Quern – Undying Thoughts Review

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As a youngster, I had an unhealthy obsession with Rand Miller’s Myst. The world seemed so incredibly detailed, and the music was unbelievably atmospheric. I just wish I had the brain power to complete the challenging puzzles, and the concentration to make the notes required to succeed. As I’ve matured as a gamer, I have been able to return to attempt to complete the challenges, and try to understand the mysteries of the storyline. Quite frankly, I was addicted, it had me hooked. When a new first person adventure puzzle game comes to the market, I try my hardest to clear my schedule, just so I can dedicate the required time to enjoying every minute of it. So here we have my latest obsession Quern – Undying Thoughts by Zadbox Entertainment; a game that follows the aesthetics and puzzle formula of Riven, and feels like the true sequel to Myst. I was in my element.

Quern tells the story of worlds that are connected through portals, you open the game with a written explanation of how each portal is joined to another, this doesn’t have any bearing on how the action plays out, it serves more to help you to understand how the playing area was created. Even with this information, you are none the wiser when you do start your journey. The only thing that is certain is the portal that brought you to this mysterious land has destroyed upon your arrival. A letter lies conveniently on a platform just in front of you, this explains that you have been brought here to learn from the person who has discovered the worlds secrets. What does he want in return for all this information? He requires your help with a task, again, he doesn’t tell you what that is, nor does he advise you on of how you are to traverse the puzzle ridden environment in order to help him with his problem.

The shroud of mystery really doesn’t lift at any point, you find that you fumble from one section to the next in a brilliant haze of confusion and challenge. As you piece together items from around each section of the map, the sense of achievement is enthralling when you are finally able to solve a puzzle. You will encounter locked doors on your journey to the exit, over 50 will block your way. As you move puzzle after puzzle will block your progress; mechanical, audio, crystal and botanical problems will all need to be overcome. Once a new section is unlocked, you will discover a new letter from the man who ensured you were trapped in this land. At times he will provide you with clues to help solve a conundrum, other times it’ll help to give context to the situation you find yourself in. Ultimately, it was just nice to feel a human presence in what was a lonely and alien like landscape.

You are provided with a notebook, and a sketchbook to help you to note down clues throughout your journey. This is absolutely essential, however, I found that I very rarely used either of them. It wasn’t because I have the memory of an elephant, no, unfortunately the use of them was so limited in both timescale and resolution, that I found them to be more of a hindrance than a help. I reverted back to early 90s gaming and used a pen and paper, I also decided that modern day technology could be of assistance, and used my camera on my phone to save images of items that I thought would be useful. If you have been lucky enough to experience either Myst or Riven, the puzzles will feel very familiar to you. Zadbox Entertainment really has taken influence from the brilliance of both of these titles. Luckily, with technology evolving quickly the developers have been able to take a fresh twist on the problems, so you will just have a feeling of deja vu, opposed to knowing exactly how to solve any issue in front of you. For me there is nothing wrong with this, it’s the equivalent of a painter allowing Monet or Rembrandt to guide their strokes, the 2 previously mentioned games are the leading light in this genre, why wouldn’t you want them to inspire you?

The visual presentation is absolutely fantastic, the world is at odds with itself, and that strangely works, you will wander around and spot everyday items; bowls, gears, cogs, and furniture. This is mixed with alien items that are equally comfortable in their environment. The landscape itself screams Riven, the buildings were so familiar that for a moment I had forgotten I was playing a new title all together, this may not sit comfortably with some gamers, but for me if the formula isn’t broken, then don’t fix it. I was so absorbed in the world that had been created that I had clearly lost track of time. My first session lasted approximately 6 hours, but yet time had flown by. Everything is perfectly restrictive, the lack of free movement could feel claustrophobic, but yet the never ending landscapes made the world feel more open. The graphics themselves aren’t perfect, they are certainly not the most realistic I have seen, but yet they work beautifully within this genre and theme. When you move closer to objects you will find that the detail is fuzzy, this did occasionally impact some of the finer puzzles, but as a whole the imagery was great, and I certainly won’t get bored of it any time soon.

One of the fond memories I have of playing Myst growing up was the audio, the dramatic music which drove the emotion of a game which was otherwise void of any human touch. I was particularly impressed with how the developers had replicated this feeling within their own take on the musical score. A slightly less dramatic approach was taken, it felt lighter, almost more surreal and alien-esque. This gave the gameplay an almost dreamlike state, this matched the bizarre world in which you venture around. The voice-over work of the letters was warm and intriguing, however, I never quite trusted him, I always felt there was a hidden agenda, the narrative was delivered extremely well, and added to the ever growing mystery.

Though this is a first person adventure game, I always felt that these games were effectively a walking simulator with puzzle elements. The controls never really have to be that complicated, there is no fighting, or quick actions to be completed. Everything is finished in a slow and contemplative pace. The developers didn’t want to make this too simple for the player, but they did add in a helpful tool which allowed you to identify interactive areas quickly and easily. Depending on how sadistic you are, you’ll either be happy or sad to know that it gives you no further hints, so its down to your own ability to find out what each item is used for. Though this was clearly designed for PC use first and foremost, Zadbox Entertainment has done a great job of porting it over to console, the User Interface is simple to navigate, and thankfully there are no sub-menus to have to flick through. The simplicity allows you to focus all your energy on solving the problems, and enjoying the world around you.

I have read several reports of players being able to complete this in well under 10 hours, I’ve sunk 20 hours in so far, and haven’t explored everything. If you wish to rush through and not see all that is on offer, then I believe this will be a sub 10 hour game. I’d say realistically to complete it you should comfortably spend between 20 and 30 hours, which will potentially be split over 2 playthroughs. Replay factor in this type of game is heavily dependent on how much you have enjoyed the experience, once you have solved all of the problems, then you have little to draw you back other than the joy of the atmosphere that has been created. I know I will be returning to the island of Quern, if nothing more than just to soak up the odd ambience that has been created.

A first person adventure title that fills me with nostalgia, while allowing me to experience a whole new game. The developers have done a fantastic job of creating a world that you can easily lose yourself in. This one is not going to be for everyone, but for those of you who are hooked on this genre you will be in for a treat. With a great variety of puzzles, and little in the way of dull or repetitive action, this is one to keep you guessing while you try to uncover the mystery of the story. I’ve loved every minute of the world that was created by Zadbox Entertainment, I can’t help but recommend this to anyone who wants an atmospheric puzzle game. So grab your notebook, and jot down the clues. It’s time to work your way to the solution one locked door at a time.

REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox One code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to editor@bonusstage.co.uk.

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Quern - Undying Thoughts Review
  • Gameplay - 8/10
    8/10
  • Graphics - 7/10
    7/10
  • Sound - 9/10
    9/10
  • Replay Value - 7/10
    7/10
Overall
8/10

Summary

Search for the clues, and unlock all the doors in this first person puzzle adventure. Can you discover the mysteries of the Island of Quern?

Pros

  • Atmospheric audio.
  • Simple controls.
  • Mysterious storyline.
  • Influenced by both Riven and Myst.

Cons

  • In game sketchbook is pretty useless.
  • Little guidance can leave players feeling confused.

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