In the Valley of the Giants…

Music and art make Cydonia a memorable experience.

Mars. Exciting and new. (I would continue substituting lyrics to the "Love Boat" theme, but none of us really needs that, do we?) Mars has been a lofty, and sometimes thought of as an unattainable goal for us meager humans for decades and decades now. And now, with Pathfinder still in our thoughts and the International Space Station actually underway, an adventure game that takes place on Mars seems only logical. Cydonia more than fits this bill.

Cydonia is set in a somewhat-far-ahead-but-it-could-happen-to-us-if-we-don’t-watch-out sort of future. The Terran League [the governing body of a space station that was built after the Earth itself was nearly ruined by the greed of man, until she lashed back with volcanoes and earthquakes in what would have probably made a fine David Brin novel] chose you and two other astronauts for the first manned mission to Mars.

All of this, as well as the launch, are depicted in a very impressive opening movie. Actually, it’s one of the most stunningly beautiful opening movies I’ve seen, and I’ve seen quite a few.

Of course, if everything went as planned, it would be a very short game. So, naturally, something does go wrong with the landing. I’m not going to say what, that should be part of your movie enjoyment. I will say that whatever happens leaves you and the rest of the crew stranded in the Cydonia region of Mars, with you as the only one still able to move around.

The game does a fine job of warming you up to the whole puzzle-solving process, by first giving you some concrete puzzles that have rather obvious and immediate goals, such as keeping the landing capsule from exploding. Then, as you are exposed to your greater surroundings, it moves on to more abstract, alien-like, subtle puzzles that really take your synapses through their paces.

Meanwhile, there are times when the scenery and the soundtrack fight it out over which gets to take your breath away first. While there’s never a clear winner, the whole process will leave you awestruck. Either having art this good or music this good would make any game worthwhile, but having both this good goes above and beyond. This is not a game, it is truly an experience.

Cydonia has the full, 360-degree view for its stop points, which seems to have become increasingly popular with this type of game. The animation for the movement between the stop points is rather seamlessly integrated, with occasional pan-backs and cut scenes to enhance the story.

There are 5 CDs included with the game. But don’t fret, Cydonia seems to need them all for the pictures and sound, and really seems to have managed their use well, unlike some other games.

One of the items that you can use in the game is you helmet computer. This opens up a virtual interface (inside a virtual game – cute, huh?), from which you can access photos you’ve taken, a language dictionary, mission info and an archive containing photos from actual historical space missions. I must commend the folks at Anevia, the developer for including this bit of "diversionary education" – not absolutely necessary for solving the game, yet it adds atmosphere and teaches us when we least suspect it. More adventure games should have things such as this.

However, one aspect of this helmet computer was one of the very few things I didn’t like in this game. In order to reference something (look at a photo for instance) you have to move the pointer over to the item bar, click on the helmet, click ‘use’, move around until you see the category you want (in this case, ‘Images’). Then and only then can you look through your photos. Now, I realize that this is the mood that they are trying to set, and it is fun the first few times you do it. But, if you have to do it repeatedly (perhaps to compare photos with something you are currently seeing) it can get tedious right quick.

Most of the puzzles themselves are rather clever, and since they are supposed to be alien in origin, the creators may have been operating on a slightly different frequency than what most brains use. This may make some of the puzzles ‘too hard’ in some people’s eyes. I say what is the point of a puzzle game if not to stretch your limits, but others might not agree with me.

Cydonia’s phenomenal art and music and it’s intriguing puzzles and story combine to earn it 4 out a possible 5 GiN Gems, losing points only because of the tediousness of the helmet computer tool, and the complexity of some puzzles may alienate some players. But overall on of the best adventure games I’ve seen in a while.

Will we ever make it to Mars? Eventually. But until then we can all play Cydonia – and dream.

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