The Crystal Skull
CONCEPT and BACKGROUND
"The Crystal Skull" is set in Mexico, and with time changes in the game, it manages to embrace the Aztec, Toltec and Mayan cultures. It concerns a young man with a quest to defeat the Emperor’s evil and power-hungry chief adviser and General. To do this, he must find a relic skull. He has the usual adventures along the way, including people to talk to, puzzles to solve, inventory to collect and use.
The scenery is pretty good because all scenes are either imported photographs of real environments or very detailed, well-done paintings. To get this high quality of scenery, movement is sacrificed. It is a slide-format game. When you click, you go off screen to the next locale. To compensate (I guess), your character IS "real," meaning he is a young man who has been filmed walking around, climbing, jumping, etc. These filmed images are used whenever you ask him to move.
The scenes are quite realistic, since they are based on photographs of real places. I have been to all these ancient temples and cities, and I could actually recognize the details of each, including the cenote that is located in the Yucatan Peninsula between Merida and Chichen Itza. A couple of years ago, I stood in the exact spots and took the exact same photographs that were used in the game. It really amazed me.
Pretty early in the game, you get a map of the entire gameplay arena. This map has a "teleportation" component. This is very helpful because you do not have to walk all the way back to places you have visited already. Not every scene gets a teleportation "button," though, and once you use the button, it goes away until you visit that place again.
I have a complaint about the way the "slide" scenes progress. It is often difficult to maintain your sense of direction because, even though the character may walk offscreen to the left, he appears in the next scene to be walking in a different direction. Without the map supplied by the game, I never would have been able to figure out where things were in relationship to each other.
There are many people to talk to in this game. The acting varies from pretty good to laughable. Once in a while, it has the flavor of, "Hey, Mom, can you help me out with my game by providing some voice acting?" J There was some serious attention paid to accurate costume and dress.
Most of the time, you have a choice of three things to say. You get a preview of each possible response, so you can choose, but the previews do not always tell you the tone of voice in which the question will be asked. This often can lead to trouble; other times, it is irrelevant because you must ask ALL the questions to proceed.
SOUNDS and MUSIC
The sounds were quite good. Birds, insects, water, fire. It is a colorful game, bright, clean. A nice change from some of the darker games. I turned down the music right away. It was nice but distracting.
Mouse-driven, simple and effective. Sometimes it was difficult to spot the "hot spot" for an alternative choice of movement direction. These hotspots could have been a teensy bit larger. I don’t like having to "hose around" the entire screen for 10 minutes, carefully looking for a tiny gimmie that might not be there anyway.
Inventory management was pretty basic. And if you were trying that "everything-in-the-inventory" approach to problem solving, it would tell you if you were barking up the wrong tree before you even took the item out of inventory. Nice time saver.
Lots of variety. Ancient cities, many temples of different kinds, a jungle, an island, underground places, a brief trip through a desert, a brief visit to a snow-covered volcano. No mazes. No endless dark tunnels.
I felt that there was a lot of wandering around in this game. Maybe I am not as good a note taker as I used to be, but I frequently just had no idea what to do next. I had to check out the Help feature just to see what sort of questions were being asked in my area of the game.
DYING, and SAVING GAME
There are countless ways to die, but it is very easy and quick to restore yourself. You have to select the "easy restore" feature when you start the game.
1. The gambling sequence in the town drove me nuts, and I hear I was not alone. I will not go into detail, but it made little sense, there was no way to learn and improve your odds, you just had to do it over and over until you had enough "cash" to go on with the game.
2. The arcade stuff annoyed me to no end. I am not an action gamer, much less a thumb-abusing arcader. Why this stuff is in an adventure game is beyond me.
HELP and EXTRAS
There is on-board help from a shaman. You have to select this feature when you first start the game and cannot go back and activate it later. I recommend you do select it. After all, if you don’t need it, it is no big deal to have it, but if you DO need it, well….. It is nicely done. When you are stuck, you get an answer in a three-stage manner. First you get a gentle hint of what approach to take. If that is not enough, you can click again for more clearly-expressed guidance. If that still is not enough, you can click the third time and be told straight out what to do. Nice to have the choice.
Shapeshifting: the shaman gives you the talent of shape shifting, which really comes in handy. Late in the game, I had forgotten about it and had to be reminded through the "Help" buttons. J
To be honest, I think this game stretches credibility in the sense that some inventory items are used in very non-intuitive ways. For example, you have to cross a river of blood at one point, and you do it by "surfing" across, standing on a small piece of bamboo. Right, uh huh. And the means of finding out the names of the Gods was silly. Both of these instances resulted in the "everything-in-the-inventory" approach. I’ll say no more.
REQUIREMENTS and ADJUSTMENTS
I played on a PII 450 with 40 gig HD and 384 megs of RAM. I it ran with an nVidia GeForce and Soundblaster Pro cards, Quicktime 4.0 and DirectX 8.0, under Windows 98 SE. You might have some trouble playing this older game if you have already upgraded to a Windows ME platform. (I’m not going to do that until I have played ALL my old games first.)
You have to set your colors back down to 256 -- the game won’t start if you don’t -- and the game screen is not full-size on your monitor. Aside from having to switch the colors back and forth as I played other games, it didn’t bother me that much.
The game comes on 3 CDs, and there wasn’t all that much disk-swapping, I’m happy to say. You can load whatever disk your saved game puts you in, without going through loading Disk 1 and then switching to your current disk.
I think this game holds up pretty well, seeing as it is nearly 6 years old. It was quite challenging and a lot of fun. I’d rate it as Recommended, but I understand it is a bit rare and you might not have the choice to play it anyway. If you do, don’t pass it up!
When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem begins to resemble a nail.