Community Reviews for Rama by Doom – Adventure Games

One of Sierra’s attempts to monetize the success of Myst was released the same year as Shivers and Lighthouse, but also with the Arthur C. Clarke name, which was unusual for that company. Well technically speaking it was made by Dynamix but it has “Sierra” written all over it and very much belongs to their latest SCI engine, pre-rendered graphics mixed with FMV and an interface that takes up half the space of the screen. Similar to many revival science fiction writers of this era, Clarke didn’t shy away from helping with development, as did his partner Gentry Lee, who is even credited as a designer.

Although I’m not their biggest fan, Rama’s universe seemed to really fit the adventure format. The story might seem a little confusing to those unfamiliar with the novels (like me), but there are plenty of clues left to figure it out. Basically, there’s this huge spaceship turned planet, inhabited by three different races, and we’re part of a space expedition sent to explore it. Everything else is for us to find out. Clarke himself constantly pops up whenever we do something wrong and die horribly to lecture us on some important stuff, which is a nice touch.

Rama is a solid adventure, certainly inspired by Myst, but with a better presentation. First of all, the story isn’t told via countless notes and books, but through video messages, conversations with aliens and fellow researchers sneaking in, and that’s definitely how I prefer it – I had nightmares about those volumes of handwritten text from Cyan’s games! Here you never feel alone, there is even some serious drama waiting for you towards the end. Most of the actors do their best, and the way they are integrated into the game world is near perfect: the FMV characters interact with the CGI environment as they naturally would.

The planet is quite large, made up of three smaller areas to explore (named after the capital cities of Earth although they have nothing in common with or between them), although I’ll admit it doesn’t doesn’t appeal to you as much as Myst or Riven, it just lacks something more that made these games feel like living, breathing worlds, even without a lot of interactivity.

In Rama, all areas seem much less empty and rich in activity. A small avatar we carry in our pocket (based on William Shakespeare’s Puck) functions as a substitute for a “look” cursor and sometimes gives hints. There are a lot of challenges, and from the start it’s obvious that the game was created by someone with a good knowledge of science and math. A large majority of puzzles are dedicated to learning foreign cultures, alphabets, number systems, customs which are always fun. Inventory puzzles are also presented – in fact so much so that very quickly our inventory is filled with both useful items and red herrings. And since we can’t get rid of it, in the end, finding a necessary item in our inventory turns into a challenge in itself.

Maze-like hallways connect some areas, but they’re easy to navigate. The areas themselves – not so much, as with most other slideshow adventures. I constantly felt lost, turning and jumping from one corner of the map to another, trying to find the right path. I wish they had just waited a year and ported Rama to the motor with 360º pan used in the more advanced Shivers II. It would have also allowed to refine the gameplay.

He is often described by some as “one of the toughest of his kind”. Personally, I didn’t need a walkthrough, but had to replay multiple levels due to some weird design choices. It’s like Sierra felt the game was short, so the last part was artificially extended with a long timed streak. And it wouldn’t be so bad if the timer worked properly. Instead it followed its own logic, I barely had time to explore and figure it all out, even when I knew what to do! And when I finally got to the last puzzle, the timer told me I still had an hour and a half to play with. Go figure.

But certainly a lot of effort has gone into creating Rama. It’s beautiful, atmospheric, with varied gameplay and lots of polished details often missing from similar games. Too bad we never saw a sequel that was promised during the end credits, but we haven’t seen Sierra much since 1999. Rama stands out as a monument to when real science fiction still existed and the famous authors were not just selling their names, but were integral to the adventure-making process. No other genre has seen so many living legends working as game developers, and ever will.

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Time played: 10-20 hours
Difficulty: Hard

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