With an exciting opening of spaceships attacking a planet, as a young boy named Milo watches only to be dragged away by his Grandma to escape underground before total destruction. Chronomaster (1995, DreamForge Intertainment) sure grabbed my attention.
DreamForge Intertainment enlisted a great pedigree of talent to create this classic point-and-click adventure, the most prominent of which was the Hugo award-winning author Roger Zelazny. Perhaps best known for The Immortal, Damnation Alley and the Chronicles of Amber, the prolific fantasy scribe sadly passed during Chronomaster's production period. It came to fellow author and partner Jane Lindskold (The Firekeeper Saga) and some key developers to fill his lofty shoes and complete the game. In addition to these prestigious writers, a number of distinguished actors lent their voices. Brent Spinner (Star Trek: The Next Generation's Data) has a key role and Ron Pearlman of Hellboy and Sons of Anarchy fame (among many others) plays the protagonist Rene Korda. The quality of the artists and storytellers involved really help to raise the overall quality compared to many other titles on the market at the time.
Author Roger Zelazny died during production, leaving his partner Jane Lindskold to complete it.
She also writes a touching bio of the celebrated writer.
Rene Korda is a renowned former creator of Pocket Universes. This esteemed vocation is something like a garden designer meets open-world game developer but on a much grander scale. We join him fifty years after the tragic events of the opening cinematic just when he has been called out of retirement by the old Terran Government with a mystery to solve. Two private Pocket Universes no longer function, their time stopped to a frozen standstill locking away all of the secrets held within. Each universe has its own secret key in order to take back control, one that only the creators know of.
Out of intrigue more than anything, you agree to take on the job. Your first port of call, naturally, would be the eccentric creators of these universes. It would be a pretty short game if they gave you anything more than some vague diatribes wrapped around riddles. It won't be long before you've literally bottled up some time so you can move around the paused landscapes and solve the mystery of these mini-worlds. Another useful piece of tech to aid you is the Resonance Tracer, a handy gadget that points you in the general direction of the keys. With these in hand, you and your cheeky female AI/ship/PDA companion named Jester set course to the Pocket Universe of Urbs to save the day.
Your ship acts as a main menu hub, providing details of the locations (left) and the world itself (right).
This game throws information at you fast and it has no time to repeat itself, so make sure your listening. I arrived in the first location - a sombre yet lush memorial park - not sure what exactly I was supposed to do. The only clue I had was something about a statue being in the way, yet it wouldn’t budge. The inventory only confused me more. Never have I seen a more convoluted pack of icons. You have your standard verbs; use, walk, look and talk all represented with graphical icons smooshed in the top left of a drop-down menu along with a link to the options menu and quick save. To the right of this, in the middle of the panel, any items held in your pack are displayed.
Also found here are a few tools unique to this game. You'll find time gauge, bottles of time, your AI companion, a locator and a tracker as well as a useful screwdriver that's also a hammer and a force rod. Eventually, by trial and error, I decided to talk to the statue. Not the totally obvious thing to do, but then this isn't exactly an obvious world we're inhabiting. Then again, I might have clicked sooner had the head not been chopped off from the image. Anyway, he soon set my head straight (or as straight as it could be in such a predicament) and put in the right direction; back to my ship.
You'll spend a lot of time in your ship's cockpit. All long-distance communications are done here as well as a hefty encyclopedia to look up those strange futuristic terms the script likes to throw at you. There's also a ship's which has lots of interesting information and backstory. Perhaps by virtue of being written by a best-selling author, these pieces are a joy to read giving a greater understanding of the strange world I had entered.
A logic puzzle needs to be completed in order to obtain the key to each pocket universe.
These are the most typical puzzles in the entire game.
The next location, a built-up city also on Urbs, proves just how varied the sights are. I casually looked around the graphically impressive area, picking up items when I came across a bomb and died. In fairness, this death was fairly well signposted, complete with sound effects and music cues. I’m not a fan of dying in adventure games, but this felt as fair as it could be. I'll just have to be less casual going forward.
The first real puzzle was to procure a general insignia inconvenienced by a laser. Basically, at the start of the area, you pick up a rag and crowbar. In the room with the insignia, there is some polish and a crate. Therefore you open the crate with the crowbar, take the dirty shield from inside, put the polish on the cloth, use it on the shield then use the shiny shield on the laser to get the badge. Considering how strange the gameworld was at presenting itself thus far, I was quite pleased with how logical this inventory-based puzzle was.
These are the kind of puzzles that really make an adventure game; logical with a rewarding feeling when you put everything together. In fact, this whole first military-themed planet was really enjoyable with a great setting. It gave me ample chance to learn the actions available to you without being overly frustrating. All the while, an increasingly more interesting story was taking place. I was really getting into the game and I was able to overlook a lot of the shortcomings, such as a slightly annoying menu system and an over-use of FMV sequences. I mean, do I really need to see my character walk over a gantry every time I go that way? These scenes may be skippable, but they often have important story beats that you don’t want to miss.
Don't forget about your all-purpose sonic screwdriver known as the Universal Tool for copyright purposes (left). You'll also have vials of bottled time needed for some puzzles (right).
Unfortunately, my enjoyment of the game dropped dramatically when exploring the second Pocket Universe named Aurens. All of the bad tropes of the genre came rushing out of the bag including moon logic puzzles. All of a sudden, using a magic wand on a spider web and sticking them to your shoes allows you to walk on the walls! In addition, deaths started coming thick and fast. Walk into some water? Dead. Give the Jinn the wrong fruit? Dead. Walk on the wrong spot? Crushed... and also dead. These aren’t signposted like before and I had to get into the habit of saving regularly to avoid losing my progress. I could have suffered through these if the quality of the story remained high, but sadly this dropped as well.
When playing, I did wonder if the passing of the author had something to do with the change in quality here. The development team did take over but still followed Zelazny’s plot. One could argue that the person who commissioned this universe deliberately chose the obtuse fantasy setting (it is supposed to reflect the personality and interests of its owner after all), but my waning interest only made the flaws I was once happy to look over light up like beacons.As this point, I began to notice how dated the game looked. This is twenty-five years ago, so some concessions should be made (and it was considered one hell of a looker back then), but the early pre-rendered CGI looks rubbery by today's standards. When you get a facial close-up, the faces look plastic with seemingly no attempt at lip-syncing. I preferred the hand-drawn pixel art of the era, which Chronomaster also uses in its video calls to great effect but I guess we have to concede that time is simply not kind.
You'll occasionally encounter some consequence-driven choices.
Be sure to save often as some may eventually lead to a grisly death.
By the time I visited Reubens, the third Pocket Universe, things did improve again. It is within this casino world where you'll uncover twists in the story, but it’s poorly implemented in my opinion, lacking any shock value by being piled under a huge FMV of exposition. This should have been built up, goodness knows the game is long enough to allow for it.
Later on, the game takes more thematic left-turns. Universes are populated with unicorns, pixies and animated talking magnets. It started feeling more like Toonstruck than a gritty sci-fi mystery which the early moments hinted at. I was so disappointed with where this game went. There are great spots such as the opening, the overall premise and the voice acting but the story goes off the rails with no tension during supposedly dramatic beats. Puzzle logic varies between highly enjoyable and terribly convoluted and tedious, deaths are harsh and unsignalled and the pre-rendered graphics are ugly and dated. Chronomaster is a game that looked like it may have cult status, but just delivered a couple of universes worth of disappointment.
As of 1st December 2021, Chronomaster is now available to buy on GOG.
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Chronimaster is © IntraCorp & DreamForge Intertainment
Review by HeroOfAvalon
Cover Design and Installer created by me