AMBER: Journeys Beyond
|An unassuming masterpiece for MacOS & Windows 95|
|by Chuck Klimushyn||Changeling and Hue Forest Ent.|
omewhere back in Introduction to Art 101 I remember learning about something called minimalism. The art of minimalism implies using the least amount of a chosen medium to convey the maximum emotional impact. Amber is so good at using understated effects to scare the pants off the player, it could well end up being required study in colleges across the country!
Amber is an adventure game using photo-realistic graphics and staggered movement much like that other world famous adventure title starting with the letter M. The game begins with the player receiving voice e-mail from a friend and employer asking him to check up on a colleague, Dr. Rosanne Westbridge. Roxy, as she's referred to in the game, is the CEO of BIO-PSI, which is developing equipment to monitor paranormal activity. Roxy has been testing the prototypes of this equipment at a psionicly-active (read haunted) house she evidently bought for kicks. From here the credits roll as the player drives along winding country roads. As the apparent destination is reached, a spectral form of lights cross the road and causes the player's car to swerve, ending up with the car in a small pond. The credits finish as air bubbles rise through the water and the player begins game play, looking up at the edge of a dock.
Less-is-more is the rule in the game. Commands are limited to clicking in the four cardinal directions, with occasional off-center angles for movement. To-be-used items in the game are simply clicked on. Active areas of the rooms are identified by the cursor changing into a question mark. Though there are many active spots in each room, they generally end up being what would actually be expected in a residential home, such as closets with clothes and cabinets with cups. Sound effects are sparse, but this magnifies their impact. There's no soundtrack within the game; most exploration takes place in silence. Er...that's except when a simple sound like the creaking of a floorboard will startle the player straight through the roof! Visually there's little of the photo-realistic blood and gore which seems to be the main selling point of so many forgettable adventure games currently on the market. Still, the impact on the player's heart rate of an invisible finger writing "Join Me" on a bathroom mirror puts these other gore-fests to shame.
Amber parallels the story development of the best horror and mystery novels. The game will oh- so-slowly increase in tension and suspense. The player will feel the knot in his stomach grow as events unfold, much like a mainspring being wound ever more tightly. By the time I actually had my first encounter with the home's posthumous residents, the gasp I let out was almost a welcomed relief. The player will be well into the first of the two CD's before even finding out the meaning of the word Amber.
The game's puzzles vary from easy to moderate in difficulty. Most involve locating various parts of equipment to activate the prototype psychic detection equipment. There are also many feints, where the player will observe an item or picture and feel that it is somehow important to the storyline but later find it is actually irrelevant. The house is initially found dark, with ominous shadows cast from red flood lights. Locating the main power switch is not obvious and the player will feel quite a triumph when the switch is found and the lights come on.
The game draws heavily on current metaphysical terminology. New Agers and X-Files devotees will know what abbreviations like OBE and NDE mean, but others may want to pick up a primer at their nearest psychic bookfair. Even fewer of us may utter a knowing chuckle from noticing Roxy's doctorate degree is from Miskatonic University.
The bad news about Amber is that the game is currently a Macintosh-only title. The majority of adventure game fans will have to wait a while before the game makes it's way to a Windows95 version. This is an unfortunate event. [As of 10/8/96, we've been told the Windows 95 version is imminent. -ed] Changeling and Hue Forest Entertainment have delivered an understated gem that should not be overlooked!
|©1996 Strategy Plus, Inc.|