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USK: for all ages
Publisher recommendation: 12 years and up
A review by slydos 3rd January 2004
A new learning adventure by Heureka-Klett is "Informaticus", that deals - as the name says - with the concepts of data processing, computer science.
We slip into the role of a young assistant during an unusual archaeological excavation. Our uncle, Jaques Moreau, is the leader of a nine-headed team engaged with a recently discovered advanced culture, that already used ingenious calculating machines, codes and algorithms 7000 years ago. This civilization hasn't only left stone buildings, but also a number of artifacts, machines, the relevant language and a decimal number system, in which they laid down the knowledge of their culture. The archaeologists call the people Ba-it-anians, which corresponds to the computer-technical unit "byte" if you listen to the sound of the word. Our nameless hero - uncle always calls him 'my boy' - arrives exactly at the time in the excavation place, when some valuable artifacts disappeared and uncle Jaques deploys him to clear the theft. Additionally an act of sabotage leads to burying one of the team members and the game becomes a whodunnit story.
"Informaticus" comes on 2 CDROMs together with a black-and-white illustrated manual in the for Heureka products usual flip box. On the jewel-case we find the copy protection code, which must be entered only once during installation. Afterwards the inserted CD2 is examined for this code with each start, before we can begin. "Informaticus" needs minimum 500 MB free fixed disk space or 1,1 GB for the maximum installation. The installation does not take place, as normally expected today, automatically after inserting the CD in the drive, but manually with the set-up-program. "Informaticus" comes on a hybrid disk, is thus executable both under Windows and on the Mac.
After smooth installation you arrive in the main menu (the logo screens can be skipped with spacebar). After starting a new game, one finally experiences in the short intro the discovery of Ba-it-an by a probe and the arrival of our hero with a water airplane in a tropical area. In 1st-person-view we deboard the airplane and can navigate for ourselves from now on.
"Informaticus" totally gets along with mouse control up to the occasional use of space-bar (to quicken up dialogues). You can move by clicking on screen areas, where the cursor takes over the shape of an arrow. So one can move forward, zoom, go right, left, down, up or turn around 180 degrees. The freedom of movement is, compared to other modern 1st-person-games, very reduced and offers only few possibilities of exploration, remains however very clear and one can easily orientate. Just at the beginning we receive a map of the area, to move to the different main locations by mouse-click.
Our cursor flashes over hotspots, where we can take up e.g. an object or takes over the shape of a hand, if we can move something. The flashing cursor cannot be differentiated very well from the standard cursor and so you need a bit of routine to identify interactive areas. Likewise counterintuitive is the 5-part interaction menu, because one must keep the left mouse button pressed and select the desired action icon at the same time, if one wants to speak to a person or use an inventory object. Thereby one can only apply inventory objects by click on the target object and not reverse. Only active buttons are highlighted, so you can immediately recognize, in which way you can interact with a hotspot.
Collecting objects in the inventory is acoustically confirmed, because one can often recognize no difference on the game screen, if one gets a new or changed item into the inventory, e.g. when calking inscriptions. Likewise we hear a sound, if we cannot use an inventory object with a hotspot.
If we select the icon for "speaking" in the interaction menu, then the complex dialogue window opens, which takes nearly the whole game screen. Here we can ask our interlocutors about topics from our note book, where tasks and events are listed automatically. In addition we find tabs for characters, objects and locations in the dialogue window. These are added in each case to the overviews, as soon as we speak (with characters), take up (inventory objects) or visit them (locations). All these album pages are scrollable and the people, objects and locations are provided with a small picture and a description text in each case. A small magnifying glass in a picture shows that there is still further information, not readable at first sight. One can do both, ask general questions by clicking on a character picture but also by clicking on statements, which were made by others about this person. All dialogues are spoken and at the same time shown as texts.
As one notices on the basis of this description, the dialogue area is rather extensive and click-intensive, which continues to increase during the game.
