Depending on which camp you belong to, Reah is either a captivating adventure with devilishly difficult puzzles set in a mysterious and beautiful world, or it's an unabashed Myst clone with a tissue-thin story, throwaway characters, and insanely difficult puzzles (for the record, I adhere to the latter opinion - though you've probably already surmised that from the score at the top of this review).
You play as a reporter who's been sent to the planet Reah to learn more about a military base whose purpose has been kept secret. After all the other members of the press get fed up and head back home, you're told by the base commander that the base was created to explore an ancient artifact, a portal that leads to an alternate reality. A scientific colony manned by volunteers has been set up in the alternate reality to do research, and you're invited to visit it and have a look-see, but the portal collapses as soon as you arrive, leaving you stranded in a very strange land indeed. To get back to your own reality, you have to do what you'd least expect: solve a seemingly endless parade of puzzles until you learn the awful secret of Reah. And if you manage to make it to the end of this tedious affair, you'll know just how awful it really is. The "climax" of Myst was wonderfully rewarding compared with the pathetic toss-off that awaits the puzzle fan who has the fortitude to slog through to the end of this game.
Reah publisher Project 2 Interactive says there are over 100 puzzles in Reah, and I'll take their word for it. Sound puzzles, pattern recognition, logic problems, gears, and machines - about the only type of puzzle you won't find here is a sliding puzzle (which strangely enough I happen to be really good at!). How difficult are the puzzles here? Well, here's a clue: Project 2 has a complete walk-through for the game on its web site. That's right - not just hints or solutions to some of the more challenging problems, but a full-blown, A-to-Z walk-through. And if you're thinking about playing the game, you might as well get it before you start: Without it, precious few players will make any headway to speak of. Granted, there's always some sort of clue as to what you're supposed to do - but most of the time they're the kind that make you say "Come on, give me a &@#! break!" instead of "Oh, now I get it."
Early in the game, you'll meet a ghostly "guide" who pops up from time to time, a hooded figure who looks like Tony Iommi from Black Sabbath but sounds like Boris Karloff speaking into a reverse reverb unit. Although he hints at some evil he paid for with his life at the hands of the townspeople, don't get your hopes up that Reah will veer off into a suspenseful tale of the supernatural: The only reason this guy is here is to serve as justification for many of the puzzles you've got to solve. Hmm... an "alternate reality" and a "ghostly guide" - do you think developer L/K Avalon might have borrowed some concepts from Myst and The 7th Guest? If there's a lazier way to "integrate" puzzles into a gameworld, I sure don't want to see it.
One thing Reah offers that you won't find in Myst is some people to talk to, but the dubbed dialogue (apparently from Polish to English) is so poorly written (or translated) that it's almost painful to hear. The Iommi-Karloff guy is bad enough, but your own character gives him a run for his money: He sounds like a second-rate pitchman and has a disgusting habit of making thinly veiled passes at the women he meets.
Still, there are lots of folks who won't notice any of this because they'll be in seventh heaven over the sheer number of puzzles that have been thrown into this game. If that sounds like you, then Reah just might be the game to curl up with for a couple of months - but don't come yelling at me when you get to the finale.