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Written by  :  Queen of Hell (67)
Written on  :  Mar 06, 2019
Platform  :  Amiga
Rating  :  4.5 Stars4.5 Stars4.5 Stars4.5 Stars4.5 Stars

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This game made me finally learn German.

The Good

Hexuma is a type of game I have not played before, to be honest. It occupies middle ground between the text-only adventures and the graphic adventures. In this game the entire interaction is provided by the means of a command prompt, and tons of information are presented to you through the walls of text flowing on the screen when you do something, just like in the classic text adventures, yet at the same time there is always a still picture of your surroundings or important characters to support that wall of text. That was truly unique experience for me, because while I had beaten a lot of adventure games in my day, perhaps ninety nine per cent of them were graphic.

And that's exactly what I liked about it - I belong to that group of people, who believes that words are way more powerful than the images, but I am in no means opposed to an occasional illustration or two that would support the authors' vision of the world they have created, allowing me to visualise in my head what's going on while I read, turning the words into a movie, but with the most important aspects based off of the crucial ideas the creators saw as the cornerstones of their worlds, characters and so on. Of course that would only work if the authors had anything to deal with the art supporting their texts, and while in the books it is usually never the case, in Hexuma it was done fairly well, with so few differences between the text and the images that I can barely remember them. So for me, the pictures while being just mere still images were just the right amount of the illustration. If they would have added animations to them, I would have wanted the entire game to be a graphic adventure, maybe still with a command prompt like early King’s Quest games, but still a fully animated one. If they would have put the pictures just here and there, occasionally displaying them, I would have wanted them gone completely in favour of a pure text adventure, allowing my fantasy to draw it all out the way I see fit.

Now for the other things that I had found likeable about Hexuma. If we have started with the visuals, let’s move to the audio next. The game lacks any sound effects, but it has several tunes of music, playing on eternal repeat. There’s one for the loading screen, and one for each of the six levels, making it seven in total. I can’t really say that they were superb, but some of them were surely catchy enough and matched the general theme of the level. I, personally, think that the music for the Oceania and Ice Age levels was the best in the entire game, and it would have been great if the tunes were a bit longer.

Next would be the parser. German is nowhere my native language, so it was really nice that the parser was designed to understand even very broken grammar and trigger the actions the player wants from it. German language has four cases, three genders and two numbers for every noun, and every combination of that demands a specific article, not mentioning other very strict grammar rules, so if the parser would have been made to accept only properly formulated speech, it would have been a special form of nightmare for someone who’s just learning the language. Eventually I’ve started using the proper forms as my command of the language improved, but I was really glad that the game was able to tolerate someone talking like an idiot.

Handling wise, the game was also very nice and tolerant. Just like the description says, you can summon a window that will have all the most used commands presented as the icons; you can click on any word on the screen to bring it down to the command prompt; you can click on the picture if there’s something that can be triggered on it; you can just do plain old typing that I abused the most, because for me it was the fastest way. The built-in screen keyboard would be an exercise in diligence – imagine beating the game while summoning it all the time to click single letter with your mouse every time to make words! But it came very useful for the first few hours until I had memorized where is which letter and symbol on the German keyboard layout and found corresponding ones on the English one.

Of course, there’s also the plot. The story was quite well-written and it did follow the classic prologue – main story chapters – epilogue scheme. Harald Evers put a lot of effort into writing it, and it shows, because I have noticed a lot of work on the lore of that world, and there were cross-references within different levels sometimes, and as the game progressed and you were getting closer and closer to solving the mystery, you could start to suspect that the point of view on things that you had been presented with may be not entirely accurate after all...

Oh, one more thing - the game is not holding your hand at all, so it will let you do stupid things, get stuck or die in the result, and make you pay for it with the time since your last save or from the start of the level you would have to spend to get back to the point of no return. Often it won't even warn you that you have to run like the wind, for example. That's a rare thing these days, modern games usually prevent you from something like that.

The Bad

Naturally, there were things that I did not like, but compared to the long list of what I did enjoy, there’s just a few of those. First of all, I’d like to mention several bugs that I’ve run into. I don’t know whether they had always been there, or it’s a result of the game being converted from DOS apparently, but there’s a certain chain of commands that leads to one of your items no longer being usable on the island level, and that is quite crucial item, so the game breaks. Good job I am an old-school gamer and I’m used to make a million of saves, not reliant on quick saves and auto saves (which are entirely absent in Hexuma, by way). Perhaps I was just more thorough in sniffing every rock I could than the creators, so the bug was never reproduced by the testers, and won’t be by the most players, so it could be just my bad luck. Among other bugs I consider obtaining things that you would never find a use for later, and believe me – I have tried my damndest, even giving out idiotic commands non-stop, like “attach the scarf to the water”. I was also able to take along a compartment (!) once, but it did not break the game, just cluttering my inventory instead. On the very first level you can read a certain sheet of paper before actually obtaining it, allowing yourself to bypass half of the level, but it seems to break the game and you’ll have to replay it from start.

Music. It sounds weird after I had put it into the likes section, but two tunes were too much for me - too tense or boring, namely the song that plays during the first level in the haunted mansion, and the one on the final level, where you do spend a lot of time. I sometimes even switched the music off there.

A minor thing would be typos made in the words and commands. For someone who was just learning German, those were quite hard to hunt down. One of the commands on that pull-up window gets put into the command prompt with a typo, so I spent a few hours trying to figure out why it won’t work until I saw the difference between what’s written on the screen when I hover the mouse over the icon, and what actually gets prompted.

Another thing would be a personal opinion – I often find in any kind of adventure or RPG games that the character’s logic or actions are forced to be not what I would have done in the same situation, but I do understand that when you create a game or a book, you can’t cater to the taste of every human on the planet, so it’s a minor thing, and I just enjoyed the story after all. What was more annoying that some of the puzzles required knowing things about life in German-speaking world, or usage of deeply dialect words to advance, but again, the game was marketed for German speaking audiences, so it is not really for me to complain about that. I wonder what should I have done to get the final twelve points?

Finally, and deeply personal, I found the ending quite weak. I wager it turned out to be what it is because Harald Evers wanted the game to better tie in with the sequel that was already planned, and I would have asked him about that, but, alas, he’s already dead. I can’t really say what happens without going into spoilers, but let’s call it “any lack of choice on your part”. If you want to see the endgame screen, you just have to do what you are told, whether you like it or not. Shame, really.

The Bottom Line

All-in-all, I believe that Hexuma is a quite solid adventure. It is nowhere as difficult as it is written in other reviews, and I’ve managed to score ten points more than in the most complete solution. When I’ve run into it, I had some basic understanding of German, so I was able to understand what was written on the screenshots, and saw that there are jokes and the language is not stale. So I’ve decided to give it a try, maybe use it like I’ve used Morrowind once to improve my language skills, and it ended up with helping me raise my German level to a solid B2, and I had some quality fun on those rare evenings when I had some free time to run it.

If you are not afraid of the text walls, if you are not a person who believes that without photo-realistic graphics a game is not a game, and if you have a reasonable command of German or just try to find a new way to improve your skills, then do not hesitate and find this game. I also would recommend Amiga version over the DOS one, because somehow the music in Amiga turned out to be way better – I was considering running the DOS version first, but the very first level music had my ears bleed, so the question was closed now and then.