Chemicus: Above the Learning Curve

Reviewed On
Available For
Mac, PC

It’s no big secret that I like puzzle games. I love to spend my computer game time solving riddles, fixing machinery, and finding solutions. And if I can learn a thing or two while I’m at it, so much the better.

Chemicus was right up my alley.

Chemicus is a puzzle game, but you get to (some would probably say "have to") learn so much about chemistry and related fields that I was seriously tempted to declare this a cleverly disguised educational game instead of a puzzle game.

The introductory movie and background in the manual are certainly melodramatic enough. Apparently, a group of scientists have managed to project themselves into "the other side" which contains some evil force that probably should have been left alone. On a misty moonlit night, one of them is reading a letter, and then turns around at a noise to say something like "Oh no, not…you." Needless to say, a struggle ensues (cue the change in music), and you only get to see the shadows cast on the wall by a single flashlight. Needless to say, I was entertained.

You start playing the next day (or maybe several days later – who knows), in the same room that the guy was in. You have to wander around the disheveled lab and try to figure out what to do next. Fortunately, one of the first things you find is the communicator device which allows you to access your inventory, analyze substances, and receive messages from the guy who was attacked.

You also have access to a library of information on chemistry to help you through some of the tougher parts. As you proceed, you can find data chips which help fill up your library. You can use this information as much or as little as you want, but I found an occasional skim would sometimes give me an idea to try something.

The interface is very much like Myst (yes, you heard me right), with flat scenes that change like a filmstrip when you change direction or move. However, the scenes actually have animation in them, and things actually animate when manipulated, so it’s not entirely like that. It’s just that I was reminded of the classic game when playing Chemicus. There are also movies that you are treated to at certain points, such as the communications from your friend, which will keep you from being bored.

The major problem with this type of interface is that movement is severely limited. There are only a certain number of views from certain locations in the room, and you have to touch those points to go on to another. For instance, if there is a room with something interesting in each corner, you might think it would make the most sense to be able to go directly from corner to corner, but most likely you will be required to go to the center before going to each corner. This does occasionally wear on your patience, but the repetition of going places is kept to a minimum, so it doesn’t impair your enjoyment too much.

The puzzles are the best part of the game. Each one not only is internally consistent and logical, but they utilize scientific properties, and encourage experimentation. Sometimes you need to reference the library (if you aren’t keen on your element symbols, for examples). Other times you can use the ever-popular common knowledge (such as knowing what cola is capable of – and let’s just say I’m glad I made a resolution this year to stop drinking it!).

The artwork is totally beautiful (which might be another reason I was reminded of Myst), with detailed scenes and breath-taking landscapes. Inside one room with Greek statuary and urns and such, there is electrical machinery that was designed to look as if it belonged in that style, and the artists really got that point across. Needless to say, you will be impressed with the level of detail as well as the striking beauty within the world of Chemicus.

Along with the wonderful graphics comes wonderful sound. The soundtrack is incredible, with music that is both engaging and unobtrusive (really a difficult trick to master). The sound effects are realistic, and can actually help you get by. In the Greek room example above, I didn’t realize that the machinery was there until I heard some electrical zapping noises coming from bits of it. It’s really nice to find sound effects that actually enhance your gameplay in addition to just providing atmosphere. Between that and the music, it’s a good reason to have speakers on your computer.

The game uses Quicktime to run the game, so it will work on either a PC or a Mac. For most people the installation should go off without a hitch on any platform, which is a huge advantage for a family-focused title.

Chemicus is overall a fine puzzle game, which will give you hours of entertainment. And, if you are not extremely careful, you might learn something along the way. You have been warned.

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