Third Time Is A Charm

Rhem 3 Offers Puzzling Perfection

Check out our reviews of Rhem 2 and the original Rhem.

Return once more to the land of Rhem, were there is a puzzle everywhere and the daily commutes by rail are an adventure. In Rhem 3, you find there are just as many devious puzzles as in its prequels.

As before, Kales and Zetais, the most unfortunately-named pair of brothers in a puzzle/adventure game since Sirrus and Achenar, send you back into the land of Rhem to try to help them unlock more of its secrets. This time they want you to find a mysterious black crystal that will no doubt come in handy in Rhem 4.

As before, Kales has gone into Rhem before you, and occasionally communicates to you through video cameras and pre-recorded messages. You and Kales are using Zetais’ house out in the world (of which you have only seen the porch) as a sort of home base for information storage and intermediate communication (my brother told me to tell you"). Armed with a little knowledge about your goals (and I do mean ‘little’), you hop on the ‘Rhem Express.’ Actually, I guess I shouldn’t call it that, as it often tends to take hairpin turns for no good reason, thus eliminating any express-like speeds. But hey, at least you get a good look at the scenery.

The interface of the game is either a time-honored classic or an outdated klunker, depending upon what types of games you like to play. It is a slide-show with pixilated fade-ins that give the suggestion of movement, interspersed with animations of train rides, doors opening or closing, etc. Although this Riven-like interface is a bit difficult to deal with at times, the puzzles are so involving that you often forget to be burdened by it. I must say that you have to admire the developer’s extreme devotion to the excellence of the puzzles that may prevent them from modernizing the interface.

Although the surroundings are presented to you as 2D slides, they were created as a 3D model. The surface textures of walls and so forth range from photo-realistic to cartoonish, giving the whole environment a surreal feel. The animation clips of doors opening and so forth are pretty decent, and the transitions back and forth from the slide interface are pretty seamless. The video of the live-action actors contained within their video screens is (I am guessing) deliberately choppy and made to resemble what you might get through a web-cam. This definitely helps when the voices are dubbed-in English, as it doesn’t really matter that their lips aren’t syncing up.

Speaking of voices, the voice-acting is alright for a computer game. The original German version was probably more natural and lively, whereas the English version seems a bit stilted, and the accents aren’t always easy to understand. But since people aren’t talking to you very often, and everything they say is subtitled, this doesn’t have a huge bearing on your enjoyment of the game.

Knut Mueller again decided to have no incidental music for his game. He has said that having music coming out of nowhere shatters the realism of the game. This may be true, but the right music can enhance the mood you are trying to develop, so it does have a place. But not in Rhem. However, Rhem 3 does have enough background sounds, such as wind and machinery, that the music isn’t really missed all that much.

The great strength of Rhem 3 is the same as its predecessors, the vast amount of exceedingly clever, brain-destroying puzzles. These puzzles are all interlinked, meaning you may start to collect some items or information on one puzzle, but need to solve another puzzle before you can get everything you need. However, there are enough solvable puzzles at the early stages of the game that it is very nonlinear until you get really close to the end.

Most of the major puzzles can’t be solved effectively until you reach the Secret Library, which is on the top floor of a building that is essentially a gigantic puzzle box for entering the Library. Inside are books that are chock full of keys and other information that you will need to progress to getting the black crystal. Fortunately, you won’t have to write all that down, as there is the option to ‘photograph’ pages of the books for reference later.

There are some commonalities between solving concepts in this game and those of the prequels. I will enumerate some of them here for those that may have forgotten:

  1. Certain circuits won’t power up without the insertion of oddly-shaped ‘puzzle pieces.’ When you see a circuit box with a puzzle shape, find the piece of that shape and use it on the circuit box.
  2. There are no useless dead-end passages. If you see a passage go on, it is a good idea to take it, even if it looks like a dead end from where you are standing.
  3. Remember that doors have two sides. If you encounter a door that you can only close from one side, you should find an alternate route to get a look at the other side of the closed door.
  4. And lastly, write down everything. I finished the game with five pages chock full of hand scrawled symbols and diagrams, and eventually found a use for all I had written.

That should help you along your way. While devious and not always obvious, all of the puzzles need the skill of observation to solve.

What is the most amazing thing about this game is that one person developed it pretty much single-handedly. From puzzle ideas to mapping to 3D design, this is Mr. Knut Mueller’s baby all the way.

Rhem 3 is probably the best collection of awesome puzzles out there today. It easily earns 4 GiN Gems for its ingenious and addictive quandaries. I eagerly await Rhem 4 – get on it please, Mr. Mueller!

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