When I bought this game, I had never heard of The Crystal Key, so I was a little surprised to learn that this is the sequel… However, if you have played the original game, do not worry. You don’t need anything from the first game to play the second.
Called alternately Evany: Key to a Distant land; Evany: Key to Seven Lands (French version) and Crystal Key 2: The Far Realm (USA), this game invites you to ‘unlock the portal to unfamiliar realms.’ The underlying premise to the game is that after successfully repelling an invasion of their planet, the beautiful Evany, the people seem to have gone into some sort of waking coma. They stand or sit around, not speaking, not doing anything… Everyone except for your character Call seems to be affected.
Within the first 30 seconds of the game, Call sees a young woman being dragged away by soldiers. After being on a planet solely occupied by people who do not move or think, this catches Call’s attention. A book and a crystal key dropped by the captured woman are enough to send Call on an adventure to save his planet.
The blurb on the box calls this game ‘a Sci-Fi themed adventure.’ And the game can be said to fit that description. As indicated on the box, the game really does have 47 locations, 10 environments and 3 worlds… That is if you consider 10 yards further down the street to be a new location. Underuse of certain game locations leaves you with a feeling of something unfinished. For example, with the starter location you only get to see the street you are in, and then only for about 30 second before the game whisks you off to another world… I was left throughout the whole game wondering if there was something I had missed that would explain my feeling of being disconnected from the game and somehow ‘out of the loop’.
The ‘pre-rendered graphics’ are sometimes heart-achingly beautiful. The desert house is particularly impressive. But the graphics do sometimes get blocky with that ‘cut out’ feeling of some lesser games. While the backgrounds are superbly crafted, the characters sometimes look a little out of place.
The presence of surplus characters was another annoying feature of the game. There were a number of characters who could talk to you, but they would never provide any kind of valuable information. The woman at the cauldron is the perfect example of this problem. A potentially good puzzle was reduced to simple scenery. And the mistake of using a cauldron to boil nuts that need to be roasted was frustrating!
I didn’t like the constraints of movement that meant you could only go where the game wanted you to go, or look at things the game wanted you to examine. To make things even worse, at certain points in the game your characters motivation for moving onto the next stage is very unclear. Players can walk away from the game with no real story-driven motivation calling them back.
Puzzles are sometimes compelling, as with the Desert House, sometimes very clever as with the ‘artifact’ puzzle in the undersea realm, but some are just confusing. In several places Call is presented with a locked door, which is the mainstay of the adventure game, but these doors cannot be unlocked and they will never be opened. They simply exist as part of the scenery. They serve as a way to drag you round the game looking for the answer to a puzzle that isn’t really there. The Doctor’s door is the perfect example of a bad puzzle in Crystal Key 2. The puzzle features three locked doors, each one relying on one piece of evidence. These clues, in my opinion, are not very clear or noticeable in the first place, meaning that you are unlikely to take note of subsequent similar items. Even if you do, you are unlikely to associate them with the puzzle in question!
All in all I wasn’t that impressed with this Crystal Key 2. If I had been able to try it first, I probably wouldn’t have bothered to buy it. Now that I have bought it, I am left feeling a little cheated. The puzzles were a either a little too easy, or a little too ‘off the wall’ and most of them comprised of wandering around until you happened upon the correct sequence of conversations. The in-game lingo also seemed very forced… Some game developers are almost gifted in their ability to create new names for people and places that fall effortlessly from the tongue, while evoking a sense of the person or place they refer to. Sadly, this cannot be said for Crystal Key 2. Random syllables joined together do not make good names, not even for ‘other worlds’ and unique characters, they merely add to the disjointed feeling that dogged this game from the first frame. My recommendation for this game is definitely ‘try before you buy’ – you may enjoy it immensely, I didn’t.