Jazz & Faust Review

In Jazz and Faust, the player directs the action of two adventurers in pursuit of a fabled treasure. The twist is that you play the entire game through in one character, then play it through again in the person of the other character. There are differences in the two stories -- "Jazz" is a smuggler, a rascal, and an unscrupulous charmer; "Faust" is a shipowner, a romantic, and a good-hearted simpleton -- so it's something like having two separate games in the one title. That would be a good thing, if either game was worth playing.

In the whistling dry desert that is the current adventure game landscape, a creation like Jazz & Faust is a cruel trick. From a distance, it looks like the sweetest of palm-laden oases, filled with cool sparkling streams, sweet music, and houris with pomegranates. But up close, it turns out to be just another bloody mirage -- one or two saguaros and some mud.

I suppose I'm being too harsh. Since American games makers have apparently abandoned the genre utterly in favor of mindless shooters and sims, these European imports (though this game is Russian) are all we have left until LucasArts manages to squeeze out another Monkey Island. Judged against most of the current crop of games like Druuna, Odyssey, Beyond Atlantis, and the like, J&F holds its own well enough. Just don't expect too much in the way of writing, puzzles, or continuity. Or acting. Or logic.

Most of the challenge of J&F comes from trying to find the one action that will allow the game to continue, it being a surprisingly linear game -- and then trying to figure out why on earth that thing worked. Why would a self-respecting hero sell his only weapon before embarking on a dangerous trip with his would-be sweetie? And let's not even talk about the morals of everyone in this piece. There's no traditionally immoral actions like murder or rape or even cursing -- that wouldn't be so bad -- but there's a fair amount of stuff I'd characterize as almost amoral, like using a live dog as bait in a trap or giving opium to an addict, as if conventional morality was irrelevant. Also, in Russian fairy tales, "happily ever after" is rather a foreign concept. If this was an American game I'd say the ending was indicative of a coming sequel; being Russian, however, it seems to be saying that the protagonists have all been sent to hell for their sins. Ah. Well. Huh. And?

Some of the problems of the plot may be a matter of Western expectations of good story-telling. If I was an action hero and I discovered that the blushing primrose of a maiden I was rescuing had decapitated her last paramour, I'd back hastily away and let her rescue her own bad self. If I was a woman with the muscles and the cold calculation necessary to take a man's head off, I'd have nothing to do with a would-be rescuer who just got beaten up by a potbellied old rummy in a bar.

Game play is smooth and untroubled, and the graphics are sometimes quite dazzling. That about sums it up for the assets of this strange little game. The acting is execrable, varying from fairly competent to bored to helplessly confused. The writing is either appallingly bad or just badly translated. The puzzles are sometimes achingly simple and sometimes nonsensical.

If you've played everything else out there and are desperate for a new game, you could do worse than Jazz and Faust. But don't pay full price for it.

-- Lynn Hendricks