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SummaryThe Great Work
The GoodThe circumstances surrounding the abduction of Jack Lorski and Karen Gijman are still unclear. What is known is that Jack and Karen were investigating 1970s era 8mm film footage connected to the murder of Karen's father and its apparent connection to a recent string of homicides throughout Europe. The kidnapper (or kidnappers) has sent an encoded CD-ROM and a forty second video showing Karen being pursued down a darkened corridor. Clearly, the clues needed to find Jack and Karen are on that CD-ROM, but so far it has defied the experts. That CD-ROM is being made available to the public; it is hoped that someone out there can help.
If you can buy in to that story and enjoy searching on the Internet—especially hunting for hard to find information, then get this game now. Reading any more would be a disservice.
Before you can start playing Missing, you have to create a user name using an active e-mail address and then use the password e-mailed to you to login to the CD-ROM. This may seem cumbersome, but Missing is as much an online (and e-mail) game as it is a conventional computer game. Missing begins with a few directives: the SKL Network (Jack's employer) advises you to read up about the case on their web site: www.skl-network.com, The Phoenix (the captor/s) also has a web site he'd like you to check out: www.xineph.com/0016, and there are some e-mails from other people working on the CD-ROM.
While that's happening online, there are a few simple puzzles to solve offline, interspersed with clips from the 8mm film Jack found and the documentary he was working on at the time of his disappearance. However, things quickly change.
The CD-ROM is structured according to the 36 astrological decans grouped under the four basic elements. As you move through the Phoenix's puzzles, you advance from being a rank initiate to an acolyte, gaining his admiration if nothing else. Combining Medieval History with Hermetic Alchemy, Missing feels like a digital Umberto Eco novel.
There are two basic puzzle types: ones solved solely using the CD-ROM and ones solved using the Internet with the CD-ROM. Ones using the CD-ROM can either be dexterity tests: like guiding a razor blade through a palpitating bladder, logical tests: like unscrambling words, or audiovisual tests: like putting sections of a film in the correct order.
Ones using the Internet can be quite devious. There are straightforward ones to be sure, like finding a word hidden on a web site and then typing it into a field on the CD-ROM, but other ones can be very challenging. For instance, one puzzle has you develop pictures taken on a Greek Island. After than you have to identify the island—I searched for "Greek Island" and described the landmarks I saw. Then I had to type the name of the island into a field on the CD-ROM—the ancient Greek name. And that was an easy one.
In addition to the regular old info out there on the Internet, over 400 web sites were created for this game. A murdered girl in England has a blog that's up, a mention on her school site, and an inactive forum where people discussed her disappearance. There's an innocuous yachting site that ties in with this insidious affair, a blog run by an Italian journalist, detailed info on Hermes Trismigestus, and a world more. In fact, I found sites that could either have been created for the game or could be real information—hell, I wouldn't be surprised if I triggered Echalon or nudged Cthulhu a few times.
Expect to spend a lot of time on the Internet; my typical game session started with me logging in to my ISP, opening Google, opening Safe-mail, and then starting the game—with lots of Alt-Tabbing to ensue. I ended the game with over sixty e-mails in my inbox. Obviously the game is reporting your progress, because you receive hints about the puzzles as you hit them (and even the answer on some, if you are stuck for too long). Some e-mails give you links to download film and audio analyzers to dissect some of the 8mm footage, while other ones fill in story points. One of the team members is a graduate researcher who sends information about the historical figures and events The Phoenix refers too.
All of this would be diverting, but the stunning film work makes it believable. The "documentary" filmed by Jack, is really filmed in at least six countries across Europe. The film pieces, which combined add up to a solid forty-five minute film, would be riveting enough just following Jack and Karen's examinations of international crime scenes, interviews with witnesses, and beautiful surroundings—but having to watch closely for clues and seeing The Phoenix's own film work, puts Missing over the top.
The BadThis game is great… now. I can still play Zork on my computer (but not Quake, damn XP!), but how will this game play out in years to come? Can we trust that the Internet sites will still be up? Will the e-mail server still be running? I loved the interactivity, the feeling of research, the hunt, but won't tying the game into the Internet limit the lifespan of this game?
Because the Internet is the Internet. If you conduct successful searches for this game, you'll find the sites you need to hit and a plethora of walkthroughs for this game—while the fourth wall constantly breaks, those walkthroughs are the game's safeguard.
If there's one area of the game that could have used tweaking, it's the e-mail portion. I started off by using my AOL address. After a half-hour of waiting, nothing happened so I used a nonAOL account (skipping the game's recommended Hotmail) and set up a dedicated address for the game. Two days later, AOL finally kicked in, but I was well into the game at that point.
My e-mails came at relevant points in the game, but other reviewers cite problems with their messages. If there's one weird thing, it's that you can't reply to e-mails. As far as getting help, it would have been nice to send an e-mail to one of the team members with the name of the puzzle in the subject instead of waiting for help. Finally, the end portion plays out through e-mail. This makes sense for the story, but relegating the player to observer status is never good.
The Bottom LineMissing is a fresh, rewarding experience for what is surely a niche group of gamers—those willing to hunt down arcane information, instead of blasting away at computer controlled enemies. Original and enjoyable, I highly recommend this game.
>>As I'm writing this, I just received another sinister e-mail, weeks after completing the game. Expect a sequel.