TimeScape: Journey to Pompeii

18 February 2002

Copyright © 2002 Balmoral Software (http://www.balmoralsoftware.com). Portions copyright © 2000 Cryo Interactive Entertainment. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Balmoral Software.

TimeScape: Journey to Pompeii, or Pompeii: The Legend of Vesuvius as its European release is known, is another first-person point-and-click adventure from the Cryo Interactive/Arxel Tribe/Dreamcatcher collaboration. It offers an original gameplay environment in the ancient Roman city of Pompeii before it was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. The game starts with a strange prologue using voice-over narration a la Myst, first in a man's voice, then in a woman's. The basic idea is that you're supposed to rescue your girlfriend "Sophia" from the city before Vesuvius erupts. This task is compounded by the fact that Sophia apparently doesn't know you at all. You have just a few days of simulated time to complete your objective.

The plot of TimeScape is very linear - you often must find a single trigger event to advance the gameplay. You may be told what to do next by some of the characters you interact with, but unfortunately there is no way to repeat this information since characters and situations often disappear. With most information coming from dialog and no way to recover what has already been said, it's essential to pay attention to all dialog clues, even though they may be run together or hard to understand through the various accents of the characters in the game. Some of the game's goals, especially in the last half, seem unclear. Many locations in the game don't become accessible until certain time periods in the game, so you find you must repeatedly search all locations looking for changes. This tedious re-navigation detracts from overall enjoyment of the game. On the plus side, much of the Pompeii environment seems to be quite authentic, with specific historical references cited.

TimeScape's graphics are pretty much the same as in most recent Dreamcatcher games, with full-screen medium-resolution rendered backgrounds and cyberpuppet characters. Some of the characters suffer from a lack of detail and motion realism - one scene in particular comes to mind in which a prostitute is supposed to be strutting past, but the motion is so awkward that it appears ridiculous. Using the same navigation engine as in several recent Dreamcatcher releases, movement is node-based with full spherical 3D motion at each node, but no graphical transitions between nodes. The game has many blocked doors and passages that are either inoperative or have no purpose.

There are only one or two good puzzles in TimeScape; instead, most game activity involves endless wandering around trying to find particular characters to interact with. There are rather more timed sequences in the game than we'd like, but several of these involve just quickly moving out of danger. However, a few of the sequences may be somewhat difficult if you don't know what to do next. No warning or autosave feature is available in the game, so you need to save often. The first half of the game seems fairly easy and straightforward if you're paying attention to the verbal clues. There are a couple of points later in the game where continuation hinges on finding some very obscure hotspots (such as a drop of blood), so there occasionally may be some pretty heavy pixel-hunting required.

The voice acting in TimeScape is abysmal. The heavy British urban accents that are commonly used in Arxel Tribe games are way overdone here and seem absurdly out of place for ancient Italy. Speech is frequently all run together, making it sometimes difficult to follow character names. The optional subtitle feature can be helpful in this regard. The background music and sound effects in the game were not obtrusive, but also not particularly noteworthy.

The game interface is satisfactory, with superimposed dialog choices and an inventory/menu bar accessible by right-clicking the mouse. Items you pick up in the game are often not obvious until they're in your inventory bar and you can identify the icons there. A useful map feature is available via the spacebar, but it cannot be used to zoom to a particular location. The saved-game slots are apparently unlimited, and each includes a nice snapshot feature showing the current game viewpoint. An optional "visit mode" allows all areas of the city to be explored without playing the game. Also, a helpful encyclopedia is included; this provides lots of very-detailed information on Pompeii culture.

TimeScape is a reasonably-long adventure with a unique historical theme that could probably be improved with more problem-solving and fewer arbitrary plot triggers. It's probably not the sort of game you can put down and pick up again later unless you're scrupulous about taking notes.


Copyright © 2002 Balmoral Software (http://www.balmoralsoftware.com). Portions copyright © 2000 Cryo Interactive Entertainment. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Balmoral Software.