Universal Hint System – an enjoyable gameplaying experience.

The Omega Stone Review

— Frank Nicodem

The Omega Stone is aptly subtitled “Sequel to Riddle of the Sphinx”. In the tradition of Myst and its sequel Riven, TOS begins at the very spot and the same point in time where ROTS ended. (It is, however, possible to play TOS without having first played the original.)

The cut scenes are frequent, and done well. Movement between two points is enhanced with a complete video. Shorter animations accompany most other object movement, although the individual scenes are static (e.g., there is no moving water, flags waving in the breeze, or birds flying). In my particular installation, the final cut scene — the one in which Sir Gil explains the entire game — was a bit choppy, and the audio and video tended to be a bit out of sync. (However, it was clear enough that I could see the abundant foreshadowing of YAS — yet another sequel!)

The screen is laid out well, and the ability to call up or hide the inventory quickly and simply is a plus. The player also has a “camera”, which can take snapshots at any point in the game. This is a great boon for saving information about items that cannot be taken into your inventory (such as large, fixed objects). However, each snapshot is limited to roughly the size of 1/4 of the screen. And in almost all cases, what I wanted a snapshot of was all, or most of, the scene I was viewing. So I had to take multiple snapshots and later, scan back and forth through 3 or 4 snapshots to “piece together” the overall image in my mind. One simple design modification — allowing the camera to take a picture of the entire scene at once — would have made all the difference in the usability of the camera.

Another of the settings provided by TOS allows the player to choose a free-floating cursor, or a fixed cursor (where the scene “revolves” around the cursor). I played most of the game with the fixed cursor, although I appreciated the option of letting the player choose whichever is more comfortable. At times, though, controlling the interface became difficult. The “hot spot” to scroll the inventory was quite small; picking up an object doesn’t leave it in your hand; and returning to the game after saving a game requires unnecessary extra clicks.

A word must be said about the puzzles in TOS. The good news is that the majority of the puzzles are challenging and well-integrated with the storyline. The bad news is that they are complex, obtuse, arcane, difficult, and often laborious. Eventually, all of the puzzles make sense — after the player knows the answer.
There are a lot of “red herrings” in the game, primarily in the form of dozens of inventory objects that can be picked up but never used, or documents that can be read but shed little light on actual gameplay. There is essentially no intuitive way to determine the relative importance of objects in the game.

There are many ways in which your character can “die” during the game. Making a wrong move, picking up a wrong object, or running out of air in a confined space are merely a few of the ways this can happen. And when it does, the game provides no means of undoing the most recent action. The only option is to return to an earlier saved game (which, hopefully, the player is creating on a regular basis).

With regard to game saves, TOS uses a save-game engine that, frankly, I wish were used by more games. In theory, you can create as many saved games as you’d like, giving each one a title of your choosing. Each save is then displayed with its title, a thumbnail, and a date/time stamp. Hovering the mouse over a saved game brings up a larger, clearer image of the location where the game was saved. For me, it was almost the epitome of game-saving engines. Almost.

One thing that puzzled me throughout the game is that no matter where I was, each time I made a major discovery, or solved a critical puzzle, I’d have some interaction with Sir Gil (usually in the form of a letter), which showed he was always one step ahead of me — in much the way that a mentor stays just one step ahead of a star pupil (or a trainer does with an animal), encouraging them on. Without giving anything away, the premise of the story is that Sir Gil has information that, if correct, could be predicting the end of the world as we know it, within a very short span of time. Yet Sir Gil — who seems to already know the answer — allows “his friend” (us, the players) to roam around at our own pace, and doesn’t seem to care how well we’re doing our job. The fate of the entire world is on our shoulders, yet Sir Gil is content to sit back and watch how we are doing. The image I got was similar to that of a student driving instructor casually allowing his first-time student to drive in the Indy 500.

TOS is a difficult game to quantify. There are parts that I loved; there are parts that drove me berserk. However, after finishing the game, and then going back and re-reading some of the documents, and mentally reviewing everything that had gone on in the game, it was apparent that the story was more cohesive than it first appeared while playing the game. And despite all of the issues mentioned above, my overall reaction to the game is that I am glad that I played it, and will undoubtedly be at the head of the line when the sequel arrives. I did not enjoy The Omega Stone nearly as much as I did its predecessor, Riddle of the Sphinx. Yet if the game is approached with the right mindset (mostly a lot of patience!), TOS should provide an enjoyable gameplaying experience.

About Karen Tobler

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