EcoQuest: The Search for Cetus. (computer adventure game and educational software) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by David Sears
You can't fool kids today; they watch television and are hip to most of what goes wrong, globally speaking. Sure, they might ask you to explain ozone depletion--and you might even know where to begin--but they probably understand all too clearly that Gaea fights for her life and is losing. They might blame themselves. they might blame you. Thanks to Sierra, though, you and your kids can work things out together. Undertake EcoQuest: The Search for Cetus, and you'll discover more than just a few clever puzzles; you'll grapple with the global malady of pollution and make friends in the animal kingdom along the way.
As Adam, dolphin trainer and ecowarrior, you learn that every creature in the food chain pays for the arrogance of Homo sapiens. What sane species would transport fossil fuels over water routes where the least spill could destroy entire eco-systems? As you work to save a tarred and stunned seagull, you can't help but wonder. This seagull might live, but what about the thousands that Adam can't help? When Adam waters his pet gerbil, the grateful rodent actually goes through a dance routine, obviously overjoyed at that small kindness. No doubt the designers of EcoQuest want you to understand the responsibility we higher mammals hold for our lower-order brethren.
At the same time, not all of this parable in game's clothing comes across so heavy-handed. Like so many sensitive kids, Adam makes friends better with animals than with children his own age, so it's little wonder that he and an injured dolphin bond quickly. Delphineus, as the bottle-nosed speedster introduces himself, warily agrees to take Adam along on his hunt for Cetus, the great whale king of Eluria. Not every sea creature talks, of course, but EcoQuest obviously isn't a preachy, hopeless cause; this interactive epic incorporates more than a few classic fantasies.
Before you reach the undersea kingdom, you'll need to master the ubiquitous Sierra interface. If you or your kids have never played a parserless adventure game before, don't worry. You just click the right mouse button to change the nature of the onscreen pointer and then click the left button to use the pointer. To look at something, change the hand to an eye with the right button, for instance, and then place the eye over an object. Click the left button for a description of the object. What could be simpler?
Like derelict Atlantis, Eluria sleeps beneath the sea. Gardens of kelp and coral, Greek-designed buildings and statuary, and loitering schools of prismatic fish welcome you to this world in peril. Eluria can no longer feed her citizens. Without Cetus to sweep away drifting pollutants with his mighty flukes, the water here stagnates and will eventually kill. Worse than any poison, however, the mutated evil of Flesh-Eater, a manta gone bad, prowls the fouled waters searching for prey. No wonder the Elurians stay inside their fish apartments! But by acting locally, Adam can make a difference--and not just by picking up trash. He can find Cetus later; first, he'll have to save Eluria by teaching the citizens to solve their problems together.
In the fish apartments, Adam befriends Gregarious the Manatee, Erroneous the Sea Turtle, and Olympia the Angelfish, among others. Each of these unfortunate sea creatures suffers due to man's ignorance. Gregarious, for instance, refuses to surface for air because he's often injured by whirling propeller blades. Talking manatee or not, he's still a slow-moving fellow and prone to the same accidents as his less communicative cousins. Before Adam can leave the city to face Flesh-Eater and find the lost king, he'll have to work out a compromise between a fisherman and the manatee. EcoQuest has its share of puzzles to solve and objects to find, but instead of meaningless obstacles, they teach valuable lessons while providing readily remembered data. For instance, after you remove the deflated balloons from his throat, Erroneous explains that fish and turtles often mistake floating latex trash for food--food they simply cannot swallow or remove themselves. Delphineus, too, provides informative chatter throughout the game; count on him to point out the high points of the ocean floor.
Fluid animation makes every minute spent on the quest an unusual one; Adam maintains his position onscreen by swimming in place. When he moves, he does so with an unerring grace. The same holds true for Delphineus and a certain hammerhead shark you might encounter late in the game, but not for the many fish of the reefs. Forgive the animators, though--with so much to look at, you probably won't notice repetitive piscine actions. Besides, the environs of Eluria rank among the most beautiful in any undersea kingdom despite the onslaught of pollution, perhaps because the artists deliver such magnificent realism. You may even wish that Sierra would package parts of EcoQuest as a virtual aquarium; few available can compare. The appropriate score never grows tedious, and with a sound card installed, the delightful sounds of the deep will rise from your PC.
For all its potential success as a teacher, EcoQuest makes a few blunders. While in most respects the program respects scientific principles, Adam's air tanks never run out of air. Also, the designers clearly explain Delphineus's sonar click--a way of memorizing objects with sound waves. Later, the vociferous dolphin can't use the same sonar to explore a dark cave. Granted, magic holds some sway in this world, but more rational explanations wouldn't have overtaxed the genuinely inspired designers. Players deserve more than the unconvincing excuses offered.
The Search for Cetus package contains a copy of I Helped Save the Earth, a brief, informative guide for kids who want to rescue the planet. Each page describes a problem and gives a simple solution that any youngster can follow. Just by purchasing EcoQuest, you take a step in the right direction; a portion of the profit goes to the Marine Mammal Center.
For centuries we've pondered the blue-green depths, and the swelling, shifting surface of waves and flotsam still mesmerizes us. Lend water a name, and her siren call sounds long and sweet. Our nets full, we don't worry where the next catch will come from. The sea has always provided.
Ask one small boy named Adam, though, and he'll remark that today the soft voice of the sea chokes on our garbage, our castoffs, our oil spills, our sewage. For him, and the young millions of the next generation, now is the time to clean up our act, halt pollution, and treat the sea as an equal, not a dumping ground--lest we drain all life from her.
But we've all heard that line before, haven't we? Conserve, recycle, replenish? If you've never acted on your good first instincts and taken a stand against pollution, take a long look at EcoQuest: The Search for Cetus. This is one adventure with valuable lessons to impart--lessons that we'd all better learn soon.