The Ward combines elements of other adventure games, such as LucasArts' The Dig and Inscape's Drowned God, the movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and a hodgepodge of UFO-related conspiracy theories. It begins slowly but in a promising manner, then shoots itself in the foot soon after by resorting to nearly every pitfall of adventure game design. It's a disheartening turn of events because the story, as it develops, deserves better than to be upstaged by a bunch of slider puzzles.
At the beginning of The Ward, a series of strange events has left two members of a three-man moon mission dead. The survivor, David Walker, awakes in a strange laboratory, with a security necklace around his neck and the corpses of humans and aliens surrounding him. As he wanders the halls, he realizes that this is not the result of a battle between the two species, but of a rebellion that is still raging within the base. He meets some aliens, the ubiquitous grays, and learns that he is the Ward, a legendary hero.
He is sent to a human colony, and things pick up again after the game stumbles around the hackneyed "legendary hero" plot point. At the colony, Walker learns that abducted humans are actually kept by the aliens, and those humans who seem to return are actually drones implanted with false memories. Walker must find a means of saving the humans and helping the grays with their rebellion against their wicked rulers, the reptoids.
That's a good deal of plot, and much of it is interesting. The game has three distinct sections. The first takes place in the alien base, where you must do your best to make sense of the alien technology and the battle that rages around you. There are some nice moments in the first segment, but it also features some incredibly difficult puzzles. One, involving some colored plates that must be placed in a particular order, is so difficult that the game will just tell you how to do it if you're stuck for too long. It's not bad for adventure games to include hints, but it would be better if the designers of The Ward had found some way to work them into the reality of the game. A second puzzle--requiring you to program a biological container to smuggle an artifact in your own body--is equally hard, and yet there's not a clue to be found in that case.
Once you reach the human colony, the difficulty eases up. Most of your time in the colony is spent walking around, talking to the inhabitants. Actually, most of your time in the colony is spent just walking around. The inhabitants move around a lot. So, you must seek out key people, then get them to talk to you. Most will only talk to you in specific locations, so once you get their attention you must walk again, this time to whatever predetermined locale they feel safe in. It wouldn't be so bad if the colony didn't have so many rooms. Worse still, Walker lives up to his name. There's no way to run, and so you must wait for his slow-as-molasses gait to carry him from one side of the screen to the next.
At the colony, you'll learn about the previously mentioned abductions, as well as some history about the aliens, their technology, and, to a lesser degree, the story of the Ward. There doesn't seem to be much of a story behind the Ward, other than that he's legendary. Even so, the rest of the story in the game is generally intriguing, particularly the bit about the drones and the memory replacement. Unfortunately, these ideas are presented as a series of brightly colored sentences told to you matter-of-factly while you're standing around in bland rooms. As such, it's hard not to imagine a better game, telling the same exact story from a different perspective. The one-dimensional characters themselves don't add much to the ambiance of The Ward, as they have an emotional range that seems to be stuck somewhere between sarcastic and hostile.
The colony isn't all dialogue. There are a few puzzles, some of which are good. Unfortunately, the majority of them are slider puzzles. Apparently, the advanced technology of a race called the masters (the precursors to the grays and reptoids) didn't include any means of securing cabinets. There are several slider puzzles, and what's worse is that there's no way you can solve them without a key--a picture diagramming what the final outcome should look like. The keys can be less than helpful, and they are often creative interpretations of the final picture. There's also a very restrictive time limit on some of the puzzles, which makes them even more frustrating.
The Ward has some good ideas. It has some good puzzles and some interesting points in its story. But these moments only punctuate a very bland game. There are no voice-overs and the graphics are dated. If the story unfolded in a more exciting manner, these problems would be less obvious. But as it is, The Ward is like sitting at a boring party, listening to charmless people drone on and on about fantastic, faraway places.