If what you're looking for in an adventure game is plenty of challenging puzzles, you'll be in high heaven with Rama.
If what you're looking for in an adventure game is plenty of challenging puzzles, you'll be in high heaven with Rama. It's not without its problems and idiosyncrasies, however, and if you enjoy a little character interaction woven into your puzzle-solving forays you're likely to be left a little cold by the non-interactive video clips used for conversation.
Inspired by the series of books of the same name by Arthur C. Clarke and Gentry Lee (most of the characters in this game are taken from Rama II), Rama casts you as an astronaut sent to replace a recently deceased member of a team of astronauts exploring a huge, cylindrical spacecraft of unknown origin that's recently arrived in our solar system. While you're naturally excited about exploring this alien wonder, keep in mind the reason you've been chosen for the journey: Unlike some adventure games, in Rama you can die during your explorations. Luckily, the dangers are relatively few and far between, and if you do meet an untimely end you're at least told why.
A veritable avalanche of vidmail awaits you on Rama, and you quickly learn that each of your fellow astronauts has his or her own agenda. Unfortunately, you never truly interact with any of these characters; you either read vidmails or listen to them talk without the ability to question them or even respond. On the plus side, the acting is uniformly good, and the video is extremely well integrated into the rendered locales. After thoroughly scouring the team's two camps for objects and heading to the tent camp, you're told to start exploring on your own - and that's where the game really kicks in.
You play from a first-person perspective, using "stepped" movement a la Myst instead of smooth scrolling. A goodly portion of the puzzles - especially in the first part of the game - are based on various mathematical systems (Base Two, Base Three, Base 16, etc.) or pattern recognition. To open doors you need to find symbol plaques, which are scattered all over Rama, and finding them all is almost as challenging as solving the puzzles. Some are tucked away in places where they're easily overlooked the first time around, and many of the plaques you'll pick up aren't needed (there's no way to drop them once you find that out, either). The math puzzles are a bit trickier until you realize what number system you're dealing with, and that you can just whip out your trusty Windows 95 calculator and do the hexadecimal and octadecimal problems with no fuss or muss. Fortunately, there's a good number of situational and object-based puzzles to solve that are equally challenging, so things don't get too esoteric.
A simple interface makes it easy to jump headlong into the exploration of the massive Raman ship, but after a few hours of play you'll notice a few rough spots around the edges. The graphic shell which surrounds the main game display takes up nearly 40% of the screen, and for no practical reason; the only features accessible from the shell are a scrolling inventory screen (more on that later), "Raman Eyes" for examining an inventory item (just as easily accomplished with a right mouse-click on the item), and an Options button (saving games, adjusting volume and brightness, etc.). Rama only runs in 640x480, so if your Windows resolution is 800x600 the main game display is even smaller.
This game screams for a separate inventory screen, which would allow the main game display to be larger, and more importantly would let you see all (or at least most) of your inventory objects at one time instead of just eight. That would be a big help, because you pick up a lot of stuff as you explore the spaceship, and would eliminate a lot of scrolling the inventory list in search of a particular item. A separate inventory screen would also make it easier to organize objects into groups (panels, plaques, keys, etc.).
Instead of a Look command, you rely on a holographic guide named Puck for information on the Raman ship, and even though his comments are of little help you'll still use him a lot. Because Puck is stored in your inventory rather than being accessible by, say, a mouse-click on the main game display, you'll often have to scroll to find him - an unnecessary bit of work to perform such a common action.
Another annoyance is the lack of separate volume controls for music and speech; sometimes during video clips it's hard to hear what a character's telling you. It usually doesn't matter - most characters just show up and hand you something anyway - but it's still frustrating.
But these problems are far outweighed by the sheer amount of gameplay here. While I was a little disappointed by the lack of interaction with the characters in the game, most adventurers will be so engrossed in solving the puzzles that they won't miss it one bit. With its high production values and fidelity to the Rama books, this is an excellent choice for both adventure gamers and Arthur C. Clarke fans.