NEVER HAVE THE GRAPHICS BEEN SO EXCITING, THE ANIMATION SO SOPHISTICATED, OR THE POSSIBILITIES OF CRIMES SO VARIED
The fourth and newest adventure in the Carmen Sandiego series—Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego?—is also the most exciting. As with the other games in the series, you're given a crime to solve and you must journey around the globe to collect clues and track down the criminal. But that's where the similarity ends. Brøderbund has added a new dimension to this educational game: time. For all of you who've ever wished you could travel back through history, here's your chance.
Your detective career begins in San Francisco, where you are newly employed by the Acme Detective Agency. The first time you appear at the agency, you'll be asked to complete some forms for the personnel department. As soon as you've done this, you'll be assigned to your first case. Gather your suitcase and your wits—it's time to get moving!
On each of your cases, you'll have the opportunity to explore the world of the past. Carmen Sandiego or one of the members of her gang has committed a crime, and you're assigned to track the criminal and recover the stolen loot. Your sleuthing can transport you anywhere from 400 A.D. through the 1950s. Upon reaching a destination, you'll want to search for witnesses and informers and scan the area for objects, all of which will give you clues about where (and when) your prey might be heading. To transport you to different eras, you'll be issued a chronoskimmer, which is your official time-traveling device.
Brøderbund continues its pattern of offering excellent reference books with its Carmen packages by including the New American Desk Encyclopedia with Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego?. The book not only makes a great prop for the game, but it also gets kids in the habit of searching for information—a habit that will serve them well when the time comes to write that history research paper or book report for English class.
Although your first few cases should be relatively straightforward, don't be afraid to use the encyclopedia. For players who think they are too cool to look up information, I'd caution them to think again. While they are worried about what their friends think, the hours are ticking away and Carmen's cohorts are getting away scot-free.
After you've completed a few cases, you'll find that your assignments become harder and harder. Sometimes the same country will appear more than once on the travel destination screen, so look carefully at the time line that also appears. This is where that added dimension comes into play; your destinations could really be a thousand years apart. Since meeting your deadline becomes more challenging as you solve each case, you won't want to waste any moves.
Solving more mysteries starts your rise through the ranks of the Acme Detective Agency. Your goal is to successfully complete enough cases to get you elected to the hall of fame and then to retire. (If you want to continue sleuthing, you can always work under an assumed name—you probably won't repeat any cases.)
Although Where in Time does follow the same format as its predecessors, it's evident that Brøderbund took care to ensure that it has something new to offer. Never have the graphics been so exciting, the animation been so sophisticated, or the possibilities of crimes been so varied. The robot who assists you in capturing the criminal is really cute, as are the henchmen who pop up in your pictures when you begin to get close to the criminal. They're always completely out of touch with time and space; you might find a gunslinger infiltrating your picture of India in 1000 A.D., for example. These and other humorous interludes show how much attention the authors of Where in Time have paid to graphic detail. Particularly remarkable is the animation sequence when the chronoskimmer is activated, and I especially enjoy the scene in which the robot capsule aids in capturing the criminal.
While you're running back and forth in time, time is running out for your quest.
If you don't install Where in Time on your hard drive, you'll need two disk drives to run the game. The program comes on one disk, and there are two Country disks that you can swap as necessary in the remaining drive. If you install the disks on your hard drive, you'll still need to keep the original program disk handy, as the computer will request that you insert it each time you're ready to be promoted to a new level.
Kids will find it easy to save a game if mom makes them stop in the middle and do their homework or come to the dinner table. I also discovered that you can walk away from the computer without getting behind on a case—the hours are eaten up by your traveling and investigating rather than by the time you spend away from the program, thinking. You can operate all of the game's menus with either a mouse, a joystick, the arrow keys, or the space bar; you don't need any special equipment besides your graphics adapter. (The game supports all graphics modes, but you'll need 640K of RAM for VGA and MCGA graphics. EGA, Tandy 16-color, CGA, and Hercules modes require 512K).
The only other materials you may need are paper and pencil—the pace can be fast and you'll probably want to give yourself an edge by writing down certain clues. All of the prompts are friendly and clear, and I found the program refreshingly free of errors and very easy to operate.
Besides the encyclopedia and disks, you'll also receive a detective's manual with a list of the suspects and their individual traits and hobbies. You can use this to narrow down your suspects as clues appear sporadically during the game. This manual also contains a time line, to which you might want to refer as you time-travel. The separate paper with suspect photos may come in handy, too. Many amateur sleuths will appreciate the fact that once they've looked over the program guidelines in the program's Detective Manual, they probably won't need to keep referring to it. The manual is clear and concise, and spiced with notes that are both humorous (circa year 1820, 3:00 p.m.: Haircut appointment with Barber of Seville) and enlightening (circa year 1630: Shakespeare's first folio).
