Rhem 4: The Golden Fragments
First posted on 18 September 2010. Last updated on 25 November 2012.
Rhem 4: The Golden Fragments is the fourth title in a series of Myst inspired adventure games from German indie developer Knut Müller. Like Myst, this game uses pre-rendered images with the occasional live action video. All the games in the Rhem series are set on a mysterious island called Rhem, which is full of weathered machinery and ingenious contraptions. In each game, the player takes on the role of a scientific investigator, carefully noting every detail and conducting experiments to access new areas or bring dead machines to life on the island. While the graphics in the games are admittedly antiquated, this fact only adds to the charm for fans of Myst or gamers who prefer brain food to eye candy.
Like the previous games in the series, there is little story and character development in this sequel. The player simply takes on the role of a prisoner searching for a way home. Fortunately for the player, Kales and his brother Zetais are also trapped on the island (albeit in different areas). At the start of each game, Kales gives the player brief instructions on how to help him (and the player) get to the next part of Rhem. Not surprisingly, Rhem 4: The Golden Fragments continues immediately after Rhem 3: The Secret Library; now the player has a black crystal that can unlock a new part of Rhem. That new area, of course, is the setting of the current game. A secret transport system here will hopefully allow Kales and the player escape from Rhem once and for all.
The game's graphics are similar to the previous games in the series, all of which look quite dated in general. The static images are low resolution (800x600 pixels) and generally dull and lifeless. The entire island of Rhem looks like a long abandoned factory or quarry, with lots of rusty pipes, roughly carved rock, railed platforms, and stale water. Scattered throughout the island are many signs and clues, though most of them will not make any sense at first glance. The player is well advised to take careful notes (or even record screenshots) of each clue or machine, since they will come in very handy when solving the more difficult puzzles later on.
The game's audio is also quite simple, with a droning ambient soundtrack. The machines make all kinds of interesting noises, and the player must be alert to these sounds as well as the sights of the island. There are a number of sound puzzles that require the player to match pitch; while easy enough for most people, any gamer who is deaf or completely tone-deaf will undoubtedly struggle with them.
If you enjoy this game, it will not be the game's graphics or audio that impresses you but rather the game's wonderful puzzles. Müller is truly a puzzle maestro, and any gamer who enjoys classic logic puzzles will spend many delightful hours with this game. While some puzzles are inventory based, the bulk of the puzzles are solved by manipulating machines and observing the results. Usually this will not be enough; the player must also search the island for relevant clues. Sometimes the vital clue to a puzzle in a particular area is located in an entirely different area; therefore, careful note taking is essential. Whenever a puzzle appears not to be immediately solvable, the player is well advised to simply bypass it and continue exploring; a clue or necessary component is likely to be found somewhere else that will allow the player to solve the puzzle later. For example, getting through the door in the black crystal room requires carefully studying the pipe configuration, floor, and wallpaper in a different room. These puzzles can be quite difficult at first, but they are also very satisfying to solve. Indeed, there are countless "aha!" moments in this game.
Every clue and machine exists for a reason; the game does not distract the player with red herrings. Still, novice adventure gamers will likely miss many of the more subtle clues, since it not always immediately clear what machine a clue corresponds to. For example, a clock found at the start of the game has a flowerbed in front of it. The flowers change color with each tick of the clock. The player may realize the colors at each position of the clock are important, but this information will only be useful much later in the game. Perhaps the most fiendish puzzle in the game is another clock puzzle that is also timed. In this puzzle, the player must study a chart on a wall to calculate the future position of the hands on a very odd clock. The player must then input the corresponding information into a machine and strike a button at just the right moment; if the player fails, the calculation needs to be done again before the clock can be struck. As well, novice adventure gamers will likely feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of clues and puzzles in this game and can quickly get frustrated. The key is to be patient—explore every nook and cranny, and always take careful notes. While the challenge is formidable, the puzzles are logical and fair.
All in all, Rhem 4: The Golden Fragments is a brilliant game for puzzle fans, particularly those who have enjoyed previous games in the series. While the graphics and sounds are not much to rave about (especially when compared to games in the Myst series from years earlier), the game is still quite fun and enjoyable to play. Indeed, fancier graphics may just serve as a distraction and make the game even tougher. Likewise, the lack of story, characters, and dialog may upset some gamers, especially those who like point-and-click adventures with a grand narrative. Rather, Rhem 4: The Golden Fragments is a quiet, abstract adventure focused on logic and reasoning, not riveting drama or engrossing narrative. I can fully recommend the game with these caveats, though I think any true fan of adventure games will find a lot of enjoyment in this game.