Sometimes games turn me off right from the word go. Such was the case with Crystal Key 2, the sequel to 1999’s Crystal Key. At first glance the game seems to have a lot going for it. It has a science fiction premise, where you’re from a world where everybody has turned into mindless automatons, but you find yourself oddly immune. So what’s going on, and who’s behind it, and why? You could fill a game up with the answers to those questions, but for some reason developer Kheops Studios decided not to. Instead you’ll spend most of the game searching for the Merari.
So who are the Merari, and why are they important? That’s one of the problems I had with the game. Not having played the original, I didn’t know anything about the Merari, and so I didn’t know why I was searching for them. Then there are Arkonians and the Balial, the Far Realm and the Under Realm, and a bad guy (or family or organization -- I have no idea which) named Ozgar. The manual contains a couple paragraphs of background material, but let’s just say it wasn’t nearly enough, and so the details of the story were lost on me.
But that still leaves the broad terms. You’re the Good Guy and you need to figure out the Nefarious Plot and defeat the Bad Guy. That could still work, right? Well, it could, I suppose, but that’s not what Kheops decided to pursue. After you finally track down the Merari, they just flat out tell you what’s going on, and then the solution you’re supposed to emply to save your world... well, it’s about as plausible as filling up an ocean with a water sprinkler. And you don’t even get to defeat Ozgar or anything, which means, perhaps, that a Crystal Key 3 is planned. Be still my beating heart.
Well, since the story didn’t rouse my interest, that leaves the puzzles and graphics and the sound. The sound is fine if not spectacular. For example, there isn’t a great deal of dialogue in the game, but what little the game has is competently acted, and the background music and sound effects do the job without being memorable in a good or bad way. The graphics, on the other hand, are a little sub-par, and it probably doesn’t help that I’ve been playing pretty games like Syberia II and World of Warcraft lately. I think Kheops was going for a photo-realistic look but missed badly. Everything appears computer generated, the resolution is low enough to make things look fuzzy, and the character animations are downright bad. Plus, there is a weird rippling / jittering problem with the location graphics that I found extremely annoying.
Could the puzzles possibly be enough, then, to save the game? I don’t think so. Several of them are well thought out and complicated enough to give a challenge, and under normal circumstances I might have enjoyed working through them, but Kheops made too many bad decisions for the puzzles to be much fun. One problem is that Kheops decided to hide a lot of things. Numerous rooms are dark, but you’ll still have to detect the keys dangling in the shadows or the vines hanging above your head or the cage that I don’t think is visible at all. Pixel hunting is boring, and I wish more developers would realize that.
The other problem with the puzzles is that the game enforces an order on you. For example, you’ll learn of a lizard whose venom can knock people out. Well, obviously, that’ll come in useful at some point, but you’re not allowed to catch the lizard or even know of its whereabouts until you get to the point in the game where you need the venom. What that means is every time you get stuck you’ll have to go back to all the locations where you’ve been before to see if anything new has been triggered, and that isn’t any fun, especially when some of the locations involve convoluted navigation (like the interior of a tree).
And so let me summarize: Crystal Key 2’s story is a snooze, the graphics aren’t fun to look at, and the puzzles are sort of annoying. Maybe Crystal Key was fun to play and deserved a sequel, and maybe people who played that game will like the sequel, but I’m sort of pessimistic about both suppositions. Some things are better left locked, and Crystal Key 2 is a game to be avoided.