Author: Eric Eve
Development System: TADS3
Cruelty Rating: Polite
Length Of Play: 2-3 hours
My Rating: 5
Awards: 3rd Place: 12th Interactive Fiction Competition; Best Game, Best Individual NPC: 2006 XYZZY Awards
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.