Monday, 1 October 2018

AMBER: JOURNEYS BEYOND


Haunted houses are ripe settings for computer games. Within its four walls can hold countless tales of vengeful spirits and bloody murder. It's also a perfect location for some Myst style exploration and puzzling and Hue Forest Entertainment's oft-requested AMBER: Journeys Beyond from 1996 does just this.

As an employee of Bio-PSI Technologies, a high-tech paranormal investigation company, your boss has asked you to check on the somewhat wayward Dr Roxanne 'Roxy' Westbridge stationed at a remote haunted house in North Carolina. Roxy is an enthusiastic investigator with some brilliant ideas but is a little too hasty when it comes to testing the wares on herself. And it just so happens that the enthusiastically reckless Roxy has just lost contact with the rest of the company.

So, off you drive on a naturally stormy night to the house in the woods, only for a spirit to cause your car to crash into a nearby lake. Thank goodness you survived! And that you're only a short walk from your destination! You can explore the entire grounds in Myst-style snapshots if you choose but you may want to first head to the house. The emergency lights are on, coating the hallway in an eerie red glow. It's no good examining the ground floor just yet as you can barely make out anything, though I give the game props for allowing you to wander around in the dark anyway. The red light is your destination and will lead you to the mains power switch.

A number of artists lend their work to Roxy's haunted home.
Some of them are freakier than the ghostly goings-on.

The lights may be on but you've still not found Roxy. What you have discovered is a note suggesting she might be in the garage. Being a separate building, it's a short walk from the front door to get there. As you approach, you notice a padlock on the garage's side door. You'll have to find another way in. There's little light when you do finally enter but you can just about manage to see something hanging off the upper floor. Getting closer you'll realise its a limp hand dangling over the side.  It's Roxy. And she appears to be unconscious. Or dead! In actuality, her spirit has been trapped in the ghost realm while testing a new prototype so it's up to you bring her back.

Barring a trio of special sections which I'll get to later, the game tends to play out in much the same way as these first few moments. Advancement is more about discovery and experimentation than puzzling. This makes the game incredibly easy if your observant enough, but it also creates a palpable atmosphere to go along with the already strong story. In fact, it reminds me of something like the modern indie classic Gone Home in both its progression and storytelling technique. It can even get quite emotional at times. If you go into the game with that as a comparison instead of Myst (as it was often compared to at the time), then I doubt you'd be disappointed. For those who want some clever logic puzzles in their adventures will have to go elsewhere.

The BAR (left) lets you listen in on ghostly 'tonal residue' 
while AMBER (right) is a conduit to the spirit realm.

Then again, the Myst comparison isn't entirely inaccurate. As you gather up and calibrate equipment, you'll eventually activate AMBER (Astral Mobility By Electromagnetic Resonance), a headgear device that will send you to the spirit realm of one of the three ghosts that haunt the grounds. Set in the house during the era in which the spirit died, it's in these realms where the Myst comparisons are most obvious. Much like that games 'ages', each realm has its own aesthetic and puzzles - actual, identifiable puzzles. From the traditional sliding puzzle to the always dreaded maze, these sections feel much more 'gamey' than the hub world of the modern day home.

That's not to say there are no good puzzles to be found. In ghost Margaret's 1940s set realm, you need to travel to different rooms via radio, and it's not picking up all of the stations. There's some interesting topiary to manipulate in Brice's bright garden themed realm and you can play with wind and sailboats in little Edwin's winter realm located on an iced-over lake. These are the most involved and difficult puzzles in the game and more than make up for a few uninspired ones that accompany them.

Your handheld PeeK device deciphers audio gathered from the BAR (left),
while you can view activity recorded from cameras placed in each room (right).