All tabs of the dialogue menu are accessible also over the interaction menu at the bottom of the screen. It appears as soon as we move the mouse to this area. Doing this, it can happen that we inadvertently click on one of these suddenly appearing 7 menu tabs, which are supplemented by the way by the the main menu access.
The main menu consists of menu options, which rotate around a ball caused by our mouse movements. Similarly, but nevertheless more simple and more clearly solved, than the very much complicated menus of the two crime-solving learning adventures likewise developed by bvm (Chaos at the Set and Fire at the Port). You don't get always by the desired menu option into the foremost position in order to be able to click on it, but it doesn't happen as desperately often as with the two other products mentioned. The menus for saving and loading are easy to handle. A game is automatically saved with location, time, date and a quite recognisable picture of the scene. The number of savegames is not limited and the savegame stored last is always on top. Overwriting svegames goes with a safety inquiry.
When leaving the game one must answer two other questions ("Do you really want to quit?, "Do you want to save your game?"), the somewhat long-winded logo-outro can be shortened by space-bar again.
Another very important function is the digital knowledge memory, the learning part of the game. You can either open it through the menu bar or context sensitive within the game at some hotspots with the interaction menu, by clicking on the bulb-icon. This is a very important feature, since we get suitable and often detailed help here to most puzzles directly.
The extensive knowledge part is provided with a set of menu options, which have several sublevels in each case, containing 1 or more pages per topic on their part. What disturbed me during the actually very simple handling, that you couldn't find your return path if you had a look at related topics. So if you havn't kept in mind the last visited menu, an unnecessary search will start.
In many cases it's necessary to open one or even several documents from the inventory in order to compare them to the active game screen. Unfortunately the opened window covers the largest part of the screen, so that you must actually copy or draw all of these extensive texts or symbol collections. Unfortunately there is no possibility of moving these windows. This could have definitely been solved more comfortable, because I really fail to see why I must note documents by hand, which I anyway already carry with me. For a point&click game the handling still lies within reasonable limits, but is not exemplary.
The emphasis is on dialogue-based puzzles on the one hand and logic-, coding or decoding puzzles on the other hand. In addition there is a set of inventory/object-based tasks. Some puzzles are combined with the recognition and replay of sound sequences or Morse codes. The degree of difficulty ranks from medium to very hard. Many puzzles are quite logically and derivably integrated into the story, others explain themselves only by instructions from the knowledge data base. An example for this is the Morse-task: from the game it does not follow that I must transmit a code by means of morse, but if I open the context sensitive knowledge data base within the range of the morse button, I get there suddenly information about the morse alphabet. It was not the only task, where there was no logic connection to the story, and this happens in a game in which everything is about logic.
The Morse tasks let me shook my head in other regard too: I was pretty sure that I've hit the rhythm after some hours of futile attempts (every time you hit the short or long beeps correctly, you get an echo), but success was missing. I had to give up and couldn't go on, until I found a savegame (thanks to gamepad.de).
There are even more frustration and motivation inhibitors. If one had solved several door opening puzzles, then the team members had promised that one would receive answers to a lot of questions. But one character - as representative for the developers - kept you on tenterhooks again and maliciously assigns new tasks. Honestly said, in this place only our hero's ragingly expressed quotation "Goddam game!" kept me up to scratch, because the strung together homogeneous code-tasks not really made fun and let arise a clear desire for deinstallation.
Interesting and motivating is however the story which forms the framework, helped by conversations with the team members. One has to consider all possibilities of dialogue, even if one gets the same rejecting answers from the characters in 95% of the questions. In a kind of ping pong system one confronts the characters with the statements of the others and receives new information.
Entertaining the puzzles, when they are actually embedded reasonably into the story, e.g. the programming of a minirobot for independent investigation of labyrinths or the optimization of the run of pin-ball spheres.
Within a chapter the game is in parts nonlinear, so that some puzzles can be solved in different order. However some puzzles presuppose again the solution of other puzzles mandatorily. A comparison with a walkthrough shows, that in some puzzles different values form the basis or can be selected by the player and thus also the solution is different. This even includes playing on while omitting objects, that can be used but must not.
