Taking the phrase "space opera" a bit too literally, French developer Cryo has created this science-fiction adventure game based on Richard Wagner's The Ring. And while Wagner's opera seems like a questionable premise for a computer game even as it stands, setting it in the "40th century AD" just seems like a mistake. High-concept is one thing; bad concept is another altogether.
Ring: The Legend of the Nibelungen is an adventure game in the Myst tradition, filled with strange locations and environment-based puzzles. The graphics engine is actually quite good and provides the sort of freedom of view that was the Holy Grail about two years ago when games such as this were still commonplace. While you still can only move along predetermined paths, you can look all around at will from each stopping point, with little degradation in graphic quality.
And while this technical accomplishment is notable, it would be more so were the game better looking. The technical quality of Ring's graphics may be great, but the design itself is uninspired despite the influence of French comic book artist Philippe Druillet, whose distinctive work influenced the look of the game. Characters look bizarre but not very interesting - Alberich the dwarf tyrant looks suspiciously like a cyborg version of a Blue Meanie. For the most part, the environments are bland and colorless.
The confusing story, which takes elements from the source material and mixes them with a paper-thin science-fiction premise, doesn't help matters either. For instance, in the first chapter of the game, you must steal gold from the Rhinemaidens in order to forge the titular ring. This pretty much follows Das Rheingold, the first opera of Wagner's cycle. But in order to steal the gold, you must first drive around in a little mine car that uses a monster for an engine, and find some antigravity cells for your boots.
Further, the lackluster puzzles serve only to drive the final nail into the coffin. The puzzles essentially involve hunting around the screen for hotspots then trying every object in your inventory with every object you can interact with. There's very little rhyme or reason to the logic behind the puzzles and, worse, there's little to no information as to what exactly you are supposed to be doing at any moment. This means progressing through the game becomes a process of blindly stumbling upon some successful string of actions. But to make matters even more frustrating, not only can you die in the game whilst blindly stumbling, but you will undoubtedly do so dozens of times without warning. And dying in Ring doesn't even refer to death in the traditional sense: The only evidence that you've made a fatal mistake are eulogies like "To renounce love, you must have a love to renounce. You have failed." Heavy stuff indeed, but perhaps a bit too severe a punishment for trying to open a door.
Of course, the one great part of Ring is the soundtrack. Performed by the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, the sound quality is good and makes playing the game more bearable. Unfortunately, its presence is sporadic, but welcome nonetheless when it does come in to underscore some moment in the game.
There are many problems with Ring, but the greatest one is that it is so utterly uninviting. A cold world filled with uninteresting, incoherent characters, bad voice acting, puzzles involving little or no logic, and an almost absolute lack of direction all add up to create a world that is unpleasant for all but its musical accompaniment.