The Labyrinth of Time

Posted by David Tanguay.
First posted on 15 May 2010. Last updated on 17 July 2010.
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The Labyrinth of Time
The final destination lies ahead.
The Labyrinth of Time
Lost in a surreal maze, you need to find a way out.
The Labyrinth of Time
You wander into the tunnels of a Mayan Ziggurant.
The Labyrinth of Time
The Cretan tomb is that of King Minos.
The Labyrinth of Time
The map shows where you have been and where you have still to explore.

The Labyrinth of Time is among the earliest adventure game titles to be released on CD-ROM. It is an aptly named game, since the game's main objective is to run around a trans-temporal labyrinth, trying to find a way to destroy it.

The game begins with the spirit of ancient King Minos of Crete, who has enthralled the spirit of the Greek architect Daedalus, builder of the labyrinth of Knossos. Minos has forced Daedalus to build another great labyrinth—a labyrinth that winds through time as well as space. Using this multi-dimensional labyrinth, Minos plans to conquer all of time. However, Daedalus has managed to slip free for a moment, just long enough to contact you, transport you to the labyrinth, and charge you with destroying it before Mino can succeed in his plan.

The first fear that this game will instill in many adventure gamers is "not more mazes". There are a few mazes embedded in the labyrinth, but otherwise the labyrinth is just a joining of areas from different eras. They include an old west town, a 1950s diner, a Mayan temple, a space station, and many others. It is a very large game world (over 275 locations as claimed by the developer). Fortunately, the game comes with an excellent map utility, and the world is laid out in a simple, grid friendly manner. Even the mazes are simple and painless to find your way through, with the help of the map.

You play a random and nameless character whom Daedalus runs into and recruits by chance. Minos' plan is pretty straightforward, and since the labyrinth is devoid of inhabitants, it is a rather lonely quest you will face. You can piece together fragments of a back-story by reading a journal and library entries that are scattered throughout the maze. From them, you learn a little bit of the events of some of the eras that you pass through, especially the trials and tribulations of an archaeologist who is researching in an area important to your goal.

Since there are no characters to interact with, there is little need of dialog. There are just the opening and closing monologues with Daedalus, which are done entirely in text. The 3D modeling used to render Daedalus and the ray-traced graphics in the game are quite sophisticated for its time. There are also sound effects and a nice running score to keep your ears occupied, but they are not necessary to the game. This, in part, is due to the fact that sound cards are still rare luxuries back then.

The graphics fare better than the sounds. Each location consists of 4 slides for the 4 cardinal compass directions. Navigation is simply turning to a particular compass direction, then moving forward to a new location (if there is a passage in front of you). The game is played from a first-person perspective. The graphics are well done, in 8-bit colors and 640 x 480 resolution. Each of the different eras has its own style, and several are quite beautiful to see.

The inventory is located in a separate screen, where you can look at a close-up of each item, along with a text description. The images are well done, but the interface is lacking. There are a large number of objects that can be collected in this game, but many (maybe even most) are red herrings. Because the inventory only displays a single item at a time, you must scroll through it item by item to look for the item you want to use.

Released in the same year as Myst, The Labyrinth of Time shares some of the same qualities. Both games feature an uninhabited world, an unspecified player character, and lovely scenery. In both games, the player learns of the events in the story through writings left behind but scattered in the game world. Where The Labyrinth of Time falls well short of Myst is in the puzzles. Many of the puzzles are simple lock and key affairs, either literally with an actual lock and key, or isomorphically with a screw and screwdriver, for example. Most of the remaining puzzles are trivial, such as putting together objects that belong together. There are a few mazes, but they are made trivial by the map utility. Of the few puzzles left, several have arbitrary solutions. There is a single slider puzzle that is not difficult to solve. There is another puzzle that does not make much sense, even in hindsight, but it is a bit of zany fun in this generally (but not always) sober game. This leaves only 1 good puzzle (or maybe 2 connected puzzles), which I shall not spoil, that requires attention to the story and a bit of creative thinking.

The most obvious problem with the gameplay is the frequent tracking back and forth. The scenery may be nice to see, but it wears thin quickly after a few runs. The mazes may be easy to get through with the map, but they are annoyingly tedious when you must go through them many times. There is a teleporter that you must activate, which is a novelty the first time you need it but a hindrance when you have to run through the same sequence over and over again.

The less obvious but more serious problem with the gameplay is a number of dead-ends that are in this game. There are several ways to get yourself stuck with no way to proceed. A particular dead-end involves consuming an inventory item, so you at least know to save in advance. The other dead-ends are not so obvious, and it is not always clear how far back you will have to restore. To make matters worse, there are only a small number of save slots (9 in the original and 15 in the re-release).

The game was originally released for DOS by Electronic Arts in 1993. In 2004, Wyrmkeep Entertainment acquired the publishing rights and re-released the game after porting it for Windows, Mac OS, and Linux. The re-release version included enhanced music, an improved save system, and a trail feature not found in the original. The trail feature was added to help to navigate through the mazes, though it was still too limited to be effective in my experience.

As a game, The Labyrinth of Time has serious faults. Nonetheless, it offers some enjoyment for gamers who prefer a solitary experience in adventure gaming. The scenery is engaging, and the story is good enough to urge you onwards. It is an overall easy game that can be mastered by even adventure game novices. Although The Labyrinth of Time falls short of similar contemporaries such as Myst and The Journeyman Project, it is an impressive technical achievement for its time that still presents well today.

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