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Rama

I have often wondered what our first meeting with Extra Terrestrial`s would be like. Would they come out of nowhere and blast everything in sight like in Independence Day? Would it be because one of them got Arthur C. Clark with Alien left behind as in ET? Would they come in peace or would they try and take over? I don't know - but I'm sure of one thing it will not be what we are expecting. And we will probably have a lot more questions after the first meeting then we ever had before.

Another scenario is that a giant cylindrical space ship will come rushing into our solar system from somewhere else. This particular scenario was first described by Arthur C. Clarke in his novel Rama way back in 1973. In the book a group of astronauts flew out to the space ship, which they named Rama. The story of Rama is the tale of those astronauts as they try to answer the questions posed by Rama. Where has it come from? Where is going? What is its purpose? And where are the Ramans? What do they want? And so on.

The basic plot of the game, Rama, is as far as I can remember, similar to the second book in the series. You take the part of a astronaut who is Examining a body replacing one of the original team members who died in an accident. Your task is to explore Rama and learn everything you can. I must admit that it has been a long time since I read the book, but as far as I can remember the game is pretty faithful to the book. A number of the incidents which occur in the book also occur in the game. The basic layout of Rama is the same and so on. And like the book, I had more questions at the end of the game than I did at the beginning. Lets hope I don't have to wait 16 years for the sequel. (In case you are wondering that was the time between the first two books in the Rama series.)

The game is played in the first person, that is the display is always shown from your point of view. You never actually see your character. This works OK but it does look weird when you are given something. Arthur C. Clark When someone hands you something they hold it out to you and it just sort of vanishes into thin air.

All the objects that you collect are shown in the inventory window at the bottom right of the screen. At the start of the game you collect a number of items, including a wrist computer and a small robot called Puck. The wrist computer is used to give you messages from the other astronauts. It also contains a maps of Rama. There are two types of map, one of the Central Plains and one of the particular building you are in. The appropriate one is displayed automatically. The Central Plains map shows the whole of the Central Plains and is constantly up dated. The other map however, is only updated as you explore the building. That is it shows you where you have been. This is very useful and I found I was referring to it frequently.

Puck is also very useful since he can give you some information about various objects. This is sometimes limited to such observations as "I think it is a games machine" A Great View or "That door is locked and I can't see any locking mechanism", but often he will give you some useful information.

The bottom left of screen shows three round objects, the Raman Eyes. When you pick up an object if you move it over these eyes you will get a close up view of the object. You will also be able to rotate the object, something that is well worth doing.

Between the Raman eyes and the inventory window is a compass. The compass shows you which directions you can go in. I found this to be very useful since at times you can go up or down as well as left, right forward etc.

As you move the cursor around the screen the cursor will change shape. Most of the time it is an arrow which shows you which direction you can move in. At other times it will change into a hand. This indicates that you do something with the object under the cursor. If it is a grasping hand then you can pick up the object, or push it, or pull it and so on. At other times you will be shown a pointing hand. This means that you can push a button on the object. If you are holding an object then the cursor will look like the object. If you move the object over something that object can be used on then the cursor will display a red outline.

One thing that you cannot do is talk to other people. At times they will talk to you but you never say anything to them. I found this to be strange since I kept wanting to ask the others things. I was also amazed at the laid back attitude of the other astronauts. For example I spent ages getting into one place, which no one else had managed to get into and while I was exploring it another astronaut appeared. The other astronaut gave me some information and then left. But was This looks interesting anything said about how clever I was to get into the building when everyone else had failed? Was it Heck :-) Basically the other characters were just there to tell you things. They had very little to do with the actual story. However, that is not a problem since the object of the game is to explore Rama, not to talk to the other characters.

The puzzles are... well... interesting is probably the best word. There are the usual "what do I do with this object?" and "how do open this thing?" type problems. These are all pretty logical, although there was one which used a different logic to me :-). The majority of puzzles, however can be compared to an IQ test. For example most of the buildings you can enter are locked. The locking mechanism is controlled by a 3 by 3 array of cards or plaques. Each of these plaques has a pattern on it and to open the door you must find and insert the correct ones into the empty places in the array. This is actually easier than it sounds, since there are only ever one or two missing plaques. The real problem is finding the correct plaque rather than working out the pattern.

There are however some problems which I suspect most people will find very difficult. On, or rather in, Rama, there are at least two alien species. These creatures use a different numbering system to us Humans. One lot use base 8, octal, the others use base 16, hexadecimal. At various points in the game you will need to use these numbering systems. Most of the time this just means that you need to work out A robot doing smething what symbol equals what number. Not difficult since the Ramans have left a number of teaching aids about just for you. However, there are times when you will need to do some simple arithmetic, adding and subtraction, in both octal and hexadecimal. Unless you understand these numbering systems this is not very easy and I suspect that a lot of people will have a great deal of difficulty with it. However, all is not lost. A number of scientific calculators, including the one that comes free with Windows, can do both octal and hexadecimal sums, and the use of such a calculator makes solving such puzzles much easier. One of the tools you have in the game is a wrist computer, it's a pity they didn't add a simple calculator function to this. It would have made solving these puzzles much less complicated.

All in all the puzzles are good mixture of easy and hard. In addition they are all logical and fit in well with the game. In fact they are just the sort of problems that you might find in such a spaceship.

The graphics are excellent. The scenery is just as I have imagined it and is quite spectacular, especially standing at the base camp and looking down the length of Rama. The buildings, aliens and biots (biological robots) and extremely well done. They all look different, especially the Octospiders, and there is no problem in working out what is what. The other astronauts are all digitised and so look very realistic. [Actually I tend to think of them, incorrectly I admit, as being Full Motion Video characters, which I think explains the idea better. However the term is wrong in this context so I'll stick to digitised :-)]

The sound is terrible. Ok, that's not strictly true. The music is very good. The background noises are also very good. The sounds the biots make are realistic and so on. The trouble is that for some strange reason on my machine when anyone talks the sound is usually repeated. Basically it sounds like there is an echo. This is rather annoying but A Spider Bot the characters can be heard and understood. The strange thing is that if the talking is via a message on the wrist computer, replaying the message will usually result in the sound being fine. Weird. It also appears to be a problem with my machine since I have not heard of anyone else having similar problems.

The manual is the usual small booklet bunged into the CD case. This manual, however, is better than most and it does have a fair amount of information in it. But as usual there is very little on fixing problems other than the usual phone numbers and e-mail addresses. There is, as is common with Sierra games, a pretty good read.me file on the CD but nothing in the manual to tell you it is there. Now I admit that during the installation process you are given the option to read it but what if the installation process go wrong?

I have to admit that I liked Rama, the puzzles were logical, interesting and different from the usual ones with a good range from easy to hard. The story line was sufficiently strong to keep me interested through out and similar enough to the original book that I did not keep thinking "that's wrong". In fact the only thing I can find wrong with the game is the sound problem I was having. If it was not for that problem I would have rated Rama higher, but even with that problem I still think it rates a 7/10.