by Fairygdmther
February 6, 2004


Chemistry is a very dry subject to learn, but one I actually enjoyed, especially organic chemistry.  The orderliness and structure appealed to me in a way other sciences did not. I love charts and tables to refer to, and for me it seemed easier to learn than formulas, or biological systems.  Therefore I looked forward to this game by Heureka-Klett, and brought to us in the USA by Tivola International.  After all, this is an adventure game, an educational experience, and it should be fun, since I love chemistry – right?  Well, hold onto your hat, Louise, you’re in for a rough ride.

The story begins as our hero gets suckered into helping his friend, who has tapped into another dimension, and gets trapped there.  It starts in the bedroom of his friend, and with a hidden entrance to a lower level, a bit of cleverness, and we’re off to the other dimension to find him.  In this Journey to the Other Side, as Chemicus is subtitled, we find ourselves in many different kinds of places: temples, labs, a foundry, and using a fascinating transport vehicle that uses the table of elements as its control panel.  Before we can travel on this, however, we must gather all the buttons for it in our inventory.

Inventory management in this game is very much a chore.  There are so many items, scrolling through this assortment to select one item on the bottom, only to have it slip from our grip at the last moment, is very frustrating, and unfortunately a frequent occurrence.  In one place we are advised to take one of everything in a closet, where there are twelve flasks, and we’ll use only 3-4 of them.  There are also a dozen or more power discs for our information management system.  These also accumulate in our inventory until we open our system up and look up some chemistry data.  Near the end of the game we must go through a laborious disposal process to get rid of all those chemicals, to “buy” us credit to use the computer system.

Navigation borders on miserable in this game.  I just love to have the place I want to go to right in front of me, not ten steps away, and I can’t get to it!  It is necessary to travel on some unknown grid of paths to any destination.  All I can determine of this grid, since it is invisible, is that it always takes the most circuitous route possible to get from point A to point B.  In one round building, with an elevator in the middle, it took me eleven clicks to reach the center from one point on the circumference that shouldn’t have been more than two clicks away.  Nor was it possible to walk the periphery, without zigzagging into the center and back to the edge.  The movement cursors were also confusing, so you often choose the wrong one, ie. you turn back instead of looking down.  The most annoying part of this absurd navigation system, is the repetitiveness of it.  No adventure game I’ve ever played required so much backtracking.  Fully two thirds of the gameplay time is in travel.

The first person perspective is used in Chemicus, with realistic style graphics, in a 2D slideshow.  There were few cut scenes and they were done well.  Music is minimal, but usually appropriate, except for the control room, where the music had me looking over my shoulder expecting someone to jump out at me.  Sound effects were somewhat loud for mechanical sounds, and too soft for nature sounds outside.  There is virtually no interaction with others.  Our friend occasionally communicates to us via the information system in some way that isn’t explained to us, but he appears on a small screen for us to see.  While we occasionally see one of the inhabitants scurry by, they make no attempt to speak with us.

Okay, now let’s get back to the story – did I say story?  The outline of a story that we were given at the outset was all we were going to get apparently.  There is a walkthrough on the CD which, while incomplete, is essential to finish this game.  Even armed with a second w/t, I found it extremely difficult to complete.  The problem is this: this game plays like a chemical recipe book – you must gather everything that isn’t nailed down, from lemons to a bathing suit, and you have no clue whatever, what any of these sundry items will be used for. This game screams for a narrative.  You need to know what you have to accomplish, and what must be done to accomplish it, before any of the myriad ingredients you must gather, make any sense to you.  Chemistry knowledge notwithstanding, this game is obtuse beyond comprehension.  It is more an exercise in how well do you follow directions than an adventure game.  Yes, you explore many areas; yes, you solve puzzles – but why? Chemicus gives us no answers to this.

We would assume that this was a game designed to assist in the teaching of chemistry; some of the mixtures do actually demonstrate valid chemical compound formulation.  I do not believe, however, that this game could possible be useful to teach or reinforce chemistry learning, because of the lack of rationale for anything that is done in the game.  It fails as a teaching tool, even though there is a vast store of chemical knowledge that you can access in the game, because you don’t know why you need to know any given fact.  It fails as a game, because it really isn’t a game, except in a few brief moments. Instead, it is a complex set of instructions comprised of many parts that need to be followed to achieve the final goal, all of which are in progress simultaneously.

Score: 2/10 With the simple addition of a narrator, this game would have scored a 6/10; even with its poor navigation system, it was an interesting premise. As is, it is barely playable.

System Requirements:

Windows 95/98/NT/ME/2000/XP
Pentium II 233 MHz
50 MB Hard Drive space
SVGA Graphics card (32 bit)
Sound card
CD-ROM drive 8 x speed
Quicktime 5 (included)

MAC OS 8.1 or higher
233 MHz Power PC G3
50 MB Hard Drive space
32,768 Colors Graphics card
Sound card
CD-ROM drive 8 x speed
Quicktime 5 (included)

Mystic Rainbow and Bacardi Jim have once again provided their expert editing advice - Many thanks.

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