Odyssey’s scientific adventure is incredibly well-educated, but still has a bit to learn itself
In early December of last year, I was given the opportunity to preview the game Odyssey, a first-person puzzle/adventure inspired by games such as Myst. While similar to many games in this genre, Odyssey came with a unique twist – an educational agenda. Rather than featuring puzzles solely as a way for which players to progress through the game, Odyssey sought to teach its players as they played. I remember being relatively impressed with what I played – after all, making quality “edutainment” can be a pretty difficult task – and wondering how the game would turn out when finished. And lo and behold, I was given a chance to find out for myself! Today we’ll be getting into the full version of Odyssey. Ready to learn a thing or two about learning a thing or two?
Odyssey‘s beginning is rather vague, with your character picking up a distress call while sailing past a group of islands known as the Wretched Islands. The call is from none other than a 13-year-old girl named Kai who, along with her parents and brother, has become trapped after attempting to barricade herself when the usually-deserted island came under attack by a gang of ruthless pirates. Not wanting to leave Kai and her family behind, and with not a trace of any pirate-like activity going on, you make your way to the Wretched Islands in an attempt to rescue them.
The player’s predicament in Odyssey is interesting. Although Kai and her family ended up in their current situation thanks to a pirate onslaught, the pirates didn’t actually trap them – they trapped themselves. In an effort to make sure that the pirates didn’t get to their hiding spot, Kai and her family (but mainly Kai) set up puzzles that must be solved in order to progress through the island. While these defenses did appear to stop the pirate attacks, Kai and her family seem to have forgotten to include a way out of their own puzzle fortress. It’s a good thing that you came along, huh?
Odyssey‘s gameplay can be split pretty cleanly between two – well, three if you count the reading (but we’ll get to that later) – parts. The first, is exploration. I’ll give it to Odyssey hands-down; the setting is nice. The game takes place on an island that, before Kai and her family visited, was uninhabited for quite some time. Because of that, the Wretched Islands have an air of mystery – a mystery that I wanted to know more about. Unfortunately, exploration is somewhat stunted. Game though it may be, Odyssey‘s desire to teach comes before all else – this includes traditional gameplay mechanics. Unless I was purposefully attempting to go off the beaten path, most of my “exploration periods” didn’t last long and usually consisted of me walking up a hill, down a path, etc., until I was met with another puzzle. Part of the fun of exploring in games like these is the fact that you usually aren’t entirely certain where you’re going – the fact that Odyssey was relatively free of this feeling left me a bit disappointed, especially considering how enticing the game’s scenery actually is.
The real meat-and-potatoes of Odyssey‘s gameplay lies within its puzzles – and this is where the learning comes in. Rather than featuring lore or fantasy elements, or subjecting the player to item hunts, Odyssey requires that players use science to progress. The puzzles Kai makes are all based on the real-life principles and theories of Astronomy – particularly ancient Astronomy. Don’t know anything about Astronomy? There’s no need to freak out – that’s kind of the point, actually. Odyssey sets out to teach you various (mostly Astronomy-related) concepts, and the puzzles are essentially you showing what you’ve learned. Remember when you were in school and your teacher just taught you a new math equation, but asked you to prove that you actually understood it by solving a practice problem? That’s basically how the puzzles are set up. Of course, things are a little more sophisticated than simply just solving a math problem.
As I’ve said before, most of Odyssey‘s puzzles are based on Astronomy – more specifically, proving why ancient Astronomical concepts were wrong. By reading through journal pages that Kai so kindly left alongside many of the puzzles, players will be able to learn about specific ancient Astronomical concepts, such as the belief that the earth was flat, and attempt to use science to either prove these concepts wrong or show that you understand why specific concepts are wrong. Due to the nature of Astronomy, physics and math-based puzzles are present within the game as well. I’ll give credit where credit is due; I think that a lot of of time and effort went into these puzzles, and a lot of them did end up teaching me a thing or two – but not all of them. Some of the puzzles I ran into seemed to ask less that the player demonstrate comprehension, and more that the player regurgitate knowledge that they have just read. And if you’re stuck on a puzzle, you’re out of luck. Usually, I wouldn’t harp on a game too much for manufacturing difficult puzzles, but with a game like Odyssey – a game that’s actively trying to educate you – it’s imperative to have a method of teaching both adults and children alike that is as close to foolproof as possible. Of course, this has less to do with the puzzles themselves, and more with Kai’s journal.
Remember when I said that you could count reading the journal as a “third part” of Odyssey‘s gameplay? Well, I was kind of serious about that. I hope you like reading because, for a 13-year-old, Kai writes a lot. Nearly every new journal fragment consists of at least 20 pages, filled with a multitude of information. The journal is unique in the fact that simultaneously serves as both the sole means of carrying out the game’s plot, and the “learning portion” of the game as well. Because of this, the transition is a little jagged. Kai will quite often make drastic switches in her journal entries, such as talking about how she got a sunburn on one page while contemplating how the heliocentric model of the universe applies to the relative orbital speed of planets on the next. There was also just too much. The writing in the journal itself is very solid most of the time in terms of both story and education, but I just couldn’t always get myself to read every single page every time I picked up a new collection of journal pages (which, if you remember how small I mentioned the exploration segments being, is quite frequent). And usually, I didn’t have to.
Though vast the amount of information in Kai’s journal may be, Odyssey has made it easier on players by highlighting the parts pertaining to puzzles. While it made things easier, I wasn’t actually sure how I felt about the game’s decision to so blatantly tell you where to find the answer – or in some cases simply state the answer. I feel that, if a game is going to be text heavy, it should make sure that the text presented actually matters. Being able to skip past 90% of the journal just so I could solve the puzzle was an ability that I almost wish that I didn’t have. I would have been a lot more comfortable had Odyssey presented far less information, but made me work harder in order to obtain the correct piece of knowledge needed for the puzzle-at-hand.
Odyssey‘s graphical quality is consistently high, and does a nice job of presenting the game in a realistic manner. From the lush island greenery, to the underground caves, the places that I went during my exploration were all quite vivid and enjoyable. The puzzles themselves were also crafted quite lovingly, with no detail being spared in order to bring them to life.
Adding to Odyssey‘s rather laid-back atmosphere (despite the dire situation), was a very passive soundtrack. Considering the nature of this game, an overbearing OST wasn’t needed, and the soothing aesthetic of Odyssey‘s background tracks complimented things very nicely.
Odyssey may need to make a little more progress before calling itself the definitive “next generation” of edutainment gaming but I think that, so long as the Young Socratics keep working on the series, it will get there. Though making something that will teach players while still retaining of the feeling of being a game is difficult, Odyssey proves that it is possible and has taken a huge step in the right direction. If you’re a traditional adventure game enthusiast you might want to steer clear of this one but, if you’re in the market for something that will teach you as you play, Odyssey is worth checking out.
FINAL VERDICT: 3/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed); Publisher: The Young Socratics ; Developer: The Young Socratics ; Players: 1 ; Released: February 23, 2017 ; MSRP: $19.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Odyssey given to Hey Poor Player by the Publisher.