Reah: Face the Unknown
In Reah, you control a journalist trying to discover the secret behind the planet Reah, a poorly-located and resource-deprived place which has nonetheless acquired an impressive military base. Being the persistent journalist type, you finally learn the secret from the base commander -- they have discovered an ancient artifact which acts as a portal to an alternate reality. In this reality, no modern technology works and only very simple mechanical devices can be used. Groups of scientists have gone through the portal to study more about the alternate reality, and the commander offers you the chance to be the first civilian to go through the portal and break the news to humanity. As you approach, a message informs you that the transfer portal has become unstable. However, you head through anyway and the portal promptly disappears behind you. You are left alone in an alternate reality to Face The Unknown.
This puzzle-based graphic adventure was published by Project 2 Interactive in the Netherlands and was originally developed by LK Avalon of Poland. It was released in Europe last year and is being distributed in the U.S. and Canada by GT Interactive. With a pedigree like that, you'd think it would be difficult to go wrong.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
When I say you control, rather than play, the journalist, I choose my words advisedly. Reah is simply not a game designed to draw you in. The prologue features some still shots and flyovers of the drab planet, stills of the alternate dimension, the troop ship coming in for a landing and a long zoom shot into the transfer portal. Over all this, the narrator drones out an explanation of our story so far, giving all information in the third person. "The reporter ... was eager to be famous ... the gateway disappeared, leaving him in a desert ... " Keep in mind that the narrator is supposed to be talking about you, because it certainly won't feel that way once you've entered the game. You simply don't get the feel of being the main character. This could have been so easily fixed -- instead of narration, why not have a voice-over of the reporter and the base commander discussing the portal directly? This would have removed the distance of the third-person narrative and made the reporter seem more realistic.
Once within the alternate world, you move about the area discovering and picking up items, studying objects to find clues about their use, and talking to people. Yes, there are people in this game, although you can't choose what you might like to say to them. Dialogue is set up in cut-scenes, which are sometimes infuriatingly unhelpful. For a professional journalist, our hero doesn't know how to ask pertinent questions.
Consistent with the prologue, the plotline in Reah seems almost nonexistent until near the end of the game. This is a change of pace from most "top-loaded" graphic adventures, which lure you in with extensive plot and seem to tack on an abrupt ending almost as an afterthought, but after playing Reah I've discovered the reason why so many developers do this. A game has to be compelling from the beginning; it has to make you want to continue playing, to see it through to completion. Reah offers so little by way of early plot, and gives so few clues about the payoff at the end, that most gamers won't bother to find out what's waiting for them.
I should say that I assume something is waiting for gamers at the end. As this review is being written, I am stuck at the next-to-last puzzle in Reah and I can't progress any further even though I have the full walkthrough at my fingertips. You see, the game seems to have this little quirk where if you stay in the same place without actively moving around for about three minutes, the CD-ROM stops spinning and the game hard-locks your computer. This happened in several other areas of the game, notably when changing discs. I don't fancy rebooting seven or eight times just to finish one puzzle, and neither does Windows 95. I suspect many gamers will feel the same way.
Speaking of puzzles, Reah is chock-full of them, some easier than others. Let me caution novice puzzle gamers: you will probably need to peek at a walkthrough to finish this game. While quite inventive, many of the puzzles simply don't make sense within the game's framework, hearkening back to earlier titles like The 7th Guest which featured puzzles purely for their own sake.
The controls in Reah are hypersensitive. This may seem like a boon to gamers who complain about the two-second lag between sending a command and getting a response, but hypersensitive controls can cause problems of their own. Click and drag the mouse a bit to the right to see what's there and you may find yourself inadvertently spinning like a dervish. This can be a real problem, particularly when you're trying to solve a time-based puzzle -- there are several in the game -- and you need the controls to work flawlessly. I will say that this doesn't seem to be as much of a problem in the gold master version of the game as it was in the preview versions. Either there's been some work done on the controls or I've gotten used to their quirkiness.
