Written by  :  Riemann80 (18928)
Written on  :  Oct 01, 2010
Rating  :  2 Stars2 Stars2 Stars2 Stars2 Stars

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A serious disappointment after all these years

The Good

As far as I know, the troubled development of Simon 3D went like this: Headfirst (back then still named Adventure Soft) initially began with Simon 3 right after Simon 2 (1995). But then they came up with "The Feeble Files" and halted Simon 3 to produce this game. After "The Feeble Files" was published, the work on Simon 3 resumed, which was back then still a classic 2D adventure which would make use of prerendered graphics like The Feeble Files". But 2D was out back in the late nineties, and they did not find a publisher for the game. But there was some general interest towards adventures in 3D at the time, and Headfirst decided to write an entire new third Simon game in 3D, which of course happened to be Simon 3D. Ironically, when this game was finished in 2000, they could not find a publisher for it either. Then, by a time when it seemed that the game would stay unreleased for good, a publisher (Vivendi) was found and Simon 3D hit shelves in early 2002, almost seven years after Simon 2. So, why do I tell all this? Because I wanted to play this came ever since I finished Simon 2 in late 1995 and when I played the game after all these years, it was one of my most disappointing experiences as a gamer.

The story begins not too long after Simon 2. Sordid, who now possesses Simon's body, returns from Simon's world. He and his servant have more evil plans to come as they are going to hunt a being called "Ancient One". Sordid leaves Simon's body to occupy a new mechanical one Runt constructed for him. Somehow, Calypso manages to get hold of Simon's body and reunites his soul with it by performing a ritual at a temple. This is also the place where the actual game begins. The temple serves as tutorial to to learn the controls of the game.

The game itself has many flaws in almost any aspect, but there is quite a huge amount of challenging yet entertaining puzzles. As I often read that games tend to be quite short nowadays, it can be said Simon 3D is really a long and complex game. Even without several flaws, which stretch the time needed to solve the game artificially, it takes quite a while to reach the end. Though the humour misses the tone of the first two games, there is still plenty of laughing.

The Bad

Well, where to begin? Let us first start with the less essential, the graphics. To be honest : Simon 3D is just downright ugly. I am retro gamer now just as I was in 2002, when I played the game. I can still look at graphics from 1980s games and appreciate them, though I know the time where they were uptodate is long gone, but Simon 3D just makes me wince every time I look at it. The game is actually from 2000, but even then you could hardly call it eye candy. The characters and the environment are just blocky, everything's created with a really low amount of polygons. Hands are cubes, fields of corn are large cuboids with yellow-brown texture, and so forth. The characters are clumsily animated and do not have different facial expressions, apart from Simon. Faces are carved very primitively or are just a textures on a basic geometric object.

The music of the game is not bad, but just an overall forgettable orchestral score. Although the first two games didn't stand out for me on the musical side, let alone be on par with LucasArts classics, they at least had some nice, mildly catchy melodies. I can't complain about the sound effects however, and the voice acting is absolutely brilliant (note: I played the German version and cannot tell about the original English dub).

The first aspect where the game really falls flat is the controls. The scheme for moving around is basically okay, but moving around in close quarters or near walls is a pain due to the buggy and ill-programmed camera. Furthermore, Simon tends to get stuck everywhere and often stops when you even slightly hit something while running. And you will have to run a lot, since the areas are huge and the spots where you can do something are far in between. As to movement, there are some teleporters and later in the game, you can call bird which can carry you to certain points. The problem with this is that you often still have some way to go from the nearest point you can reach via teleporter/ bird, and the time you save is eaten up by the unskipable animations you are shown when you use either method. And as if this was not enough, the game suffers from really atrocious loading periods. Although my computer exceeded the requirements in each point by far and although I installed the whole game on hard drive, there were still minutelong loadings whenever you entered a new area. Handling the inventory and and objects is very long-winded and irritates the player further. It takes to much actions to select an item and another object to use it on, especially within the inventory. To extend the annoyance, Simon also makes snarky remarks whenever you make a wrong action, and they cannot be turned off or skipped, so you have to listen to many lengthy comments over and over again. This really grinds your nerves when you do not have a clue what to do next and want to try out a bit.

After all these years of waiting, I was really excited how the game would pick up the excellent cliffhanger from the last game and continue the story, but unfortunately, Simon 3D falls downright flat in terms of narration. After the intro and the tutorial chapter, Simon is just left with the task of getting to the city of Poliganis to meet Calypso. Then you spent a huge part of the game to find a way to cross a chasm, which separates you from Poliganis, by running around a vast open area and solving puzzles at hotspots and talking to people totally unrelated to each other or your task. The plot does not evolve / continue while you are dealing with the chasm problem, there are no cut-scenes or things happening at other places, which often conveys the impression that there is no actually story, only tasks (and there's not much plot to speak of after you reach Poliganis, either). Okay, the first Simon game also consisted mainly of wandering around and trying to solve puzzles at point A with objects picked up at point be, but at least it wasn't so spoiled with the flaws mentioned above, the technical problems and oversized, lifeless areas. And here's another problem of the game: Everything is just so lifeless and devoid of atmosphere. The areas are vast and empty, with just a few characters to interact with around (and most of them are not even occupied with something like in the old games). Mostly it's just hills and fields and houses. Even the city of Poliganis is mostly empty, there is one lone driver connected to a puzzle and two or three people you cannot even talk to around. Atmosphere is an important aspect of an adventure game, but sadly, Simon 3D fails at it the same way it collapses in adequately continuing the brilliant second game.

What's more or less left is the humour. Here Simon 3D catches up to its predecessors, at least partially, but there are some issues as well: Yes, Simon is a teenager in puberty, a loudmouth and a bugger, but in this game he's way over the top. While he was always quick with sneering, Simon now really does not stop until he has utterly ridiculed and insulted every single person he talks to. This has got a tendency to get tedious after a while and also makes him quite unsympathetic as character. Also, the jokes have gotten much more dark and especially vulgar since the previous games. I don't say that I'm offended by this, but it really feels mismatched, unexpected and out of place.

While must of the traditional puzzles are fine or at least okay, the game unfortunately contains unsuccessful attempts to make use of the 3D environment. The highly promoted new possibilities of 3D boil down to a bunch of action-adventure-like test of dexterity. For example, Simon must steal a key from a sheriff who is sleeping in his office. He can just go to the key and take it, but navigate on a very narrow path through many piles of trash. If he touches anything, it will yield noise, the sheriff will wake up and Simon has to do the whole thing all over again. Getting through this is a real pain due to the bad controls, and overall this has nothing to do with adventure puzzles. And these passages are not the only superfluous thing you cannot avoid: There is also a ton of mini games implemented. While I enjoyed most of the mini games in, for example, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, these soon got on my nerves. Some of them are quite difficult to get through, especially when you're not used to any sort of action game, then they're additionally messed up by the flawed controls, you cannot skip any of them and furthermore, most of them just aren't enjoyable. They are rather just even more misguided attempts in introducing new features.

The Bottom Line

I cannot deny the impression that the whole game was made up while programming the engine. It's just so fitting to assume that the puzzles and location where created on the fly and then poorly sewn together with a lackluster "story". Through in a bunch of action sequences to test your new engine, and voilĂ ! I really longed to play this game through years and wanted to like it, and I could have looked over quite an amount of flaws, but Headfirst, I must say, have messed up too many essential aspects of an adventure game.