Anthony's Film Review

(Video Game, 1996)

Despite a thin storyline, this game is a breathtaking adventure of discovering a new world...

Rama is a CD-ROM game from Sierra On-Line based on two science-fiction novels by Arthur C. Clarke: Rendezvous With Rama and its sequel Rama II. Interestingly enough, Clark and his co-author Gentry Lee helped develop this game adaptation of their stories. Although I never read any of their novels before playing this game, I immediately understood, from this interactive world, what Clarke's stories are about. They focus on the possibilities of the future and the excitement of discovery. If humankind were to come across a mysterious world beyond Earth or a race of intelligent creatures beyond the stars, what would we do?

In this game, a giant cylindrical spaceship called Rama arrives in our solar system. It is a mysterious vessel that contains a whole new world inside. Gravity seems to be directed towards the periphery so that one can walk along the circumference of the inner surface of the cylinder. The major landmark is the Cylindrical Sea, a strip of water that divides the cylinder in half. One half of the cylinder contains the Central Plains while the other half is unknown and, in fact, not accessible in this game. There is, however, an island in the Cylindrical Sea.

You play the role of an astronaut for the International Space Agency (ISA) who joins other ISA crew aboard Rama to replace one who died. Your mission is very simple: explore and discover what you can on this ship. See if you can find out who the Ramans are and their purpose for traveling towards Earth in this ship. From time to time, you'll interact with the other crew, which include the scientist David Brown, the medical officer Nicole des Jardins, the engineer Richard Wakefield, the security officer Otto Heilmann, the general Michael O'Toole, the scientist Shigeru Takagishi, the officer Irina Turgenyev, and journalists Francesca Sabatini and Reggie Wilson.

The game interface is similar to that of the well-known game Myst. You navigate Rama in a first-person perspective and click the mouse cursor on the screen to instantly see your environment from a different angle. You also attempt to use alien machinery and pick up loose items for possible later use. One of your most handy items is a miniature human robot named Puck, built by Richard Wakefield. Puck acts as your guide in Rama as you ask him to describe the various things you see.

The entire gaming experience is essentially a series of puzzles to solve. There are plenty of doors to open, machines to operate, items to retrieve, and symbols to decipher. The game is quite appealing to anyone who enjoys stimulating intellectual problems. One of my favorite puzzles involves figuring out alien number systems that are remarkably similar to our own. All of these puzzles do not require the mind of a genius to solve, but careful observation of everything you encounter is key. As a result, the puzzles are neither too easy nor too difficult. While you use your brain to advance the game, you also become mesmerized by the places within Rama and the beings that inhabit the ship, including biological robots called biots, civilized avians, and octospiders.

Aside from the puzzles, there is very little plot in the game. There are only two or three major events that propel the story, and they lead up to a climax that is, for the most part, not too climactic. The last part of the game does involve doing something heroic or else many lives will perish, but it involves a puzzle that you are still allowed to spend much time figuring out. There's barely any sense of urgency with the situation. Now, don't get me wrong. I enjoyed the game, but it would be a great came if it had a well-developed story that is as engrossing as the mental puzzles.

It's worth mentioning the moments when Arthur C. Clarke appear in the game. If you make a move that kills you, he appears with a short speech about being careful in Rama and might give you a hint or two. He also appears in an introductory video welcoming you to the game and the epilogue once you finally reach the end of the game. In the former, he does say that he hopes the game is as engrossing to you, the player, as the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey was for moviegoers over 25 years ago. To a certain degree, he's right about that. I enjoyed the interactive world of Rama despite some of its shortcomings. With beautiful graphics, memorable ambient music, and stimulating puzzles, the experience of this game is very much like being a visitor on a mysterious alien spaceship. The journey provides a sense of wonder and fascination. It just might get you to ponder on what lies ahead for humankind.

Anthony's Rating:

For more information about Rama, visit the Internet Movie Database and Moby Games.


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