In 1993 FMV was the future of gaming. Back then any attempt at a cut scene was jaw-dropping but to include actual actors was something else. The problem was that a video stream didn't allow for much in the way of interaction so way before the decade was up the fad died with a reputation as bad as a Pauly Shore movie. Critical Path, according to PC Gamer, was not just one of the worst of its genre but the 9th worst PC Game of all time! Is that dubious honour really justified?
This early attempt at FMV was developed by Mechadeus whose only other credit of note is The Daedalus Encounter (reviewed here). Like their mega-budget follow up, Critical Path aims to emulate the bombastic action of the Hollywood blockbuster. It's set in the near future where the world is still reeling from the aftermath of WWIII. As part of a team of mercenaries, you head towards a warehouse on a remote island with the aim of rooting out a despot in hiding. Your helicopter suffers a malfunction and is forced to land, while your companion aircraft is shot down, killing the pilot and leaving a lone mercenary named Kat to fend for herself. Nearby, you find a half-broken control deck that can remotely operate the entire facility. This is perfectly placed for you to help Kat escape enemy territory and bring an important engine part from the helicopter that was not destroyed in the crash.
It's estimated the production had about one million dollars to work with and it appears to have all gone on lazy CGI. With only around 30 minutes of footage (less if you don't die at every opportunity), anything that isn't an actor is created entirely in the computer. Bear in mind this was the same year as Jurassic Park. Computer graphics were expensive back then. Even so, there's not much bang for your buck (unless you count the many literal bangs). With such a short amount of footage, you get an incredibly short game. There are only about 10 points of interaction which would be bad enough had this been a narrative-driven choose-your-own-adventure style of game but it's not. It plays somewhere between a puzzle adventure and a Dragon's Lair style timed action game. Add in some Night Trap and the mind-set of Chuck Norris and you get the idea. The game presents each of the puzzles at specific times in the movie. Because time waits for no man (you can't pause), you have a limited amount of time to figure out which of the many buttons will solve the riddle. If you fail, expect some deadly consequences.
One of the first riddles to come your way requires you to remotely activate a machine gun turret. You do this by entering a three-digit code in the detonator. The code can be found written on a nearby notepad conveniently left by the absent-minded villain. You know this because you used it a little earlier to blow up the locked entrance to the tunnel. Hidden in his manic scribblings is the code to activate the guns (as well as other explosives). There's pages upon pages of his ramblings all written as if he has no understanding of the existence of capital letters. Once you've found the code, you simply punch it in. But there's a strict time frame in which to do this that's not entirely obvious. I attempted this several times and failed because of the timing leading me to question if I even had the correct code. Even now I'm not entirely sure when to fire. Other puzzles require just as much trial and error even if it's just to figure out which button does what. Here's a clue: most do nothing at all.
I quite like the concept of Critical Path, but not the execution. It would be far more enjoyable if you could screw around a bit more, have more time to decipher what's going on and perhaps have the riddles be more taxing and varied. Alas, the strict confines of FMV used here lets the game down. Video is an immovable, un-malleable format that, in the wrong developer's hands, simply does not sit well with the free-form nature of interactive gameplay. It can make for a quite the passive experience - a death blow for such an interactive medium. Mechadeus learned a lot for their next game, but evidently not enough to keep the company - and the sub-genre - around for much longer.
For the incredibly short time it takes to complete, you won't be wasting much of yours if you're curious enough to give it a try. It's a product of it's time that's aged very badly but I wouldn't put it in the top 10 worst games of all time like PC Gamer did a few years ago. It was an impressive curio for 1993 that was a showcase for how fast technology was improving. Now it's just a curio. A relic from a time when pixelated moving images that took up a quarter of the screen and a 'mature' warning on the box was enough to get you excited for a game.
To download the game, follow the link below. This custom installer exclusive to The Collection Chamber uses DOSBox running Microsoft Windows 3.1 to get the game working on modern systems. Manual included (thanks to christianknight). Tested on Windows 10.
File Size: 184 Mb. Install Size: 277 Mb. Need help? Consult the Collection Chamber FAQ
Critical Path is © MechadeusReview, Cover Design and Installer created by me