Since everybody knows that traveling in a time capsule transcends real time, when you play Where in Time, you'll waste no nights sleeping in hotels as you might in the other Carmen programs. But don't think you're getting away with anything. Unlike the other games in the series, your cases in this game carry time limits measured in hours rather than days! Preparing your chronoskimmer takes time, as does all of your investigating.
Playing this game is such fun you can almost forget you're learning, but you can't help increasing your knowledge of geography and history. For example, if you fail to solve a case, your boss will kindly suggest that you work on sharpening your reference skills before taking on any new cases. It's a subtle way to motivate more passive learners. Also, clues to each culprit's identity are varied and can require thought: Sentences such as She had eyes the color of the Mediterranean, or His eyes were of slate stimulate you to think of possible connections. You may have to consult your dictionary for synonyms as you read through the data bank of possible suspects, in which the category Eyes might contain only the entries blue, gray, brown, or hazel. The result is a clever and painless vocabulary-building exercise.
You will find Carmen's cronies cropping up from time to time during your search.
If a teacher is using Where in Time in the classroom, he or she can turn off the sound when a student is playing so as not to disturb others. That feature is helpful also at home when your brother is trying to finish his homework. Of course, the game can be extremely entertaining as a family experience, with two or more people working together to solve the many mysteries.
Although Where in Time is by far the most innovative in the Carmen series, I do have some reservations and suggestions. For one, upon returning to the data bank to obtain a warrant for the culprit I was tracking, I found the options for the suspect's favorite artist and author really limited. A larger, more varied group of artists and authors would be welcome and would add a lot of fun to the game. Also, it's difficult for younger children, who could really appreciate this program, to figure out, for example, that a suspect who likes to look at paintings of sunflowers is a fan of Van Gogh. That kind of fact is hard to look up. As a matter of fact, much of the humor and special touches are quite sophisticated and will be most appreciated by either exceptionally mature children or adults. The game itself seems destined to appeal mostly to boys and girls from around the fifth to the eighth grades.
Another slight problem is with the chronoskimmer, which appears on the package to be a separate accessory. In reality, it's a computer screen. Although the chronoskimmer is captivating enough even when it's on the screen, the slightly misleading advertising may set kids up for disappointment.
I also worry that only the most motivated students will pay attention to the introductory screen shown for each travel destination and era. Although these screens contain valuable information, I found it easy to forget the particulars pertaining to the places I visited. As you get caught up in the game and the chase, all that matters is getting to the next clue. I wish Brøderbund had devised a means of linking each destination's introductory screen to the case so that children would read it and register its contents.
I would also have welcomed some attempt to preserve cultural differences. All of the witnesses and informers have pronouncedly American speech patterns. (I assume that the chronoskimmer translates dialogue not only into English but into the regional present.) What a charge it would be if, instead of encountering a dull old banker in late sixteenth-century England, you met perhaps a later-famous poet who used thee and thou in his bantering rhyme. Perhaps that's a given for software that gives you so much: It gets you thinking of new possibilities.
Everything else about Where in Time—and there's a lot of it—is excellent. Back at the Acme Detective Agency, for example, if you use the elevator to investigate floors other than the one to which you're currently assigned, you'll find some really nice touches. In the basement, you'll encounter a burning incinerator and an interesting message along with your record and current rank. Other floors have other scenarios—you'll probably want to check out all of them. Don't be afraid to click the mouse or position the arrow and press Return on any object or sign you see as you travel around the building.
If you find yourself on a case in which the clues seem too difficult, you can get hints by going back to your previous location and doing a second search or by scanning an area more than once. This can be especially helpful when the pressure mounts and the clock ticks away.
The students to whom I showed the program received it enthusiastically. They enjoyed, as I did, the special effects and attention to detail. Especially appealing is the manner in which you're drawn into the story. From the beginning, you're intimately involved in the action. All along, it's assumed that you're the key to solving the crime. Knowing that they are relied on to such an extent can make kids feel important and motivated. Learning those two facts alone can be extremely gratifying for any child.
Besides being one great game, Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego? has the added value of being an exceptional education program. It can heighten your children's awareness of historical epochs and the importance of using reference guides, as well as strengthen problem-solving skills. As a game, it offers many hours of adventure and entertainment—even if those hours take place centuries ago.
Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego?
IBM PCs and compatibles with 512K (Hercules, CGA, Tandy 16-color, and EGA graphics) or 640K (VGA or MCGA graphics)—$44.95