If video games could get by on a good idea alone, Connections would soar. Unfortunately, they can't. Their very nature as games justifies certain other expectations: it's fair, for example, to expect excitement. It is fair to expect that the gameplay will be entertaining, that the environment of the game will be compelling. On those three points, Connections flops.
I remember reading a Ray Bradbury story in Mrs. Secor's 7th grade English class, A Sound of Thunder, about some guy who traveled back in time to hunt dinosaurs. His instructions were easy: stay with the tour group, stay on the premarked walkways that the time tour company has set up for you; pictures are OK, but don't touch anything! Pretty simple, but the guy was some kind of colossal bonehead who got caught up in the moment and in his trancelike state stepped off the walkway and squashed an unsuspecting butterfly. Oops. Flash to the future: the guy returns to his own time to find that his world has altered completely; it's turned into an oppressive fascist state where the government controls you and all your friends and is always watching. And all just because this guy stepped on a butterfly.
The idea behind Bradbury's story is that everything is interconnected and that our actions, even those that seem insignificant, can set off a chain of events with catastrophic consequences. Early Chaos Theory. And that's the idea, too, behind Connections, the new adventure game put out by The Learning Channel, Discovery Channel Multimedia and Some Interactive.
In Connections the web of time and space is in disarray. It's your mission to search for items that represent innovations, discoveries in history and connect them into a chain that will reconstruct the links of history that have come undone. A great idea. The thinkers behind Connections understand history very clearly. They understand that it is the little things, the small innovations developed in answer to the practical everyday problems of human existence, that form history. Connections would be a wonderful addition to any high school history course because it emphasizes not the kings and queens of the past, but engineers, scientists, farmers, miners; the common people who created history simply by living, by struggling to survive.
Vibrant graphics abound in this game. Lots of sharp, clean colors. It's only during those times when you encounter live actors in the course of the game that the graphic quality suffers noticeably. There tends to be some dithering and pixelation around the edges when these inline videos play. It's noticeable, but only a minor distraction.
The game environment in Connections is primarily static; a terrific mistake, as far as I'm concerned. Most of the play takes place in a series of empty rooms where you roll your cursor around hoping that it will change into a hand, in which case you can click on whatever is there and either add it to your chain, or pass through a door. At those times your heart rate quickens at the possibility of action, but things invariably settle down to a slow, plodding pace again, and whole hours go by without you finding anything significant. This is not a game for excitement junkies. Connections' creators have done a terrific job with certain aspects of the game's interface, though. Most notably Connections makes great and innovative use of video clips to explain and propel the action. Discover a significant clue, one that belongs in your chain of historical innovations, and suddenly a tiny James Burke appears on the screen to give you a quick lesson in the history and the importance of what you've found.
It's at these moments that Connections really shines. Burke is a master at explaining items as cold and impersonal as a steam pump compressor, for example, with passion and enthusiasm, with a sharp focus on the item's human historical impact. The little Burke interludes are exciting: he'll tell you why a pencil is integral to the discovery of DNA; what a television, a match and carbon paper have in common; and he'll make you care. Connections is based on Burke's television series of the same name and when it relies on that show's formula it's fascinating and formidable. But as an adventure game, unfortunately, it falls flat.
Windows:Windows 3.1 or Windows 95, 486/33 or higher processor, 8 MB RAM, 2X CD-ROM drive, Windows compatible sound card, mouse, VGA display (256 colors), MS-DOS or PC-DOS operating system version 3.1 or later, CD-ROM extensions (MSCDEX) version 2.2 or later
Macintosh: Macintosh Performa, Centris, Quadra, or Power Mac series computer with a 68040 processor or better, System 7.0 or later, 2X CD-ROM drive, 8 MB RAM, 640x480 display color monitor with at least 256 colors.
The problem with Connections is that it never moves beyond an intellectual exercise. At the beginning of the game we are told that the web that holds history and time together has come unraveled, that chaos has been loosed upon the world. We are told that, but for the most part it never feels that way; we never really experience it. I expected to see trees floating upside down through the air, or dogs meowing and cats barking; I mean, some sort of war and mayhem, at least. But ... nothing. The player acts on the environment in the game, moves through it, gathers parts of it, all the while understanding intellectually that he or she is working to repair the world, but we never really see the effects of our actions. For an adventure game, there's very little adventure. There's plenty here that'll raise your IQ, but not much that'll raise your adrenaline.
I cannot tell you how badly I wanted to be able to say that Connections is a great game; when I first picked it up and read the premise, I was sure I would love it. And in a sense I do: I love Connections ... grudgingly. The way you might love a brother who's just a hopeless klutz; who's always striving, but never succeeding. Hey, he's got a big heart and he means well. Connections means well, I can see that. In putting this game together, its creators tried to introduce something new to the world of adventure games. They tried to make a game that would educate while it entertained. To their credit, James Burke is a great guide through theConnections world; a pleasant, enthusiastic Virgil. And the educational portions that Burke doles out are highly entertaining. Unfortunately, they're too few and far between. And the game is too staid, too calm to maintain player interest.
I hope that Discovery Channel Multimedia will try again with a Connections; a game with a bit more adventure to go along with its intellectual strengths. As for this first Connections, I give it a 75.
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP