SummaryThe ultimate logic adventure
The GoodThe logic of this game is brilliant, from the puzzles themselves (some logical in the most direct manner, i.e. mathematical), to the way those puzzles relate to each other (some puzzles, for instance, are derived from reasonable assumptions about the physical forms of extraterrestrial life), to the very fact that these challenges of the mind exist (the setting, Rama, is an enormous abandoned space environment with an automated maintenance system).
For most of the puzzles, the player can expect a direct pay-off--unlocking a door, activating an ancient and mysterious machine, escaping injury or death at the hands of an automatic repair system--but the setting provides an underlying motivation to every puzzle and action the player takes: discovery.
More than any other game, of any genre, Rama manages to motivate the player, move its own modest plot and keep things interesting by simply providing a fascinating setting. In this regard, Rama's pre-rendered graphics are key. Even more than a decade after its release, Rama's graphics still live up to its concept of a vast hollowed-out cylinder containing mountains, oceans, rivers, clouds, even storms, rotating smoothly as it glides through space. The various machines, systems, robots, buildings and structures that dot the landscape look strange and enigmatic, but practical to some alien design. Aside from the fact that the horizon folds around you, the environment of Rama feels very natural, with lush, earthly greens, blues and browns.
If I seem to be dwelling on the non-game aspects of this adventure, it is because they are so striking. The gameplay involves a variety of logical puzzles, including but not limited to: math puzzles, code-breaking/translation puzzles, some (very few) timing puzzles, and a handful of item-manipulation puzzles. The interface is slim, clean and austere, but provides many useful and unobtrusive features like an automatic map, communicator, a sort of space-age Swiss Army knife and a doll-sized android that can be consulted or used in puzzles.
The BadVery little. The acting is cheesy, but pretty unimportant. Non-adventure gamers will find nothing to enjoy about this game and will likely not make it off the initial landing platform. Rama is *very* hard, often assuming the player has general skills and knowledge not covered in most high school careers. Even adventure game enthusiasts may have trouble adjusting to Rama's overall approach--that is, letting the player figure it out, instead of leading the player with clues delivered by character or plot developments. On that matter, the plot is very weak and the player is usually expected to motivate their self through the adventure. Many puzzles end up being frustrating due to their difficulty (which cannot be held against the game), but some puzzles are frustrating because their require excruciatingly close examination--many of the item based puzzles require the player to hunt through pixels to find items or the inevitable "slots" to place them.
I've had trouble running this game on post-95 Windows systems. The most-stable arrangement I've gotten to work for this game is windowed with no sound--and even that setup frequently reverts to a negative-image color-scheme. I've heard accounts of flawless operation in newer systems, so if you find this game somewhere, buy it anyway, you might not have any trouble.
The Bottom LineRama stands out within several categories.
The point-and-click 3D adventure genre--like most any prototypical genre--suffered from extreme over-saturation following the break-out hit status of Myst. If Rama is any indication, "over-saturation" doesn't necessarily mean the market was glutted with bad games. With its logical, detailed and finely crafted puzzles, Rama's puzzles challenge the mind in ways that make sense, if they don't always summon the most sensational and action-packed gameplay or plot developments. Rama is a true game of exploration--the triumphs of the player come from discovery, not conquest or drama.
Rama is also an adaptation of a novel--Rendezvous With Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke, who appears in the game periodically as a sort of tour-guide/low-grade thought-provoker. As an adaptation, Rama captures the spirit of the novel (especially visually, with grand cylindrical vistas and the awe-inspiring "sunrise"), but changes many vital elements, resulting in a less-than-accurate adaptation, but a better game. Thankfully, any elements from the rest of the series of novels are omitted, leaving Rama's plot and setting clean and universal.
Rama is a mixed pre-rendered/FMV game and fares well in comparison to many contemporaries. The acting, while hammy (especially Puck, your micro-android assistant), serves its function well enough. In a more character- and plot-oriented game, I'd be more inclined to criticize the acting, but in Rama the setting itself is the only character that matters. And that character is rendered perfectly.