In Psygnosis' adaptation of the film The City of Lost Children you play Miette, a young orphan girl forced to prowl the crusty and desolate streets of Paris in a dystopic near-future where children are stolen by a mad scientist and made to play bad film adaptations for the PlayStation. OK, not really. But it's tough to imagine a fate worse for tomorrow's children than to be struck powerless in the midst of as many tedious and arbitrary puzzles as this.
The gameplay is of the Myst meets Alone in the Dark, 3-D, third-person adventure variety. Walk around. Slowly. Click on stuff. See if anything happens. It usually doesn't, though each futile effort is rewarded with the irritating comment, "I can't do anything," from Miette. The end result is that you get to stand in every possible spot in the city, hoping that useful items will appear in your "useful item" window so that you can seek out the right place to be while holding the correct item when you push the action button. Immersive? No.
Control of Miette is awkward at best. Rotation is slippery and inaccurate, causing you to run into countless snags when you're simply trying to walk down the street. In addition, each time you run into another barrel, box, or other meaningless impediment to progress, Miette lets out a whine, and control is temporarily suspended while she pauses with a two-second animation of her dismay. Now that's entertainment.
The game's puzzles are arbitrary and not particularly intuitive. Trade the marbles for a sleeping potion? Go figure. Put a bone in a cash register to short out the security system on a safe? Come on. The lack of deduction required by the game encourages the kind of random gameplay that can only be described as frustrating. Solutions to puzzles rarely yield a sense of accomplishment since more often then not they are solved through happenstance, not reasoning. It would be an extreme feat of good fortune to complete this game without a walk-through, as its puzzles are just so counterintuitive.
Compounding this problem are the graphics. They are stunning. They are gorgeous. Beautiful, dark backgrounds set an eerie, foreboding mood for Miette's (pointless, irritating) solitary wanderings. Unfortunately, they only impede gameplay. Crazy, Dr. Caligari-esque camera angles often make navigating Miette through the third dimension all but impossible. How much will you cherish the pregnant gloom of a cybergothic sky? Little, when it means you can't find the stupid bag of marbles. Many of the most important inventory items are completely invisible until you are literally standing on top of them - in fact, some never appear on screen at all, except in your useful item pop-up window. Why design a game that requires players to spend 20 minutes of their lives standing on boxes by a pier in the glorious, gloomy night, looking for an invisible metal pipe?
The music, like the background graphics, is stunning, haunting, and perfectly suited to the ominous vibe of the game's sad future. Unfortunately, the remainder of the sound in the game is dominated by the protagonist's incessant whining.
Players do not want to control helpless, whining characters. While they may not need to assume the identity of a hyper-macho Duke Nukem who dishes out enough fireworks to, uh... start a fireworks store. They want to go out with a blaze of glory, not a whimper of self-doubt.