The Ward is a Sci-Fi Puzzle Experience

The Ward is a puzzle/adventure game that takes you to the Moon, to Mars and beyond. It has a background story that is as old as the universe itself.

However, I will try to be a bit briefer than that.

This story actually starts in the far future, during the inevitable collapse of the universe. A highly advanced race called the Makers decide that the only way to escape their fate was to travel backwards through time billions of years, bringing their culture and technology with them. Unfortunately, due to the collapsing of Space, the time traveling did not go as planned, with most of their population lost and their technology all but non-functional.

Two younger races, the Raptoids and the Greys, discover legends of some of the Makers’ technology, in particular the time travel tech and the Propulsion, which is a way to go between any two points in the universe nearly instantaneously.

All of this hardly concerns you right now. You are David D. Walker, astronaut on the Apollo 19 mission to the Moon in 1978 (personally, I love any alternate history where we are still going to the Moon). Unfortunately, the mission discovers the Raptors hidden base and the command module is destroyed, leaving only you alive. You awake on a sort of alien hospital bed, and must figure out what is going on. Slowly, the story unfolds as you gain more and more understanding of the races, the ancient artifacts, and you role as The Ward.

The Ward is a game with great internal consistency. This is very important. I don’t care what fantasy story you are trying to get me to believe during a game, as long as you keep the story the same. When you figure out how something works, you can pretty much rely on that thing working the same way later on. The Ward does this, and thus players can believe in the game world.

The music and sound effects were top notch. The incidental music was both comforting and at the same time disturbing (kind of like an Enya song), which very appropriate to the mood they are trying to set.

The interface for wandering around trying to figure out how things work is good. It’s a third-person view most of the time, but when you click on some things, a close-up window opens, and you get essentially the character’s view. The developers had a very judicious use of these close-up windows – too many and it would have been annoying; too few and it might have been impossible to notice what they wanted you to notice.

For some puzzles, especially the more difficult ones, a built-in hint system is used. Every so often as you are working on a puzzle, the game announces that a new hint is available, at which point you may hit F1 to receive the hint, or keep working on your own. This is a great tool for keeping some players from getting too frustrated.

Some of the puzzle interfaces are a bit difficult to deal with. In fact, for one in particular, it was nearly impossible to get the puzzle started, until I realized that instead of clicking on something, you had to click and hold on that thing (an action that had never been used before that point). While it should be a challenge to discover the rules governing a puzzle, the mechanics of how the game interface works for those puzzles should never be a mystery. That just unnecessarily adds to the frustration level without really adding to the enjoyment of the game.

Overall, this is a good puzzle experience with a good storyline, great sound, and a well-built hint system for some puzzles. Only the interface on a very few of the puzzles keeps this from getting a higher rating. As it is, I give it a quite respectable 4 GiN Gems out of 5.

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