You still shouldn't drink the water...
Ok critical game-playing masses, think way back into days of misty yore. Back to the mid 80's and the lovable little Atari games that populated those material times (not to mention the Commodore 64, ColecoVision, Apple II, the original IBM PC, and the Sega Master System). If you can, think back on one little unfortunately-named platform-puzzle game called Montezuma's Revenge.
Remember it? Probably not unless you are over the age of 22 and are to be commended for being a long running computer geek
It was a little more intelligent than usual platformer, and the objective was to go around, solve puzzles, acrobat past obstacles, make some harrowing jumps, and beat up a few Mayan-ish miscreants. This is the sequel, and it's in 3D.
In Montezuma's Return (the sequel) you play MAX MONTEZUMA! who's plane has crashed in some tropical hot spot an is flung into a mysterious cursed Aztec temple. You control MAX MONTEZUMA! from a 1st person perspective through deepening levels of the temple, walking around, solving puzzles, acerbating past obstacles, making some harrowing jumps and other tricky maneuvers, and beating up a few Mayan-ish miscreants (shame on them).
But in brief, how in the hell do you categorize a game like this? It can only be described as the first-ever-PC-1st-person-platform-game. The game has you performing all of the sorts of tasks that you might expect of Mario 3D, but in 1st-person. Yeah, yeah, that doesn't sound like so much on paper but the fact is, you wont find anything else like this on the PC. The closest thing I can think of are the first-person segments of Shadows of the Empire.
The environments in the game are an exercise in artistic conservatism. All the rooms are very sparsely decorated, almost bland at times, giving a very surreal feel to the game. The levels and the rooms are created so that the only architecture is there for either the purpose of a puzzle, a jumping or climbing feat, or just a neat way to get through an anteroom. You wont find much scenery here.
This is not a real Mayan temple of any sort, it almost in some ways, a modern art piece, SOHO! SOHO! However, the graphics in the game in no way fail to please the eye. Using Utopia's proprietary Uvision rendering engine, the textures on the walls are extremely detailed, the environments are unusual and sometimes very surprising. The character animation is fluid, and there are a lot of those nifty colored lighting effects that just make your eyes dance the can-can on the part of your brain that tells your mouth to hang open, your lungs to exhale, and your tongue and lips to maneuver in such a fashion as to utter a half whispered "woah, cool."
In short, you need to have a 3Dfx for this one. Even on my AMD K6-2 3D 300mhz, the non-accelerated version stuttered madly. The 3Dfx executable, on the other hand, ran at close to 60 FPS at all times. I'd recommend at least a P166 with a Voodoo or Voodoo2 card.
Also on the subject of graphics, when you boot up the game it may well surprise you to be confronted with a low rez vga menu that looks like it was ripped out of the old Montezuma's Revenge. Well, yes campers that does mean that this game is infested with retro! We've got retro to the days of Atari: all text, not just the menus, are funky low rez. The soundtrack is also reminiscent Atari. And we've also got retro back to the days of those quirky 1950's serials that produced such characters as The Phantom and other overblown melodramatic jungle adventurers.
Montezuma himself is the ultimate gung-ho adventurer with a big grin on his forehead and plenty of power in his trusty knuckles and mighty foot. Which brings us to combat.
Enemies are sparingly dropped into the game and from time to time you do actually have to fight them, and of course there's the ubiquitous Boss at the end of each level. Note: The enemies in this game are very, very wacky. Your only weapons are punching and kicking (you never get any real weapons) so combat tends to be "run at enemy, kick enemy, jump away before enemy can bash your head in, repeat until enemy shrivels up and disappears." This isn't all that bad but after the first few encounters it does start to get a bit dull.
Fortunately not all of the bosses must be kicked to death. Killing some of them is more puzzle-like. For instance, the lavalord hurls lava grenades at you which you have to punch back in his direction with the right timing so they will explode in his face before he can punch them away.
The other main flaw with the game besides the lackluster combat is the occasional frustration level. You start each level with 3 lives and if you loose a life you warp back to the beginning of the room you were in. The problem is that there is no save game feature and a lot of the puzzles and jumping tasks can be very tricky. All to often you find yourself trekking all the way back through a level just to try and fail yet again to cross that one troublesome lava pit.
This gets harder when you factor in that control is not quite precise, you slide just a bit after you remove you finger from the key, again, like Shadows of the Empire. Also, because you can select any level to play right from the beginning, the only thing that could make you play the game in order is the graduated difficulty of the levels. It does make the game feel more unusual but on the whole it takes away from the feeling of accomplishment that comes with beating a tough level that you really had to conquer in order to proceed.
Also, since there is no multi-player of any kind, replay value is limited and you could finish all the game's 10 levels in about 24 hours. However, the game does ship with the old Montezuma's Revenge on the CD which adds to the play time if you don't mind stone-age graphics.
Slight annoyances aside this is one of the more original and refreshing games to grace the PC in a long time. It's a very well made game that really opens up a new possibility of what types of games can be made nowadays in snazzy 3D. At this point we can only sit, play, and wait for the inexorable rush of the rabid clones. Tune in next time.