The Crystal Key Review
A mysterious menace has targeted Earth as its next victim and is lurking in space ready to strike. Earth's satellites intercept a message sent from an unknown alien civilization: "Danger: Ozgar has been defeated but not destroyed. Suralon is sinking. Return to Arkonia. Abandon all colonies at once." You are chosen as the one to travel to Arkonia and find a way to stop the same thing from happening to Earth.
The Game Play
The opening could have been the basis for an action game, but The Crystal Key is pure adventure. When you step outside your spaceship, your eyes feast upon beautiful blue sky, lush green grass and trees. In the distance, a lone building beckons you. On with the adventure!
The game's interface is fairly easy to learn. Arrow cursors point you in various directions for travel. Actions can be performed when a hand icon or magnifying glass appears. There are numerous items that can be picked up and placed in your "backpack". When selected, an inventory item glows and pulses, indicating it is ready to be used in the main screen. Clicking the item again unselects it. When an item is no longer useful, it disappears from your backpack.
The items have no descriptions, so it is up to you to figure out what they are. Once something is inside your backpack, you are not allowed to examine it more closely, either. This option alone could have greatly enhanced game play in my opinion.
The Crystal Key is non-linear. By following clues left behind by the former inhabitants, you will discover the way to travel to several of their "worlds". You can then go back and forth between them at your own pace and in any order. Of course, certain actions must be performed for the plot to advance the way the designers intended. You can die, so be careful and save often!
Graphics and Sound
The worlds are beautifully illustrated in rich, 3-dimensional detail, although they are also stagnant for the most part. Nothing moves or changes unless you cause it to. Many places are depicted but are not available for exploration. I was disappointed that I could not go inside the many gorgeous buildings in one of the worlds. In another part, the scenery is so dense, landmarks so indistinguishable from each other, that you can get totally lost.
The cut-scenes are realistic and very well done throughout, however. A memorable one involves an excursion you take in an underwater submersible.
Various graphics glitches can make actions tedious at times, causing the cursor to blink or bog down. You may find yourself attempting to move something from left to right only to find the cursor non-responsive. The action "pointing finger" did not always appear where it should, and zooming in on an object may get you too close for the desire action. Sometimes your only recourse is to exit, save, and hope that a reboot of your computer will free up enough system resources to let you play more easily upon reloading.
The background music is nice but not extraordinary. A more orchestrated musical score could have added much to the game play. The cut-scenes contain the most entertaining music. Sound effects are few and restricted to the result of actions you take (the sound of an engine, for instance).
The puzzles in The Crystal Key are similar in context to those found in Myst and Timelapse. Machines that need to be made operational, duplication of symbols and color-coded panels are examples. None of the puzzles can be considered too difficult, although some are more challenging than others.
Dreamcatcher addressed the only major problem by releasing a patch immediately after publication. If you have had any problems loading saved games, downloading and installing the patch should solve those problems. Otherwise the only area worthy of note concerns graphics, which is discussed above.
If you loved Myst, you will like this game. While it is not the best of its type, The Crystal Key will provide many hours of enjoyment. The puzzles are not difficult making it very playable by gamers of all experience levels.
A major flaw in the design of The Crystal Key is in its ending. After solving all of the mysteries and saving the world, what you receive is a very short and anticlimactic ending. I had hoped for a view of the Arkonians returning to their homeworld. Or at least a good look at what happens to Ozgar. Is that too much to ask for?
-- Jeanne Muse