The Journeyman Project: Pegasus Prime Review
Think back to the Nineties and choose the first FMV game that springs to mind. Got one? Chances are you’ll have picked something notable for either the right or the wrong reasons. For every 7th Guest, there was an equivalent Voyeur, for every BioForge, a Phantasmagoria. They were a golden opportunity for D-list actors to cut their teeth on an array of outlandish, mostly cheese-ridden scripts, and whilst most of us can list a few of the most notorious titles, others such as The Journeyman Project fly under the radar. A shame really, as not only is the cheese quotient ramped up to Stilton levels here, but there are moments which are genuinely impressive - at least, for its time - which make the normally staid interactive FMV experience a little more engaging than you’d expect from the genre.
A bit of background then: the original Journeyman Project is over twenty years old. Technically ambitious, it crawled along on even the most modern rigs when it was originally released, prompting a faster “turbo” edition to be pushed out a year later. A further enhanced edition entitled The Journeyman Project: Pegasus Prime followed three years after that, which improved almost every aspect of the original. This in itself succumbed to the major flaw of being too large for a single disc, and led to a frustrating ordeal which forced players to swap between four CDs on a regular basis. A couple of decades on, and the latest port of the sci-fi saga’s first chapter sits comfortably in a tiny corner of any PC gamer’s terabyte drive, banishing disc-swapping to the past. It is quite literally a remake of a remake of a remake, and whilst it may not convert any new fans due to its clunky interface and cheddar-laced performances, it remains a cult favourite amongst the passionate fanbase who lobbied for a re-release.
It is the year 2318 and you play Gage Blackwood, otherwise known as Agent 5. As part of the Temporal Security Annex (TSA), you are one of an elite protectorate charged with standing watch over a time machine in order to safeguard humanity. When a temporal rift opens up in the past and changes the course of several key historical events, you are tasked with travelling back in time and restoring the correct temporal path. It’s like a futuristic Quantum Leap, but with Al substituted for a banal female Artificial Intelligence. There are three major events that need rectifying in order to restore the timeline to its proper place, and you’ll find yourself jumping between time periods and utilising various items in order to solve puzzles in each.
Played in first-person, you control Agent 5 by using the cursor keys to navigate and the mouse to explore the environment around you. This isn’t a hunt-the-pixel affair, as the hand cursor is so huge that you’ll instantly know when you’re hovering over anything of interest to pick up or interact with. Puzzles mainly consist of collecting items and then dragging them over the relevant object to use them. The difficulty lies mainly in finding out which time zone needs which item, but this isn’t particularly complicated since your AI companion will generally lay it out for you in detail. If you’re still struggling, there are three hints you can use per puzzle, and if that doesn’t suffice you can alter the difficulty from Adventure to Walkthru which essentially strips out the majority of puzzles, or lets you solve them instantly. Even the most perplexed player shouldn’t have too much trouble completing this if they get stuck.
Where the issues lie for newbies is in the interface. Movement is slow, and the environments serve to maintain an unnecessarily sluggish pace. Entering or leaving a room normally requires a pause whilst the door whooshes closed behind you, and you will be going through a lot of doors. The interface itself consists of an energy bar which ostensibly serves as a countdown for each time period you’re in, and two hidden panels containing your inventory and collected biochips. They’re hidden well - a lack of control mappings built into the options menu meant we had to consult the manual to work out exactly how to open them (backspace and ` keys, for those interested). Utilising the biochips is also awkward as some of them have specific functions which you need to activate, but switching between them is cumbersome and the mouse/keyboard combination serves only to frustrate.
Inconsistencies in the story also work to break the illusion. You’re informed at the start of the game that under no circumstance should you remove an item from its own time. This is enforced in a couple of places - such as when you’re trying to remove a gas canister from a colony - but you’re then allowed to leap between time periods carrying a power crowbar which you’ve nabbed from a tube train. Acting ranges from adequate to abysmal but it’s never less than entertaining, if only for the wrong reasons. Our highlight was the TSA commander, a weird Martin Sheen/Jeff Bridges hybrid who chews through so much scenery that you fear for his dentures. Other characters are equally laughable in the acting stakes, with most making Steven Seagal’s latest straight-to-bargain-bin offering look like Oscar material.
Whilst a little more enhancement on the controls would certainly not have gone amiss, they are more of an irritation than a game-breaker. Thankfully, the insta-death scenarios for making the wrong directional choice or failing to complete a specific mission on time are now less punishing thanks to a handy Restore button which takes you back to the last safe place you were in. All told, The Journeyman Project succeeds where it should have no right to do so. The FMV, so anachronistic in today’s marketplace where motion capture is de rigueur, still holds a certain charm. Even the tiny letterbox window can’t detract from the admittedly impressive robots and other machinery which were cutting edge in terms of rendering back in 1993, and still elicit nods of approval. The plot may be thin and hung together by a generous portion of fromage, but for a two decade-old adventure, you could do a lot worse. It’s not Beyond: Two Souls, but that may actually count in its favour.