Forever Worlds

Posted by Mervyn Graham.
First posted on 01 January 2012. Last updated on 01 January 2012.
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Forever Worlds
The village of the Sky People lays barren.
Forever Worlds
Naturally, a door looks out of place when standing on a desolate wasteland.
Forever Worlds
Each portal leads to a different and strange world.
Forever Worlds
The lobby to the Butterfly Penitentiary is an exotic sight.
Forever Worlds
The Fillers are virtual beings who take on humanoid forms.

The game is available at GamersGate.

Released in 2004, Forever Worlds (also known as Forever Worlds: Enter the Unknown) was a largely forgetful game from the obscure and little-known developer Hexagon Entertainment. Created by Courtland Shakespeare, the game was meant to be yet another attempt to regurgitate Shakespeare's own inimitable style of adventure games which he practiced since 1995. It was back then that Shakespeare, under the ill-fated developer ELOI Productions, first conceived the formula for an adventure game involving an eccentric archaeologist, lost ancient worlds, and many brain teasing puzzles—all tied to a nearly nonexistent back story. This game would later be released as Jewels of the Oracle. Although the game was considered a success by critics, it failed commercially. Still, the game was to become the embryo or forerunner of other games to come from Shakespeare. In 1997, Shakespeare resurrected the same formula and released Gems of Darkness, under the now defunct developer Bardworks. Once again, the game was a commercial failure, even after it was re-released as Jewels II: The Ultimate Challenge a year later. Undeterred, Shakespeare founded Hexagon Entertainment to develop yet another game using the same formula. The result was Forever Worlds.

Looking at the game's introductory cinematic cut scene, you may get lulled into the belief that Forever Worlds is destined to take on the epic proportions of a Jules Verne or H.G. Wells masterpiece. Sadly, it becomes apparent rather quickly that the game's dialog and script lack the imagination, creativity, and professionalism that are required to elevate it beyond mediocrity. Just as Daffy Duck takes a wrong turn at Albuquerque on the way to Pismo Beach, the protagonist of Forever Worlds seems to have taken a wrong turn somewhere in the Amazon, finished up nowhere, and utterly lost in a time portal too many.

The game begins with an unexpectedly good and long cinematic cut scene. Doc Maitland, a famous paleontologist, has been searching long for a mythical tree that promises eternal life called the Magical Tree of Mu. Having found the tree, Doc contacts his daughter Nancy and promises to send her some special leaves from the tree for scientific studies. After weeks waiting and no further word, Nancy suspects that her father may be in trouble. She asks her fiancé Jack Lanser, an archaeologist and a colleague of Doc, to help to find out her father's current whereabouts. Both Nancy and Jack travel by boat somewhere down the Amazon and deep into the jungle, where their search for Doc begins.

You play as Jack, the protagonist of the game. Gameplay begins at the entrance to the jungle where Jack's boat is anchored. From there, you have to find your way to the Great Tree of Foreverness, a mystical tree which is not really a tree but a gateway to the Land of Mu where portals can transport you back in time to search for Doc. There are 6 portals through which you can crossover to these unparallel time dimensions. In order to travel safely, however, you must first exchange bodies with and have your body possessed by the High Priest so that you will not be recognized in any of the distant lands to where the portals will take you. Before you begin your portal exploration, you pick up a friendly lizard with an attitude named Ix. Ix, sitting on your shoulder, will act as your guide for the rest of your journey.

As you travel from portal to portal, you will encounter many strange animals and alien beings. You will eventually meet up with Doc, though he does not recognize you since you are no longer in your own body. Once you find the synthetic leaves of the magical tree, you must locate Doc again and return to your own body before Doc goes off on another adventure and gets lost again. The reason for this is that you must find Doc at a certain place in time to prevent him from ever entering the portal for the first time. Unless you can accomplish this task, both you and Doc will be lost in the alien worlds forever.

The game comes with a 16 page manual that will help to get you started with the game's puzzles and to familiarize you with the game's different cursors and other key controls. The Limited Edition of the game also includes a solution guide that provides a complete walkthrough for the game. The game plays mostly in a fixed resolution of 1024x768 pixels, but some non-interactive video cut scenes are played back in a lower resolution of 640x480 pixels. The game has no provision for volume, brightness, or subtitling controls.

