One of the last things I’d expect from diversity is diffusion and mediocrity. I’m gonna’ come right out and say that Crystal Key 2 has a lot of really good puzzle elements to it, but fails in some very fundamental areas where so much potential lay. Kheops Studio is a relatively young development house, but shows its ambitions in the numbers of games it’s produced since its inception in 2003. Crystal Key 2 may not be Kheops’ showcase number, though, despite having accessible, above-par puzzles and a story that could have been as compelling as the universe it’s set in.
Your story in Crystal Key 2 puts you in the shoes of Call, apparently a lone survivor of some psychotic affliction on his home world of Evany. An opening narrative by Call describes a surprisingly brief history of his life, and of the disappearance of his parents. His reverie is interrupted when a dimensional gate opens up on the sidewalk nearby, vomiting forth a female who barely gets to ask Call a couple questions before she’s herded by two odd looking alien thugs into a nearby alley where she and her captors promptly disappear. The only clues she leaves behind are a tablet filled with journal entries (citing worlds with similar cases of zombie-fied residents) and what I would consider a crystal key used to open the same dimensional gate she appeared from. From here, Call initiates his investigation into the blank faces and mindless movements of Evany’s inhabitants, away from his home, and into the mystery that has taken so many other worlds.
Scope isn’t a problem here – the story is suitably epic and fraught with the usual staples of the underdog sleuth stumbling through to victory over evil. The story, by design, breaks up into far-flung and widely varying locales, which makes for a nice scenic medley. Within the first couple of hours, I was bouncing between an industrial spaceport, a posh lounge bar, a dilapidated and deserted dock of some sort, a tawny market of adobe huts straight out of Los Isley of Star Wars fame, and a wooded region of trees that makes the California Redwoods look like sapling rejects. Now that’s selection. Each area has its own small grouping of inhabitants – sometimes numbering in the zeros – that have their own colorful connection to their corner of the Crystal Key continuum.
Visually, nothing in Crystal Key 2 deserves more than an acknowledgment of existence, presenting very little else besides muddy storyboard art and scenes filled with frozen props an unmoving “life”. This point-and-click adventure is as much of a slideshow as I’ve ever seen; very little water moves, trees don’t sway in the wind, the washed-out grass and sand of numerous places didn’t move, sparkle, or seem at all like it was an extension of the landscape. I don’t expect too much in adventure game visuals, especially for lower-budget point-and-clicks, but Crystal Key 2 successfully disappointed me in a way that affected the body of the gameplay experience.
What seems to have been the main focus, and what probably saves this game from complete cardiac arrest, are the atypically thoughtful puzzles that actually, dare I say, entertained me. Though this may have been for lack of anything else interesting to hang on to, the frequent riddles and cleverly hidden clues served as a distraction from the plodding drudgery of the rest of the game. Most of the key items were things that really didn’t require a lot of imagination to envision a use for, which allowed for a greater freedom in ambiguity, and should help the player feel some sense of accomplishment. A wrench turns a water spigot. Flowers placed on certain patterns opens a door. A fine mist spray of sweet berry juice derived from a bar drink dispenser will coax a cloud of luminescent insects into a dark, cavernous tunnel. Ok, maybe that last one is a stretch.
In between all this validating riddlin’ are the characters that will either help you to your goals or frustrate you into a cathartic session with your favorite FPS. Not all of them descend from the same order, either, which actually distinguishes them in much the same way that the varied locations do. You’ve got the green-headed aliens right next to the ubiquitous white man, and an egg-headed imp with chocolate-colored skin – a bountiful, cultural buffet. A second point of commendation is the voice acting, portraying the characters in their “skins”, conforming to the image the player is presented in the game. Many times in adventure games, voices can come off forced and melodramatic, but the distinct characters the player has at their conversational disposal in Crystal Key 2 is at the very least engaging, if not interesting. Too bad they all seem to filter down to one repeated line, once they’ve told you all they can.
All the rest of the sound is a grab bag of fantasy audio clips #10 through #1589. There’s even times when Crystal Key 2 seems more like a game rip-off of a poorly budgeted sci-fi TV mini-series, with sound effects not syncing up with events, like a door closure or a landing extension. Absolutely none of it is memorable, and what you can’t ignore is simply an impassive audio presence for the scene.
Much like a marathon runner with a broken leg, one working lung and a debilitating facial tick, Crystal Key 2 hobbles forth making the most of itself and what it’s comprised of. If the story were beefed up and the graphical atmosphere and scenery given extraneous bovine steroid shots, this would be a must-have for adventure fans of the point-and-click sect. Unfortunately, this may have been part of a frantic push on Kheops Studio’s part to get some half-cooked games out to retail, Crystal Key 2 included, and get their name in the market. Kheops may want to put a bit more time into overall quality next time – they certainly don’t want to make a name the way they’re going to with this one.