What would you do is your explorer father disappeared on an arctic expedition 30 years ago? Well, if you're the nameless hero of Soap Bubble Productions' 1998 adventure game Morpheus, a content and normal life is not an option. Time for a life-threatening adventure!
All that's left of your father is a cryptic note mentioning the Herculania, the lost luxury ship he was travelling on during the roaring 20s. Because no one can have unresolved unfinished business in video games, you brave the treacherous polar ice-caps for years on a journey that mirrors your father's, but it's only after a brief spell of unconsciousness do you get to where you're going - the Herculania.
If the introduction sounds a bit trite, that's because it is. Motivations are thrown out of the window for the sake of a silent hero in an attempt to become an avatar for the player. Most first-person adventures take this stance, but few do it successfully. It is perhaps why I've always preferred the LucasArts school of adventuring over than the many similar-looking Myst clones. Morpheus, like Myst, is a shining example of this type of adventure done well. So well, in fact, that my concerns with the opening all but disappear the moment the first story event is triggered. A ghostly apparition depicts a man silently hanging himself on the deck, setting you up for the intriguingly spooky adventure ahead. The further you get into the game, the more the world sucks you in with a surprisingly deep mystery that mixes up the whodunit with nightmarish dreamscapes and decopunk horror.
After 30 years, the Herculania has seemingly been abandoned in the arctic yet still remains functional. With the exception of a few ghostly apparitions haunting the hallways and the hull, everywhere is eerily quiet. Much like The 7th Guest, small, seemingly innocuous vignettes interrupt you as you explore the ship, each transition is seamlessly animated explaining away the three jam-packed CDs used for the game. At every junction, a 360-degree panorama can be manipulated which also adds to the tangible sense of presence. Hold down the right mouse button to look around, but you will need steady mouse control as it's all too easy to send the camera spinning around in a dizzying chaos. The left button interacts with the scenery. There's no inventory at all, with just single-use keys and similar items automatically taking over the cursor icon until it has been used. Other decals will offer up some important clues when examined. The excellent and detailed graphics do invite you to take a closer look but only important features can be zoomed in. A good thing too as the nature of the puzzles leaves little room for red herrings. Keep a notepad handy folks, 'cos solving the puzzles will most likely be figured out there rather than in the game world itself.
It's in the puzzles where Morpheus differentiates itself from its peers - specifically how they are integrated. Not a single one feels out of place within the game world nor are they there for the express purpose to pad out the game's run time. That's not to say it's an easy game - it's not - but the way they're implemented isn't often used in a game of this type. You'll have to take logical leaps that draw from real-world experiences and at times it will even ask you to think about the personality of the ghosts you encounter. For example, you cannot enter the bedrooms of each ghost without a 3-digit code. These numbers are personal to each guest. Take Leo Galte the famous boxer. Given his vocation, it makes sense that his weight would be important to him and any time game he's mentioned - however directlry - hints at this. Finding out how much he weighs is another matter (and requires a little mathematical knowledge) but it is just one example of how it tests your digital sleuthing skills.
Along with Leo, there are five other guests of note. Belle Swan the dancer and her wheelchair-bound step-daughter Claire Moon, the rather prudish Grace Thermon, Billy Mexler the con man and Dr. John Malherbe, a noted Herbalist. Each are connected in rather surprising ways, but to tell them here would ruin the rather good mystery that unfolds. What I will say is that the Captain of the Herculania and his super-intelligent adoptive son, Jan, hold many secrets. In fact, Jan is the catalyst for everything that happens onboard. As you investigate further, you'll notice this is no ordinary ship, but one powered by strange futuristic technology, including a machine that allows you to live out your dreams. You can even visit the twisted dreamscapes of several of the guests. Impressively, these dark detours not only line up to their personalities as you will know them but also add significant clues to piecing together the over-arching storyline. It will become ever more apparent that the journey you are on is no longer about your father.
Morpheus is a masterpiece of interactive storytelling. Every puzzle, poster, and point of interaction are all in service of this. It's presented in a fascinating non-linear fashion that will keep you guessing right up until the end. Besides the odd control niggles and a less than great opening, I find it hard to criticise anything else about the game. Even my predilection towards the inventory-heavy third-person point-n-clickers hasn't hindered my enjoyment of it one bit. It's taken me almost 20 years to play this gem, and I would rank it amongst the likes of Obsidian and Myst as one of the best games of its type. A hidden masterpiece.
UPDATE. A remake is being worked on by the son of the original developer. Check out his progress here.
To download the game, follow the link below. This exclusive installer uses the DOSBox Daum build of DOSBox 0.74 running Windows '95. Manual included. Tested on Windows 10.
IMPORTANT - Remember to shut down the emulated version of Windows before exiting DOSBox. This could potentially result in errors, lost saves and corrupt data. Press Ctrl-F9 when it is safe to do so.
Morpheus is © Soap Bubble Productions
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me