It's The Far Distant Future (Although by the time you read this, it will be slightly closer to being the present). Jeremy Beadle is dead, but his re-animated right hand has its own show. (Although television watchdogs have complained that it's too near the knuckle.) Artificial life forms are de rigeur: all small children now want a robot puppy dog for Christmas, but parents know that once the novelty wears off it's they who'll be down in the kitchen, cleaning up the pools of battery acid. Into such an environment comes Mendel, a small, creepy crawly thing with a mind of its own, a smile on its face and a jolly song for everyone it meets. Alright, I made all that up. I can't concentrate long enough to make any sense of the intro sequence. I admit it: I'm thick as shit. Let's pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and...
It's still the future. And we'll forget the hows and whys, but you're in charge of a robot called Mendel, who has infra-red sensors to see by, simulated servo-motors that operate his legs, and an adaptive controller for a brain. He looks like a spider and the object of the game is to guide him through a hostile, three-dimensional platform environment.
Galapagos is unusual in that you can only control the platforms and objects around Mendel. He makes the decisions, you just provide him with the options. For example, right at the start of the game is a passageway consisting of a number of suspended platforms that move from side to side. One moves left as the next goes right. Once he gets on the first platform, your aim is to click on the adjacent platform, reversing its direction of movement until it's aligned with the one he's already standing on. Hopefully, he'll move onto that next platform. You have to then quickly click on the one he's just left (so that he doesn't move back onto it) and align the next one. And so on, until he's down the end of the passage. The process is extremely simple in theory; in practice, it can be incredibly frustrating.
WaIking the plank
Fora start, when you first load the game Mendel is only seven hours old, the equivalent of a toddler. That phrase with "plank" and "thick as a" in it comes to mind. He'll walk off the edge of platforms, plunging to his doom; he'll walk the opposite way to the one you'd like; and so on. (You can : actually start with a new-born Mendel, but you'll have to play the game for seven real-time hours to get him to this state of stupidity.)
Still, even Einstein failed his 11 - plus. Mendel will learn, making decisions more quickly as he gets older. Developers Anark claim that he'll develop according to how well you handle him. If you keep making him fall into the abyss, he'll mistrust both you and his environment, and grow up timid; whereas if you manage to avoid harming him too much he'll be quicker and bolder in his decision-making. It's hard to judge this in practice, because it's inevitable that he'll fall off the platforms - there's no way anyone could get him through the levels without making mistakes - without playing through everything twice with different Mendels, treating them differently. And who can be bothered to do that? It's hard enough getting through once. You have to take a certain amount on trust, then.
Whats going on
The reason I say it's inevitable that he'll die many (many, many) times is because often you find yourself in an environment in which you haven't got a clue what's what, which way is up (answer: all ways), which bits are clickable and which aren't. Just getting your bearing takes a few moments and while you're finding out, Mendel may well be moving around -usually on a shelf that's about to become flush with a wall.
Some of the platform layouts are so complex you'd feel pretty pleased getting through them in a traditional platform game, never mind in a game in which your character moves about as he sees fit. Alright, so he's less likely to just walk off the edge of something as he gets older, but when you add lasers firing at you, pads that give electric shocks or explode, pads that launch you into the air, puzzles that need to be worked out (pads in some areas open up other areas of the game and so on) and a number of other variations into the equation, you'll realise that it's a very challenging game.
The game treads a very thin line between frustration and reward. By its very nature, it's a trial and error thing; there are save points, but they're not there in what you'd call over generous helpings. What you get out of it may depend on your personality. If you're the impatient sort, I wouldn't bother going within a hundred yards of this game. If you do, it'll only be a matter of time before you find the red mist fading away and yourself standing among piles of broken glass, with a claw hammer in your hand and a nice beige plastic storage box where your monitor used to be. I'd even avoid it if you're a patient vicar, keen not to be heard screaming foul and abusive language by your congregation. You'll love Mendel at times and at times you'll wish you could smash the little sod to death with a paperweight. This is a game that you'll either become more and more engrossed by and determined to succeed in, or that you'll find the biggest wind-up in the history of computer games. If it's the latter, you'll be pretty upset. I quite like it. But you might just hate it.
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Finally, a game with some originality. Galapagos is Anark’s introduction to the gaming industry. What makes Galapagos and Anark stand on a different island, so to speak, is the technology they have developed and implemented in Galapagos. One of the largest cries from all gamers has been "better AI!" Well, Anark has taken what to this day has only been a facade and turned it into the real thing. The main character in Galapagos is a little creature that actually has a "mind" of its own. Its name is Mendel and it has been developed with Anark’s NERM (Non-stationary Entropic Reduction Mapping) technology. This technology allows Mendel to learn from its mistakes and to react appropriately to its environment.
