well as multiple elevators that go to different decks, which can make it difficult to find your way at first. To help with this there are directions on the floor, along with signs pointing to various locations aboard. Once you have acquired the MNEM/021n3 unit – a folding tablet that can be used to hack terminals and scan blueprints of each level of the ship – you can refer to the maps which prove to be very useful in navigation. The tablet also lists your next objective if you lose track of what you are supposed to be doing. In addition, there are many helpful posters on the wall providing game control tips, layouts of your current level, and more. (When clicked on, these show a text overlay making them easier to read.) Many inspirational posters will remind you of the larger purpose of the voyage, which is to ultimately colonize another planet.
Once you meet up with Hybris in the examination room and acquire the MNEM/021n3 unit, The Fall of Lazarus really gathers steam. On the same deck is the Dinner Area, where you experience the first of several strange events. When you try to leave this section, you’ll find yourself wading through a rolling sea with a lighthouse in the distance. Make your way there to see a "Welcome Home" sign and evidence of a party. Once you locate a particular item inside, you find yourself back in the Dinner Area, very confused. As you continue to play and have more of these visions, you’ll come to realize that you are hallucinating. This is one of the pleasant memories, but others are much, much darker. It is through these sequences that the emotional impact of the game is felt, slowing revealing the tortured past of the protagonist. There are a few mysteries to uncover on your own and I don’t want to reveal too much, but by the end of the game you will be sympathetic to your character’s plight and, at the same time, left with a sense of hope.
Unfortunately, the experience stubs its toe when it comes to gameplay. Almost all the puzzles are of the “casual” variety, with brute force needed in the absence of any clues on how to solve them. You will join dots in star constellations with a single continuous line, randomly hit buttons on a keypad to unlock a door, twirl knobs to connect a power source, align coloured vectors within multiple segments, etc. While these can be fun, there really needs to be some basic instruction on how to interact with them. For example, one of the more difficult puzzles is figuring out the course correction needed by inputting the information into a navigation simulator. This challenge involves aligning a series of hexagonal shapes based on the coloured lines inside them. You need to rotate the shapes to solve the puzzle, but there is no indication of how to do that, or even that you can. I had to consult a walkthrough to find out it was the middle mouse button that performed that function. Only once I knew that was I able to solve the puzzle, though it still took some time.
Another task that frustrated me was a scavenger hunt required for the Earth Connection Table. When you find the first collectible item, your character will comment that it needs to be placed on the table, but when you find others she just says “that shouldn’t be there.” Even if you deduce that these objects also need to be placed on the table, there is no reference to how many there are in total, and some are easily missed. Completing this objective is not necessary to finish the game, but it does add to the overall narrative flavour, so a better sense of progress would have been appreciated.
Where The Fall of Lazarus really shines is in its exploration and discovery of the backstory. As you work your way through the ship and the various tasks assigned by Hybris, you will need to hack into several terminals and learn about the crew. Hacking requires the use of the MNEM/021n3 unit and noting the security question, which will guide you to right area in the profile to unlock the station. In most cases, the results include context such as videos and personal emails, but in some cases it will unlock a key area of the game in order to proceed.Continued on the next page...