The Elysium Enigma

by Eric Eve profile

Science Fiction
2006

Return to the game's main page

Member Reviews

5 star:
(15)
4 star:
(44)
3 star:
(11)
2 star:
(3)
1 star:
(0)
Average Rating:
Number of Reviews: 10
Write a review


1-8 of 8


2 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Enjoyable, straightforward romp, if a bit shallow, April 15, 2017

Interesting setting - by far the best part. NPCs sometimes surprisingly well-drawn, sometimes a bit trope-y. When the dialogue worked, which it didn't always, it worked well.

What was up with the cheese smell? Never figured that out.

Puzzles were occasionally a bit formulaic - find the green widget to use on the green whoozit, et cetera.


5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Two Cultures, August 17, 2013
by Sam Kabo Ashwell (Seattle)

Eric Eve's games tend to be solidly built and to follow well-established, orthodox design patterns; The Elysium Enigma, a sci-fi mystery, is no exception.

Enigma is structured around simple, traditional puzzles in a fairly non-linear arrangement. There are three major NPCs, all responsive conversationalists. In terms of design, tech and careful diligence, it's an impressive piece of work: its threads never seem to trip over one another, the plot inobtrusively avoids ballooning without making play feel confined, and conversation updates smoothly with knowledge and plot advancement. Interaction is very much of the traditional variety: discover hidden items, find keys and passwords, fiddle with electronic devices, find a vehicle to overcome a barrier, and so forth. (While there are more involved puzzles for a higher score, getting a winning ending is quite easy). Although you're exploring a village and environs, it's a largely deserted environment, major characters aside, and the player's adventurer-style trespass, vandalism and theft goes largely unremarked.

The weak points of The Elysium Enigma lie in the writing. I don't want to paint too strong a picture here, since for the most part the prose does the job that's required of it. The standard IF fare - descriptions of rooms, objects and actions that straightforwardly negotiate these - is mostly good solid work. (There are occasional quirks of overspecification where more natural speech would have worked better, but nothing egregious.) Where it falls short is character writing.

Characters are used effectively to deliver key information and direct action, but this often comes across as highly artificial. (This is partly because of the brave decision to keep the three central NPCs on-stage and highly responsive for the entire course of the game.) Even allowing for this difficulty, they're all rather two-dimensional.

Take the protagonist, Andrew: tall, athletic and good-looking, a bit contemptuous of Elysium's locals. His reactions to events generally go undescribed, which is a standard approach: show what the player character sees, imply their inner state, avoid directly reporting it. But when we do get hints of the protagonist's state of mind - his final words at the game's conclusion, for instance - they can seem massively off-key.

And this is a problem, because the NPCs aren't incidental to the story. Indeed, it deals with perhaps the most difficult of NPC dynamics, romance. The game's problems in this department are, I think, perfectly summed up in a single moment. It takes a little buildup and is spoilery as hell, though, so bear with me.

(Spoiler - click to show)Early in the game you encounter Leela - young, attractive, apparently an outcast from the village. She's a wide-eyed, curious ingenue; she asks you for food and clothes, bathes naked and then continues to follow you around in that state. Once you've provided her with food and clothing, she expresses romantic interest in you. If you ask about a relationship, she strongly suggests that she'll have sex with you a little later. A little later, you're exploring an underground bunker; she throws herself down on a mattress. You're discussing the implications of the exciting mystery you've uncovered. At this point, she's dressed in a sheet held together with a couple of safety-pins. And...

...and nothing. Not so much as a fade to black. There's no way to initiate sex directly, and more circumspect methods (more kissing, lying on the mattress) seem, in context, awkwardly chaste.

I'm definitely not arguing that there has to be a sex scene here - you could fade to black, have her reject the PC, articulate some motivations for the PC to keep it in his pants, or rewrite the scene so that it didn't lean so obviously in that direction. But as it stands, this makes the whole scene seem like an awkward lapse in characterisation.

More generally: Leela's character is a recognisable Type from SF of a certain awful era: a wide-eyed ingenue, in need of rescue, childish, curious, sexually liberated yet virginal, spirited yet biddable, given to following the hero around. Now, arguably the story's point is that this character is a fiction; perhaps the intention was that Leela's character was meant to look like an implausible male fantasy. But this is rather undermined because Leela's true identity, Anita, is the other side of the same coin, the Cold, Calculating Bitch. Now, this is a boring stereotype, to be sure, but it also kind of torpedoes the emotional impact of the game's final Big Choice. Andrew has to choose whether to bring Anita in or let her go; for this choice to have weight, it requires the player to be invested in Leela/Anita. The problem is that Anita, the real one, is less complicated than Leela: all we see of her is the heartless schemer of the official report, and the spitting ball of hate when she's captured. For me, the choice of whether to let her go read less like a moment of anguished indecision and more like relishing a moment of power over a bad woman.


The game initially suggests that it's going to be social science fiction. You have to deal with a strongly technophobic culture, and the implication is that you're balancing the need to respect that culture with other concerns: the need to protect individual rights, political and military objectives, and so on. In the event, though, this isn't explored as much as the initial setup might suggest; you only really deal with one Elysian, there's no story incentive not to violate their cultural norms, and the real plot is about espionage. The Elysian culture is rendered at a Star Trek planet-of-the-week level of detail: one big cultural hook drives all the conflicts, and everything else is a bit generic. (Of course, a detailed Le Guin-ish culture-building piece really isn't what the author is interested in, even if I'd like him to be: the real focus is geopolitics and espionage. (Spoiler - click to show)But Leela's deception relies on you misreading the genre, thinking that you're in a Culture vs. Individual story rather than a Great Game one; so perhaps the mystery could have been preserved for longer by continuing to develop a culture-oriented plot.)