You can play through these realms in any order, but before you do, you'll need to get the equipment working. There are several gadgets to collect to assist you, including the BAR (Bulbic Activity Reader) which is placed on doorknobs to discover 'tonal residue'. Whatever the BAR will pick up is transmitted to your PeeK, a mobile data receiver, as audio clips but you'll also see some occasional video evidence broadcast from some speciality CCTV cameras too. Your PeeK will let you know when an event is happening by flashing in your inventory at the bottom of the screen, and some are necessary to complete the game. These paranormal activities are the most spooky and scary in the entire game. It's as if the house knows that you're trying to disturb its undead inhabitants. As you wander around, the nicely implemented sound design of eery creeks or door slamming will make you shudder uneasily, and the occasional spirit will pop up unexpectedly in front of you. These happenings are sadly short-lived as any poltergeist activity will diminish the more you play. As a fan of ghostly tales, I would've liked a bit more.

The scares are not what AMBER: Journeys Beyond is about, though. It's the story. Throughout the game, the plot is expertly told in an interactive, diegetic way with minimal cutscenes that, given the modern indie proclivity towards it, is way ahead of its time. Each of the ghost's backstories will most certainly resonate in some way. Watching Margaret relive a tragic moment almost brought tears to my eyes, especially when you know that it doesn't end well for her. I don't want to give much away, but each of the ghost's fates are just as melancholy.

Each spirit realm is designated with a unique frame and colour 
palatte though some of the more obvious puzzles are found there.

Frank and Susan Wimmer, the husband and wife team behind the game, came up with the concept in a rather bizarre way. As mentioned in the manual, it was during a stay at a notoriously haunted hotel where their minds began whirring. Staying up until 2 A.M. didn't help in finding ghosts, so they told each other their own ghost stories - that of Brice, Margaret and Edwin. It's a nice little backstory that shows the pair's obvious fascination with the paranormal.

It there's one complaint I have, it's in the game's final moments. It ends rather abruptly and the actors who were chosen (whose use are thankfully sparse) are incredibly nonchalant to the events happening around them. It's a strange blip in an otherwise consistently told narrative. It doesn't quite negate what came before it though, and I don't want to go into spoiler territory here. Just know that it's the journey, not the destination that makes this game special.

If you're into spooky adventures, AMBER: Journey's Beyond in a must play. The story is exceptional for the most part with some inventive puzzles standing strong among the brazenly overused ones. It may be short and easy, but it's one hell of a journey.


To download the game, follow the link below. This exclusive installer uses PCem running Windows '95. Press Ctrl-Alt-PgDown to toggle fullscreen. Press Ctrl-End or middle mouse button to release the mouse. Manual included. Tested on Windows 10.

IMPORTANT - Remember to shut down the emulated version of Windows before exiting PCem. This could potentially result in errors, lost saves and corrupt data. Close the program only when it is safe to do so.

File Size: 576 Mb.  Install Size: 942 Mb.  Need help? Consult the Collection Chamber FAQ

Download


AMBER: Journeys Beyond is © Hue Forest Entertainment
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me


Like this? Try These...

http://collectionchamber.blogspot.co.uk/2018/04/john-sauls-blackstone-chronicles.html  http://collectionchamber.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/the-dark-eye.html  http://collectionchamber.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/sweet-home.html

16 comments:

  1. YES! Thank you! I had heard this was a must-play, but the review and screenshots tell me exactly why. I had no idea it could be compared to Gone Home in its atmosphere and gameplay. That must be the main reason for the game's lofty reputation.

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    1. It is very good, though the ghost realms are of a more traditional Myst style. It's more of a game than a walking simulation but how the deeper story is pieced together through environmental notes and books is very much like Gone Home.

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  2. It's more similar to the Jonathan Boakes adventures (Dark Fall, The Lost Crown) just being slightly more trippy. I loved it.

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  3. I remember there was a problem to run this game on any more modern PC...Later on, a sort of install patch emerged which allowed the game to run but if I am not mistaken it was not possible to finish tha game due to bug - you were not able to enter a sort of password into the computer (which you can find in the house). So I am sorry for asking, but is this the version that can be completely finished?

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    1. Hello. Yes, this version can be completed and I did so for the review. It doesn't use that patch, but a Windows emulator called PCEm.

