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 unfinished business in video games, you brave the treacherous polar ice-cap that mirrors father's journey, only for a brief spell of unconsciousness to get you 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 that's supposed to be the 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 rather than the many Myst clones. Morpheus, like Myst, does this extremely well but has the added bonus of an excellent story that's not at all representative of its opening. 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 decks, 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 gives you a great 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 not 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. Keep a notepad handy folks, solving the puzzles will most likely be figured out there rather than in the game world itself. 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.
It's in this department where Morpheus differentiates itself from its peers - the implementation of the puzzles. Not a single one feels out of lace within the game world nor are they there for the express purpose to pad out the game. 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. For example, Leo Galte is a boxer so it makes sense that his weight would be important to him. Finding out how much he weighs is another matter (and requires a little mathematical knowledge).
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 on the ship. 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.
File Size: 1.45 Gb. Install Size: 1.86 Gb. Need help? Consult the Collection Chamber FAQ
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