Finally, the central premise of the plot feels a bit off.(Spoiler - click to show) We're meant to understand that Anita plans to seduce Andrew in order to extract tactical information from him. Her mission is covert observation; the risks of exposing herself are very high, so the information should be a) very valuable, and b) unobtainable by safer means. In the event, she doesn't get all that much information from Andrew, and most of it seems like things that could have been learned covertly (if perhaps not so quickly). So the upshot is that Anita seems like an incompetent spy.

So while I could respect Enigma as a piece of design and implementation, I found it very hard to enjoy as a story.


3 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
I wish I could have liked it more, May 13, 2013
by Andromache (Hawaii)

I finished the game with a near perfect score. Much of it was done without the hints. In fact, I didn't need them to actually win. I just used them for some checking to make sure I didn't miss anything. The puzzles were that intuitive. I only found one minor bug. (Spoiler - click to show)Since I managed to get the cube late in the game, after stunning Leela, she was out cold but was still able to point it out when I boarded the shuttle to leave. If I wanted to replay the game, I could probably get a perfect score, but since the endings weren't all that interesting, I'm not inclined to.

Technically, the game played very well. But story, setting, and characters all didn't work for me. I didn't care for the player character, didn't like Elysium, and especially didn't like the NPCs there. (Spoiler - click to show)Soolin and Andrew would have made a better couple, IMO. Because I didn't like Elysium, I couldn't feel all that bad about the tragedy that happened over two hundred years ago, for which the Elder still holds the Empire accountable. Yes, they did wrong, but no need to blame Andrew. And I knew Leela was hiding something when I found her camp. Besides, didn't the Elders kill Mark? This really wasn't a place or a role I enjoyed inhabiting, and because it was so distasteful, I can't be as kind as I know the game deserves. (Spoiler - click to show)But I like the idea of the drik. What a handy tool. I want one.


4 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Sci-fi meet Amish, March 14, 2011

Im fairly new to Interactive Fiction. Sure, Ive tried Zork and a few other Infocom titles in the past. I grew up with the C64 and Amiga, so I remember trying those games back then. Im Norwegian, so although I could tell these games to be exciting, my english wasnt good enough yet to have any fun with them.

I think I was pretty lucky to try The Elysium Enigma as my first modern IF game. I love the Firefly series, which I think might have been an inspiration for this game.

The game has a dystopian mood almost among the lines of The Road (movie/book), and a grand mystery to unravel.

Its a very compact world for a text adventure. And I like that. I never felt the need to note down a map, and the puzzles were never too taxing.

Im reccomending this game to my friends. Even those that have never tried IFs before.


7 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
Excellent Entertainment, November 13, 2010
by Dude (Clarksville, Kentucky)

The Elysium Enigma was a good reintroduction to IF for me, with consistently good writing and an engaging if simple mystery to unravel throughout. This game is plot-based, but not quite as exposition heavy as other such stories.

Interacting with the handful of NPCs is a simple affair, which is good considering the amount of information they have to give. The game uses a 'Topics' command which informs the player exactly how they can interact with characters, which is arguably no less immersive than the average conversation menu.

Puzzles in this game consist mainly of careful reading of room and item descriptions, and examining everything possible for potential clues. Other puzzles are of the 'use x on y' type, but offer multiple solutions to keep the frustration level low. To my knowledge you cannot set the game unwinnable (at least not until the very end) and you can only be killed once in the entire game (which is extremely easy to avoid).

There were a few disappointing aspects to this game; a terrible past secret is hinted at, several times, but ultimately disregarded by the story. A nifty tricorder-ish gadget that ain't. The ending(s) are rather underwhelming. Also, compared to the other two characters the shuttle pilot comes across as redundant, mainly acting as a sounding board for the PC.

Overall, very enjoyable, highly recommended to those looking for a good 'soft' sci-fi adventure that's not too difficult to handle.


0 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
The Elysium Enigma, July 18, 2010

I wrote a review of this here: http://www.jgoodwin.net/?p=703, which has so much in the way of spoilers that I thought I would have to include most of the post in the spoilers tag to meet the guidelines.

In brief, I thought it the discrepancy between how much the player is likely to guess about the situation and how little the character figures out on his own was well handled and most interesting to me from a design standpoint, though the game is also thoroughly implemented.


4 of 9 people found the following review helpful:
Nice and enjoyable game, June 9, 2008
by Seren (Paris, France)

The puzzles are not too hard, the solutions are logical and there is a nice flow to the unfolding of the story. Definitely worth of my time.

The settings might sound a bit clich but works well, it reminded me of some Asimov's novels, 'The Naked Sun' or maybe the 'Foundation' serie. There is a distinctively old-school sci-fi aspect to the game.

Technically, I found the game flawless : there was no dead-end, the built-in hint system was really nice and I really liked the conversation system.
(Spoiler - click to show)
Regarding the plot (and the title), maybe I missed something, but I was a bit disappointed that the planet hadn't some sort of secret itself. At one point I even thought that the Elders had manipulated both the Imperial and Federation spies to hide something bigger.


1 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Where are the Last Two Points?, March 24, 2008
by NiMuSi (London, UK)

This is an extremely satisfying dialog-driven game.

The puzzles fit seamlessly into the story, and are on the easy to moderate scale. These range from the perennial find-the-key to distract the animal to proceed.

There are three NPC's in the story, two of these are very well drawn. The dialog choices with them drive the narrative forward in a very nice and natural way.

I would have given this game four stars, but have given it three because of a slight niggle with the ending. All through the game you have quite definite objectives, but at the end it is not very clear how to finally finish. In the end I finished the game with 28 points and have been unable to get the final two points, even with the built in hints.



1-8 of 8 | Return to game's main page