At the outset, a disastrous omission in the game's controls is a setting to control mouse sensitivity. The control is especially troublesome when the mouse is used to pan around in 360° view in a scene to locate hotspots with which you can interact. Further, looking around a scene is made harder by having you to do it in separate steps. The fragmented control makes navigating through the game world a constant chore and an unnecessary distraction.

The game plays using a standard point-and-click interface but from a first-person perspective. Unfortunately, not long after you take your first step in the game world, you will likely find yourself going around in circles. This is because the views of many locations look too much alike, and it is easy to get disorientated amidst the similarities. The only way to navigate through the game world is to use either the inventory or the navigational cursors to seek out the hotspots. Since this needs to be done on almost every scene, the exercise quickly gets very annoying and frustrating.

Although I did not encounter any incompatibility issues installing the game in Windows XP, I found the game to suffer from quite a few odd glitches. For example, while most cinematic cut scenes played normally, a few cinematic cut scenes played to only a blank black screen. These corrupted cut scenes were playing, as I could still hear the voices of the characters speaking. Also, the game would randomly freeze when I retrieved an item from the inventory and tried to place it in a scene. Unfortunately, the only recourse, once this happened, was to reboot the game and reload from an earlier game save.

The majority of the 2D graphics in the game are rather grainy and lacking depth. By contrast, the 3D rendered models are superb looking. In particular, the movements of the crawling lizards, gorillas, and humanoid characters are all well animated. This is especially true for the giant butterflies that transport Jack back and forth between locations. Lip sync and body gesture for the main characters are excellent.

The audio in the game, with few exceptions, is extremely disappointing. The voiceovers are pathetic, to say the least. In an endeavor to instill some humor and life into the game world, the voices fail badly. With weird, high-pitched sounds and voices from the animal creatures, jive talking natives, and fillers, it is nearly impossible to fathom out the otherwise unintelligible speech. The fillers are interesting characters, in that each can simply be regarded as a creature not really having a human form but a virtual being from a virtual world who pretends to be somebody. With no subtitles for a backup, it is easy to miss out on a lot of valuable information that can otherwise be gleaned from the dialog. Even the voices for Jack, Nancy, and Doc are somewhat ordinary. By contrast, the ambient music is surprisingly good. While actual background music is kept to a minimum, the sound effects that portray the jungle environment are excellent. The sound effects that pervade other locations also complement the intended settings.

Adding an item to the inventory is straightforward using the inventory cursor. Retrieving an item from the inventory for use, however, is a different matter. Once again, the interface used here is most user-unfriendly. First, you have to access the inventory by clicking on the button in the bottom right hand corner of the screen. As you look over each item in the inventory, the item that comes into focus becomes enlarged. You select the item by clicking on it and then clicking again on the inventory button. Finally, you have to find the hotspot where you want to use the item and then wait to see if the item increases again in size. If the item increases in size, then it is the correct item and you can click on it again to use it in the current scene. If the item does not increase in size, then it is not the correct item to use in the current scene and you have to go back into the inventory and try again. Further, if you are not exactly on the right hotspot, the item will disappear back into the inventory and you must repeat the process once more.

The puzzles in this game are themselves indeed a puzzle. They appear at random and in such a convoluted way that they seem to be there just for the sake of having puzzles there to be solved. There are 19 puzzles in all, each denoted by the appearance of the puzzle cursor. While some of the puzzles are perfectly logical, the majority of the puzzles require only trial and error and little thought in how to solve them. The hardest puzzle in the game is the puzzle that requires you to gather from many locations all the ingredients to make a bomb and then to figure out when to use it. Experienced adventure gamers will not likely be deterred by most of the puzzles in this game.

In sum, Forever Worlds is a game that I cannot recommend in any way. While the game possesses some excellent cinematic cut scenes and animations, it is also spoiled by far too many failings that range from a cumbersome user interface to poor storytelling to confusing puzzle mechanics. Some concepts of the game design and production are admirably perceived with good intention; however, the execution and realization of these concepts have mostly fallen flat. Simply put, Forever Worlds is a game that "could have been", "should have been", but "never was".

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