Partly puzzles could be trained or even solved interactively in the knowledge part. The knowledge part is in some cases even the only suggestive source (see morsing). Thus usually a very close and also very successful link of learning part with the game, but here and there the puzzles are not based on the story but exclusively on topics of the learning part, what I consider as problematic.
Music and sound are unobtrusive. During the Morse task I was disturbed sometimes by the swelling music. The dubbing has pizzazz and esprit and is outstanding, as always with Heureka-Klett. For example Jaques ("Cpt. Picard" Meinke) says , if you address him on the lighter in the inventory: "A lighter belongs to the standard equipment of an adventurer and can as inventory item look back on a tradition of several decades." The different peculiarities and motives of the team members and their relations among themselves are revealed piece for piece. There are jealousy, envy, ambition, revenge, spleens, greed, malice and many more. Positive that you can always look up the dialogue texts.
While the beautiful, but nevertheless very empty background still-lives couldn't induce me to storms of enthusiasm, the few character animations were charming and reminded me of the Nancy-Drew-series. Well done the interspersed video sequences in which we can even catch a glimpse of our heroe from time to time. One main menu option helps switch on/off cross-fades between the individual scenes, depending upon computer capabilities.
The game ran smoothly and without errors.
A really enthralling whodunnit-story, which is not dissolved until the last minute, forms the framework for difficult, partly frustrating puzzles, which were set too closely one behind the other in many phases and let miss the connection to the story here and there. The learning part is quite comprehensive and in some places even in-depth contrary to some other learning games. People who already know computer science can still find out new things in the one or other field. It can be also used independently from the game to enlighten the backgrounds of some puzzles, but also to simply look at a topic from a different angle, from data representation over programming, up to encoding and multimedia. In the exploratory you can learn more about Lindenmeyer-systems or how cellular automats function. Really no bore, but also no game for adventure fans, who don't have perseverance for lined-up cryptography and logic puzzles. For those, who are too much deterred, Heureka-Klett has a selection of other edutainment titles with sturdy natural sciences or living history.
Total rating: 72%
Adventure-Archiv rating system:
- 80% - 100% excellent game, very recommendable
- 70% - 79% good game, recommendable
- 60% - 69% satisfactory, restricted recommendable
- 50% - 59% sufficient (not very recommendable)
- 40% - 49% rather deficient (not to be recommended - for Hardcore-Adventure-Freaks and collectors only)
- 0% - 39% worst (don't put your fingers on it)
Minimal system requirements PC:
- Pentium III 450 Mhz
- 64 MB RAM
- 300 MB free disk space
- 16x CD-ROM-drive
- Sound card
- Quicktime 6 (on CD)
Minimal system requirements MAC:
- PowerPC ab G3 400 Mhz
- System 8.6
- 64 MB RAM
- 300 MB free disk space
- 16x CD-ROM-drive
- Sound card
- Quicktime 6 (on CD)
- Windows XP
- P IV 1,6 GHz
- 512 MB RAM
- 16x DVD-ROM (Artec WRA-A40)
- nVidia GeForce 2MX400 64 MB graphic card
- Sound card DirectX-compatible
Arrival at the camp
George tries to dig out his buried alive colleague Jones (not Indiana)
Documents that can help you repair the elevator
Every hotspot has a 5part menu
While loading new locations the name of the destination is faded in
Snakes prevent from entering certain areas at the beginning
The dialogue menu in this case showing the accessible locations
First you must get acquainted with the Ba-it-anian numbers system, which is used throuout the game
You must open one door after the other
The dragon - vision or illusion?
City in the Clouds
Sarah is doing research in the buildings of the Order of Chaos
You can program a digging robot ...
... which really solves a task here.
A series of mysterious slates with Ba-it-an symbols
The learning part
Two spheres must land at the right place and time, a giant flipper
Our hero talks about the situation with his uncle Jaques
Another coding puzzle
Our hero sets a trap for the perpetrator