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Imagine a world where, instead of seven days of creation or the slow Darwinian march of evolution, life emerged and changed in a series of dramatic bangs. Imagine a world where the dinosaurs were created as a living experiment, then wiped out and replaced with mammals and human beings. Now imagine this world is Earth and another bang is coming...
This intriguing premise is the basis for Comer, a graphic adventure very much in the style of the original Myst. It was developed by Shine Studio, a Hong Kong game development company, and is available for purchase through their website. Does it work? Well, yes and no.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
At the beginning of the game, you find yourself at the top of a tower looking down over a tranquil autumn scene and a house. Questions fly through your mind: How and why did you get here? What is the purpose of this place? You discover that you are the 28th Comer to this place and through your exploration you discover the identities of some of the previous 27 Comers -- Sindbad, Einstein, da Vinci -- and explore the purpose of certain "beings of light," but your ultimate purpose here is never completely delineated. Adventure buffs who crave story-driven exploration may be frustrated by this.
The interface for Comer is simple -- move your cursor around the screen to see the directions you can move; click in the direction you want to go and you’re there. Movement is made in a series of jumps; there’s no transition from place to place. This is often disorienting, as you have to look around carefully to get your bearings again. Click or click and drag on an item to utilize it; you may only use one item at a time, as there is no inventory. It’s all very Myst-like. In fact, Comer is so eerily similar to Myst that in many places you may start getting a sense of deja vu. It feels like The Long-Lost Cousin of Cyan.
I would rate the puzzles at about medium difficulty -- some are simple, others incomprehensible. A few solutions are not at all intuitive and may require brute force or a walkthrough to solve. The puzzles sometimes show up in odd places, but Comer doesn’t really seem to be about puzzles -- more on this below.
The game is full of serene, dreamlike landscapes: tall trees shimmering with autumn colors, silver pavilions in a humid green valley beneath a crescent moon, half-submerged Roman columns on the shore of a volcanic lake, architecture in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright. The designers appear to have created Comer primarily as a virtual world for exploring and appreciating; this is not an experience to be rushed. Although 3D acceleration and other technology has made it possible to create sharper, more believable images, it’s difficult to find a high-end game that provides the calm, surreal feeling exuded by the world of Comer.
The background themes draw on musical traditions from Tchaikovsky to New Age, yet it all works together remarkably well. At times the music does become inexplicably dramatic, drawing more attention to itself than the developers may have desired. Sound effects are well-placed and unobtrusive. However, the developers used a speech synthesizer to record all English dialogue in the game. It sounds awkward, it’s difficult to follow the words, and the speaker comes off sounding like Stephen Hawking or the old Dr. Sbaitso program. I found myself wishing for text subtitles, as this dialogue is the only overt explanation of the storyline.
Windows 95, 100 MHz Pentium or faster, 16 MB RAM, 10 MB hard drive space, 8X CD-ROM drive, 640x480 display, 16-bit high color (800x600 display, 24-bit true color preferred), and a Windows-compatible sound device.
Comer is also multi-language capable and can be played either in Chinese Windows 95 or a standard version of Windows 95 with a Chinese platform that supports GB or Big5.
The jewel-case manual contains a remarkable amount of information in both English and Chinese: how to install and play the game, "Making Of" information, hints, and words from the author. Reading over this gives a bit more insight into the thought processes behind the game, although the English translation is a little awkward in places.
If Comer had made its appearance around the same time as Myst, it easily could have been a bestseller. As it is, although the game offers a marvelously surreal feeling and an interesting premise, it’s very short on storyline and feels entirely too Myst-derived to stand on its own merits. If you can’t get enough of virtual reality adventures, or you believe games should be more meditative, it’s worth a shot; if you’re looking for action, move on.