No field trips here

Having finished a couple of Kyratzes’ games before (Last Rose in a Desert Garden and The Infinite Ocean, reviewed here previously), I was expecting Museum of Broken Memories to more-or-less have the same treatment: Myst-like gameplay on a Terragen-drawn environment, coupled with puzzles that required some careful thought, still with the general theme of escaping that environment.

After playing the game twice, I was a bit surprised. Kyratzes’ strong sentiments about the destructive effects of war were still there. I still had to escape the Museum – I was trapped, though how I got trapped in it was never made clear. But for the first time, I felt fear.

Museum of Broken Memories is a collection of story fragments – a war experience scattered throughout seven rooms and presented through different means. Unlike his previous efforts, the effect of war on society and on people is presented in a less linear way – a museum tour – which allows the player to reflect more about his own experience.

MoBM opening screen

The museum has seven rooms, two of which the player occupies at the start of the game. In the first room, one may see the author’s forewarning about possibly not getting out, as well as the customary Save/Load/Quit functions. (For whatever reason, I kept thinking the ladder image on the Save/Load/Quit side would hold items representing my saved “experiences” – or something that would mark where I’ve already gone to, at least – but I learned the lesson fast during gameplay.)

The rest of the rooms bore various well-drawn artifacts in glass displays: a teddy bear, a wine bottle (?), a light bulb, snatches of yellowed notes, which one may inspect at their own choice. Each room also bore plaques with various verses (which, according to Kyratzes himself, were quoted from William Blake and T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land”). Several artworks superimposed on modern photographs were also exhibited as if in a gallery, some even bearing text that (presumably) were written by Kyratzes himself.

However, the centerpiece of each room, as it were, were the “fragments” themselves. Each room had one particular “artwork” that plunges the player into the memory fragment’s world, portrayed through various symbols and images. Most of the artifacts seen from outside participated in ways inside the fragments’ world, though this is not obvious at the start.

Therein lies, I think, one of the game’s particular flaws, which somehow proved to be its strength as well. In a point-and-click game like this, I’d usually expect that anything I interact with would present itself differently once I have made any changes onto it. For example, if I open a container or window, or took a particular object off, I would expect some visible change happen on the object so I’d know I’ve dealt with it already.

A dream sequence?

In MoBM this was not always immediately obvious. In parts such as the Fever Room, the only clue I had that I’ve already interacted the object was the cursor itself: if it did not transform into a pointing hand or an arrow, or if it did not show some text, then, well, try to look somewhere else. A better touch would have been to show an image of the cupboard with its doors open, or the box’s lid casting a shadow on the bottles, for example.

If you’ve played more than a couple of point-and-click games, this might be considered standard behavior for a Myst-like adventure scenario. However, this might prove to be frustrating for those new to adventure games.

Nevertheless, it did prove effective in conveying the sense of loss and helplessness in one of the last rooms I went into, where everything was dark and all you had to rely on was your sense of touch. It reminded me of the darkness portrayed in Magnus Olsson’s interactive fiction piece Aayela (1996), when I felt restless looking for the way out of the dark. The difference between Aayela and MoBM, though, was the extra dimensionality. In Aayela, you could touch the floor, the wall, even rub the soil off if needed. In MoBM, I felt as if I were hitting a blank wall everytime. It might have been helpful if the game described further what the player felt through his other senses, especially the surrounding itself.

Despite this, I found MoBM to be quite engaging and insightful as a game. The music set the tone very well for the game, and the different game elements served as a good reminder against the horrors of war and its effects on those who have gone through it.

I would recommend The Museum of Broken Memories for the more experienced adventure player with an open mind, and perhaps more maturity. Newcomers to the adventure game might want to try Kyratzes’ previous efforts first to have a better feel of his game designs.

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