Infogrames has already released some very original games in The Vera Cruz Affair and Sydney Affair but both suffered from playability problems. Now comes a game of stunning originality that along with Prohibition looks set to put Infogrames in the forefront of games houses.
Passengers is best described as a joystick-controlled, menu-driven adventure. It's based on a French comic book by Francois Bourgeon, the game continuing where the first volume of the book leaves off. The game is split into ten separate episodes, and each one has to be completed before the next one loads.
The story is set just before the French revolution and centres on two young lovers, Hoel and Isa, and their struggle to regain his lost honour and her usurped title as a countess. All this takes place against the background of the war between France and England and encompasses a wide spread of characters and locations.
At the start of each episode a beautiful scene appears on the screen with two main windows below it. You start by examining the picture for characters. You control a cursor and may have to click on individual characters or just a general area in order to access the character. Once you've done this you won't need to use the cursor on the main picture until the next episode. One important thing to remember is to click several times on the picture to make sure you've found all the characters and objects.
A character will appear in the bottom left corner of the screen, where there was previously a map showing your location. You can cycle through the various characters present at a scene to determine which one you want to do something. To the right of this window is a larger one in which all the text appears.
If you click the cursor on a character it will have one of three effects. They may do nothing, they may perform an action, or they may give you a list of actions to choose from. Each of these will be indicated in the text window. You need persistence, because in some situations a character may take several clicks to do something.
Actions are usually accompanied by a graphic window appearing in the main picture. These are as well drawn and detailed as the original picture and add both atmosphere clarity to the game. Some windows even come in a sequence providing interesting animation. You don't have to refer to the pictures with the cursor any more, but they're great to look at and often explain the storyline better than the text.
During each episode a different tune plays. They're long, varied and add to the atmosphere. It shows the value of good music in this son of game for setting the scene.
The essence of the gameplay is to access the characters in the correct order and choose the right action for them. This inevitably means a good deal of trial and error, but common sense should help you through most sections. This is also where you encounter the one major drawback: the random order in which you can access characters, combined with the less than perfect translation, can leave you confused about what is going on and why. This means you can complete an exchange between characters and only at the end (if then) appreciate what has happened.
In the first episode, you have to rescue Hoel and Saint-Quentin, who are prisoners on an English ship. Isa and an English girl Mary can do this with the help of Mary's boyfriend John, a guard on the ship. If you fail to complete an episode you can restart it without reloading, but the main picture won't clear - images will just keep being overlaid on it.
There's no doubting the stunning originality, tremendous graphics and delightful music, all superbly packaged and presented. However, this new game format still needs work: more interaction and better translation would bring it closer to its potential.
Originality and innovation like this should be rewarded, so although this won't appeal to all players, it's the shape of the future for computer games.
Superb packaging, graphics and music make this a very special game. The translation from French has not suffered as badly as Vera Cruz, but could still do with a little spicing up. If this is the standard of games to come on the CPC, you have a lot of surprises in store. I was most impressed with Passengers and hope there is a sequel around the coast.
Everything is visible.
Complete first episode
P. Superbly detailed and colourful pictures.
P. Excellent use of windows and picture sequences.
P. Long and varied tunes throughout game.
P. A different tune for every episode.
Grab Factor 93%
P. Atmospheric and intriguing presentation.
N. Can be confusing at times.
Staying Power 88%
P. Ten involved episodes to get through.
N. Once completed, like an adventure, you won't play it again.
P. Bursting with originality and innovation.