Istvan Pely has become something of a minor celebrity in the gaming world. He is currently the lead artist for Bethesda's biggest titles most notably Fallout and The Elder Scrolls. Before he came to that envious position, he designed a trilogy of loosely related adventure games. The first was Majestic: Part 1 - Alien Encounter, a first-person space adventure released in 1995.
Despite Myst being an obvious inspiration (like many adventures of the time), Majestic still managed to stand apart with some fascinating mechanics and an intriguing story. The SS Majestic is a luxury space cruiser that disappeared on its first voyage many years ago. The search had long since been abandoned when a signal identified as the vessel was intercepted. It is up to you to investigate.
The story is not told directly in the game. Cutscenes are little more than ships flying through space, but as you explore the ship passenger logs will fill in the gaps in a fascinating way. There's only one direct conversation in the game, which is just as obtuse as the rest of the game but don't confuse that with a lack of depth. There's a lot that can be read into the ship's past that's not exactly spelt out but I find this style a lot more rewarding.
You don't explore the ship directly, but by piloting one of four 'Nodes', drone-like vehicles that are remotely controlled. You can switch between the four at will, and all will have their role to play by the game's end, but I do think the concept is a little underused. You cannot access a room if an active Node is occupying it, which gives you an early sign that you won't need two of them to solve puzzles. The puzzles are not really puzzles either. Other than exploring the many well-designed rooms, the only other brain-teasers are riddles. Some are quite cryptic, with no other clues found within the game so if you suck at them, you're done.
There are a few moments where you'll need to write down some information to be punched into a computer terminal at a later time, but most of the difficulty comes from identifying which info is important. There are a lot of red herrings and unnecessary rooms that do more for the atmosphere and story than the game. I don't necessarily think this is a bad thing. The game is pretty short and easy so any extra content that I find interesting is welcome.
Navigation is a bit of a pain, though. You don't travel in the same way as every other first-person adventure game with arrows on the screen, but by hotspots that are often unintuitive. There are times where you'd have to enter another room entirely to turn around just to see the wall behind you. Thankfully, transitions between points are fully animated which gives you enough of a bearing that I never felt lost. Turn those off in the options menu though, and you'll really struggle.
The communicator's AI is not needed to complete the game, but you'll want
its sassiness with you (left). Phase Viewing an alien in all its glory (right)
Your Nodes have three modes in which you can interact with the environment. Torch Mode allows you to use a blow torch either as a cutting tool or as a weapon. Link Mode has you connecting to computers to read any e-mails are download any programs (basically 'Use'). You'll be using this mode the most. Lastly, there's the Scan Mode which acts more like the traditional 'look' function. It's needed a couple of times to find hidden computer panels and the like, but it is nice to get a description of things every now and then.
You'll also be able to download a couple of programs as you progress. These all relate to the inter-dimensional aliens that are exploring the ship from another plane at the same time as you. There's a Communication Link to chat to some sassy AI guy that will provide help on alien activity, a Translation program so you can eavesdrop on conversations and understand what they're saying and a Phase Viewer which allows you to peek into the alien's dimension like the voyeur you are. Again, these programs are also underused in the gameplay department. There are no interdimensional brain-teasers (though you do get to alter the other dimension to catch them later on) and anything the AI or the aliens say isn't all that important, though it is often interesting.
Majestic is a game that's all about the story and its presentation of it. Everything within the game serves that first and foremost. Whether it was because of budgetary concerns, lack of time or limited experience in game design, any interesting game mechanics are fleshed out enough to make them interesting in their own right. Without the story, Majestic could've easily been a dud. With puzzles that live up to its potential, it would be a minor masterpiece. As it is, it's an above-average adventure that will keep you pleasantly entertained for an afternoon - more than enough for me to seek out Istvan Pely's other works.
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. Tested on Windows 10.
19.04.2020 Version 2 - Updated DOSBox to 0.74.3
File Size: 196 Mb. Install Size: 289 Mb. Need help? Consult the Collection Chamber FAQ
Majestic: Part 1 - Alien Encounter is © Istvan Pely
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me