The story revolves around the world of Galapagos, a cyberworld that is quite unlike any other we have seen. There is no concept of up and down as we have come to know it; rather, surfaces have varying degrees of gravity. If Mendel walks to a curved edge of a wall or platform, it will continue and your viewing angle will change appropriately. There are moving platforms, rivers of acid, portals to new fantastic areas and more. Mendel has been created by the beings of Galapagos as an artificial intelligent war machine. The beings of Galapagos create portals to other worlds and release thousands of mechanical war machines that devastate and assimilate the world. Before Mendel, all this was relatively well except for one thing. Lacking any intelligent direction, many of these machines were unable to avoid their own destruction, wasting valuable resources. Mendel is the first of a new generation that has the ability to learn and adapt to its environment. After sufficient training by the Galapagos, a creature like Mendel will be virtually unstoppable. Your mission is to lead Mendel out of Galapagos before this happens.
Despite the story behind Galapagos, this is purely a 3D-platform puzzle game. There are virtually no other characters or enemies to deal with. You do not fight off rabid machine warriors or the beings of Galapagos, and there is next to no suspense ala action-3D titles. Don’t get me wrong, though; you will find plenty of suspense, sometimes almost too much suspense, but it’s more akin to watching someone sleepwalking off a cliff who turns in just the nick of time, after doing the same thing about five times before. The only thing is you get to influence it all. Instead of controlling Mendel, you control its environment. Mendel walks around sensing edges it can fall off and heat that can burn itself. Mendel is always moving, looking for a clear path to follow. At first, Mendel will walk off ledges to its demise, but because Mendel has the ability to learn from its mistakes, it will eventually stop making the same mistakes. Your job is to give Mendel a clear path to follow. You do so by left-clicking on different parts of the environment. Doing so will cause the environment to change and open a path for Mendel to follow. Right-clicking on Mendel will slightly influence its direction.
A classic example would be a number of moving platforms Mendel must cross. Clicking a platform causes it to move in the opposite direction. With Mendel on one moving platform, you click on an adjacent platform right when the two are lined up. Now Mendel moves over to the next platform. You continue doing this until you reach a goal. Although Mendel is a slow walker, you will find the addicting concentration found in the likes of Tetris. A note of warning for those not accustomed to puzzle games: because Mendel is a learning entity, and not set by a number of pre-programmed expressions, you will have to have a lot of patience to play this game. You will find yourself cursing at Mendel, "You stupid idiot, go this way!!!" But what makes Galapagos stand out from any other game I have played is that you are actually watching an entity grow and learn. It’s like having a computer pet that you not only get to train and watch, but you get to lead it through an intriguing universe.
Galapagos takes puzzle games to the current level of 3D graphics only found in your best 3D action titles. Everything is true 3D and vibrant. As far as feel, it’s like the movie Tron mixed with a dash of New Age. (If you haven’t seen Tron, rent it; it’s a video gamer's cyber-dream.) In Galapagos you will find marble hallways, moving streams of acid, and neon lighting galore. Because you do not control Mendel directly, your view angle will change automatically as it moves along. The angles for the most part are all well-done, but there will be times when the angle makes it next to impossible to click on what you need to click on to continue. At first I found this quite annoying, but in time I realized that this actually makes the game more fun and challenging. If the view was always perfect, it would be way too easy and hence boring. A warning for those of you who get "sea-sick" playing games with moving environments: if any game will get you, this one will. I never had vertigo before this one. Galapagos also makes use of DirectX 5, which makes the environment as sharp as they come with absolutely no pixelation. I ran the game on a P233 MMX 64M with an S3 Virge 4M 2D/3D and a Pure 3D 6M 3Dfx based board. I also tested on a P90 40M with a Rendition Verite 4M based board. Galapagos ran beautifully on all three video cards, although the Verite and 3Dfx were slightly better as expected.
The audio for Galapagos is, for the most part, well done and quite varied. Mendel bleeps when you click on it, kind of like R2-D2. Sounds appropriately match moving objects and switches you activate. Everything sounds digitized and clean. There is no music, which I actually preferred. I found that the lack of music directed my focus on the environment and its sounds, making me feel like I was actually in the environment with Mendel.
The documentation for Galapagos is more than adequate. To be honest, with a game like Galapagos, documentation is not really needed. One nice thing about Galapagos is that you can pretty much start right off the bat. Controlling the game is about as simple as it gets. You simply point, click, and watch. You and Mendel will learn as the game moves along.
P90, 16 MB RAM, 10 MB hard drive space, DirectX 5 compatible video card at 640x480, 256 color, 2X CD-ROM drive, DirectX 5 compatible sound card, mouse
Galapagos is a first in two areas. First, it takes puzzle games to a new level graphically with a 3D environment as rich and absorbing as 3D action titles. Second, it introduces what gamers have been wanting for a long time, real artificial intelligence. It’s mind boggling to realize that Mendel is responsive to the environment and is actually "alive" in this artificial world. You begin to see Mendel as a pet, and actually feel for Mendel when it falls into a pit of acid and you hear its little cries of pain. In the end it is that realization, along with some fantastic puzzles in a truly mind-boggling 3D environment, that makes Galapagos stand apart from any other game to date. Anark and the NERM technology is something I will have my eyes on for some time to come. I can’t wait to see what they do with it next. My brother-in-law Ali said it would be interesting to see Mendel in a real world environment like a jungle or the like. We’ll see... Overall, Galapagos gets an 87 out of a 100 for originality, the introduction to "real" artificial intelligence, and taking puzzle games to a new level.