      There was one blip, which didn't really affect gameplay, where an error came up when entering the house towards the end of the game. I just clicked 'Contine' and the game went on without issue or missing content. I couldn't seem to replicate it though so you might not get it.

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    2. Thanks a lot :). GREAT WORK, as always.

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  4. Hello Biffman, first off, thanks for everything you do for the gaming community! I've used quite a few of your packs, and they work great! I saw a while back that you had tried to get Dark Side of the Moon to work but had that magic pink transparency problem. I was wondering if you'd still be willing to share that package? I'd love to tinker with it, I tried to get my own copy working and wasn't having luck even getting it installed and running (unless I'm using Virtualbox, VMWare won't play it right for some reason) So I just wanted to check out what you had working. If you don't want to share it I understand, either way thanks for what you do! (I have the Dark Side of the Moon on CD's & DVD both, so if you don't want to send those files I can use my own, I'm just interested in your emulation files and setup - how you installed it, etc.) Thanks again!!

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    1. Hello, and sorry for late reply (day job took me away).

      I've tried using both DOSBox & PCEm to get it to run and both have issues. DOSBox has that MagicPink issue where that colour isn't transparant like it's supposed to be. It's possible this could affect gameplay much later in the game. PCEm has sound issues. It's possible that it's completable on it but the distortion is so annoying I refused to play very far.

      It you email me (methatyousee@gmail.com) I can reply with some temporary links, though tight space will probably mean you'll have to source the ISOs yourself.

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  5. Just a thanks for the guide/info. I too tried to replay this game using the patch option years back. It worked but once you needed to input that password you were stuck. I haven't got to that point yet as I just got it running. The game came out in 1996 so you have to except that there will be visual/audio issues. Just the fact it is playable and hopefully able to be completed is all that matters. I will post back when I get to playing it with my progress.

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    1. Thanks! I completed this version, and had no issues with the password bit. It's a great game.

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  6. I am pretty far along now and all is good. The audio is the only real issue as it skips/stutters a little. It doesn't make the game unplayable though. I assume it is caused by the emulation of Windows95 and the game playing in that emulated environment. I haven't got the password part yet but as I remember now it is at the end of the game. I made some adjustments to some settings and here they are...

    -In PCem under Sound and then Output Level I changed it to Normal.
    -In the game I clicked my Windows button on keyboard. Then clicked the Volume icon in the taskbar and raised it from 50% "default" to 100%. Hence why I lowered PCem levels to Normal. This may help with distortion if anyone has that issue.
    -In the game I clicked my Windows button on keyboard. Then I clicked Settings and then Control Panel on the start menu. In Control Panel I opened Mouse settings. I clicked on Motion tab and dropped the Pointer Speed down a few clicks. I felt my mouse cursor in the game was moving to fast and this resolved that for me. If it is too slow just raise the speed up.

    Thanks again Biffman 101 for your efforts. It is very cool to play this game again after all these years.

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    1. Also forgot when I first started the game I had a vertical line showing up on the right side of screen. In PCem under Video and then Render Driver I changed it from Auto "default" to Direct3d. That resolved the issue for me.

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    2. There's some good tips there, thanks.

      As you can see from the screenshots, I didn't have the verticle line show up. The sound stutter would be the game not running at 100% speed due to a lower spec machine. You might find the same thing happens with all PCEm releases. Read the info in the FAQ to see if there's anything that can be done there.

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    3. Hey Biffman 101,

      Just wanted to let you know I got through the game to the end. Wanted to thank you again for your work arounds here to make it playable.

      I always remembered this game from back in the 90s it had a creepy vibe for the time. I am sure it is unlikely that it will show up on Steam. I see some people actively asking for it on GOG so maybe it will show up there.

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    4. Thanks. I hope one of them picks it up. It's a classic.

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  7. I'm working on a remake!!!!

    This is such a great game and I want it to be accessible to modern gamers, so I'm working to remake it! Please come join me on this journey! I could really use the support.

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