The Elysium Enigma

by Eric Eve profile

Science Fiction

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Number of Ratings: 75
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- Bloxwess (Bellaire, Texas), November 14, 2022

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Just another guy in another galaxy, June 1, 2022
by deathbytroggles (Minneapolis, MN)

The Elysium Enigma is a competently made game that easily drew me into its world of intergalactic politics and subterfuge and I eagerly rushed through it. Unfortunately, the story and plot turns were unsatisfying and I felt like a spy left out in the cold.

As a diplomat checking in on one of the Empire's remote planets, you are presented with the choice of following your basic orders and bringing the game to a swift and boring ending, or defying your orders and getting your hands into the planet's affairs. Defying your orders essentially leads you to doing text adventure things: talking to others, exploring, picking up everything, and shooting stray dogs. You know, the usual. It becomes quite clear, quite early, the motives of the game's three NPCs. And then the rest of the game is solving fairly rudimentary puzzles to uncover somewhat interesting but nonewhat surprising information.

I certainly had fun pulling back the curtain one puzzle at a time. But ultimately I was left not caring about any of it. The PC is never not incredulous, except when faced with blatant evidence contrary to his beliefs. He is never not classist, even when shown repeatedly the problems of his culture. He doesn't grow in any way no matter what choices you make. So the "winning" ending doesn't feel much different than the default ending. Not only do we not learn much about the PC, we are not given any reason to root for him. In fact, I wound up rooting for everyone else but our hero. There was ample opportunity for deeper NPC interaction and character development that sadly never materialized.

The game plays well, with fair puzzles and a layered hint system. While some of the puzzles are directly related to the story and fit well within the world, others are there for pacing only. For example, an optional puzzle involves having to make a fishing rod to catch a fish to give to a cat to get the cat to move off of a box. I just wanted to throw something at the cat.

If you're looking for a fairly easy and fairly short puzzler, spending a couple of hours with The Elysium Enigma could hit the spot. Just don't expect much more than what you see on the surface.

- Edo, March 8, 2021

- Durafen, July 29, 2020

- kierlani, April 18, 2020

- Rovarsson (Belgium), November 29, 2019

- elias67, October 16, 2019

- Denk, September 10, 2019

- DocDoe, June 12, 2019

- Laney Berry, August 22, 2017

- Cory Roush (Ohio), July 3, 2017

3 of 4 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.

- finnn62, December 14, 2016

- Robin Johnson (Edinburgh, Scotland), March 9, 2016

- E. W. B., February 24, 2016

- Thrax, March 11, 2015

- Joshua Houk, October 18, 2014

- Katrisa (Houston), September 24, 2014

- Indigo9182, June 13, 2014

- jflower, February 26, 2014

- prolecat (Austin, Texas), November 6, 2013

- kioopi, October 26, 2013

- Adam Myers, September 23, 2013

7 of 7 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.

4 of 5 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.

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