John dos Passos wrote a book called Midcentury in 1961. It chronicled the passage of time in the twentieth century – the wars, the exploration, the scientific progress, and most of all the people. Following World War II, there was a great boom – housing, post-war babies, industrialization, the space race, the cold war, the birth of rock and roll (as distinct from rhythm and blues). Anything seemed possible – hope was in the air. It is into this vibrant era that Morpheus was given life.
The game opens as an arctic explorer seeks to find the remains of his father, in 1952, 24 years after his disappearance on the arctic ice pack. In a blizzard, Matthew, our protagonist, becomes separated from his expedition, and battles just to stay alive. He passes out and wakens to find the storm lessening, and in the distance, sees a dark object. In the near white-out conditions, he is drawn to this dark object – a ship frozen in the polar ice cap. Our game begins as he climbs aboard and seeks shelter.
Matthew knows little of his father’s last expedition, but he does know, once he inspects it, that this is the ship, the Herculania, that his father tried to reach, to carry out the wishes of a dying man. His father never returned to his own expedition, and was assumed dead. In exploring the deck, Matthew, who is played as a 1st person, finds that there is some residual power remaining on the ship, though he needs to get inside first to determine how to turn it back on. This, then, is our first puzzle, and the beginning of our trip back to 1928, to find out how it all began.
Morpheus is an ambitious game. It strives to give a feel for the era of hopefulness and freedoms restored, post World War I, but before the stock market crash. It tries to describe the science/pseudo-science of the late 1920’s from a personal point of view. As Matthew explores and learns about the people who were on this last voyage, he encounters knowledge of Jan, the leader of the group and the “scientist” who will try to cure people of their ills using an invention of his own and the concoctions of his doctor, derived from a special potion found in Indonesia. His theories are untested, yet his beliefs, and those of who are accompanying him are strong. Jan, himself, with serious facial disfigurement since birth, had faced ridicule his entire life. His parents rejected him, and put him in a home for boys, and though he was eventually adopted, even his step-father put him down. For him, getting this experiment to work was crucial for his self-esteem, for his reputation as a scientist, and for proving to his family that he was worthy of respect.
The premise of the cure is based on observed behavior in Indonesia, where the blood of several people is combined with a special mix of ingredients, causing a dream state which will effect a cure. This is to be enhanced by Jan’s Neurographicon, a nuclear powered device of some sort, which will funnel this healing power into those to be cured. The passengers of the ship were all known to Jan. Besides the doctor, there were: his step-father, his mother, his father, the school mistress at the boy’s home, a man who was in the circus with him, and a young woman who is the step-daughter of his real mother and her fourth husband. Each of these has their own stories as related to Jan, and most are unfavorable. There were no crew aboard – all had abandoned ship when it got stuck in the pack ice.
Throughout the game we become privy to the life of Jan, with respect to all of these people. After Matthew powers up the ship, and finds his way into the cabins of the passengers, we travel into the dreams of these people, via the Neurographicon. In their dreams we must solve puzzles to help free them. And we learn the ultimate goal of Jan, though we don’t get to see his dreams.
For a game developed in 1997-8, the graphics are what you would expect, pixellated in the distance, but clear for the close-ups. Cut scenes were grainy, and often slowed down in transition. There were no pixel hunts, fortunately, since even without them I missed doors and other items that seemed to blend into the background. There was no inventory, and for the few items you needed to carry, you did it one at a time, and that became your cursor. In the one place where you needed to obtain several items, they travelled ahead of you to their destination for your use in a puzzle. Music was used sparingly, which was good because the tracks repeated each time you entered an area, and, as is, they got rather repetitious. The effect was for purposes of drama, but after the first time, there really wasn’t any drama to the scene. You could save games at any point and they were unlimited in number. I didn’t find any place where you could die. There was a place where your game could hang up if you didn’t apply the patch ahead of time. This was very difficult to find, and the site most reviews send you to is no longer valid. I found it on an Italian site - Morpheus Patch
And this worked fine.
My biggest gripe with this game was the navigation. It was essentially a point & click to nodes to move around, but to rotate, you hold down the left mouse key, and slide the mouse in the right direction. Now this worked correctly most of the time, but when it didn’t, the effect was horrible! There were several places where a 90º turn to the right produced four 360º rapid turns, and it only stopped this with difficulty. Removing mouse pressure didn’t stop it – you had to click a few times to stop it. This also altered your orientation, and led you off in the wrong direction as well. It was so bad in the first part of the game that I almost threw it away. Only the opinions of two of my online friends, who highly recommended this game, kept me going here. I am glad I stuck with it – this game was definitely worth playing. It comes on three CD’s, but once you’re really into the game, #2 and #3 could be placed into two different drives and the game would switch back and forth as needed.
There are many similarities between Morpheus and Faust or 7 Games of the Soul, which came out in 1999. The concept of learning about those from the past and examining their lives exists in both. Unfortunately, Morpheus suffers by the comparison. Faust did a much better job of character profiling and made you believe in these people, as well delineating their intertwined lives. In Morpheus the characters felt like cardboard cut-outs. Since the opportunity to examine their staterooms was already used, it wouldn’t have taken much more to give some personal details that would show insight into their personalities and motivations.
Morpheus is an interesting and challenging adventure game with many types of puzzles and areas to explore. Better characterization would have led to a better story, and a better game. The navigation was bad enough that it almost stopped me from playing it. It is, however a memorable game, and one I would recommend, but with a few caveats.
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