The game interface is pretty straightforward. In every scene, there's an indicator in the lower left corner showing where you can turn and whether you can look up or down. In the lower right corner is a map; a flag on the map indicates this is a place where you can save your game. You can't save while solving a puzzle or walking from place to place. Your inventory is always visible and an object will light up when it can be used. The cursor changes based on what you can do in a particular area: a forward arrow to walk, a hand to pick up an object or operate machinery, a magnifying glass to examine an item in detail. Everything was self-explanatory; I didn't need to open the manual once.
The graphics in Reah are quite nice, if not eye-popping. The developers at LK Avalon drew on the motifs of a number of ancient civilizations to create the game's artwork—the flowing lines of Islamic architecture, the hut-like structures and stone temples of South America, even the stacked cliff-cities of the Anasazi. Oil lamps flicker softly, bells clang in the archway of a narrow alley, and water pours in long streams from a bathhouse fountain. There are occasional problems with pixellation, where sections of the screen will blur and distort if you move your mouse around while moving from scene to scene.
If Reah had been released two years ago, it would have been absolutely amazing; as it is, the game comes to the table a little late. Myst and Riven covered this ground and offered sharper, more detailed worlds. Morpheus covered this ground and offered smooth, 360-degree movement and clean transitions from scene to scene. The most impressive new thing Reah brings to the table is speed, with the smoothest, fastest transitions I've ever seen in a game of this genre.
If you've ever seen an old Godzilla movie or a Jackie Chan flick, you're prepared for Reah. The original cut-scenes with voice actors were all done in Polish and dubbed into English, and the translators seemed more concerned with lip-syncing than with keeping the grammatical sense of the dialogue. As a result, every scene in which you talk to someone contains awkward, stilted conversation. This, too, could have been fixed easily -- early in the game, you must solve a puzzle which allows you to understand the language of the alternate reality. Why didn't the developers create a scenario where you realize that what you're hearing is a translation of the actual words the people are speaking? No more need to lip-sync.
The voice acting is also rather inconsistent. Accents range from standard American to continental European to British, all within the same area, and acting quality ranges from reasonably good to painfully bad. Maybe it says more about me and my cultural background, but I've never in my life met a journalist as perky-sounding as our protagonist. In the U.S., we're conditioned to the stereotype of the hard-boiled press correspondent who eats nails for breakfast and would do almost anything for a scoop. Not even a Seattle reporter fueled by three double-tall espressos sounds as pert as this guy. It's essential to have a voice with an Everyman quality, one that game players will enjoy, and it's difficult to empathize with the main character when he comes off sounding more annoying than likable.
The soundtrack is a strange choice: a mix of ambient/techno/drum 'n' bass music that clashes, perhaps deliberately, with the game's ancient-looking surroundings. If you liked the mix of Arabic rock and futuristic visuals in The Fifth Element, or the medieval story juxtaposed by the synthesizer soundtrack of Ladyhawke, you'll probably enjoy this. Others will just wonder what the developers were thinking.
Minimum requirements: Pentium-90, 16 MB RAM, 4X CD-ROM drive, SVGA video card with 1 MB RAM, 180 MB free hard drive space, Windows 95, Windows-compatible sound card, DirectX drivers.
Reviewed on: Pentium-200, 64 MB RAM, 24X CD-ROM drive
The 14-page manual covers installation, the game interface, basics of gameplay and troubleshooting hints in English and Spanish. As mentioned above, I didn't need to open it in order to start playing.
Reah has problems. Because of several distracting difficulties with the preface and audio, and a dearth of plotline, most people will not be drawn into the gameplay. Those who stick it out will be frustrated with some of the puzzles and the technical difficulties they encounter. I cannot in good conscience recommend Reah for any but the most die-hard puzzle gamer.
Download Reah: Face the Unknown
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP