The Ward Review
The Apollo 19 mission on the Moon runs as planned until something goes very wrong. The command station on the dark side of the Moon is destroyed by an unknown entity and all but one of Earth's crew is killed. The only astronaut left alive, David Walker, is kidnapped and taken onto a secret Moonbase.
Surrounded by strange alien technology, Walker needs to figure out what is going on and why he has been taken. A large sphere hovers above him, watching his every move. His first challenge is to break free of the painful sound barrier keeping him imprisoned. He travels through rooms full of equipment he does not understand, unsuccessfully attempting to read the alien language, until finally he comes face to face with a huge glowing sphere. Establishing contact with a race of grey aliens, he discovers he has been chosen as The Ward -- a being whom prophecy fortells will save the universe. His mission: Find the Nexus and reach the Ark.
The Ward is a wonderful third-person adventure game with beautiful graphics, great music and sound effects, plus an interesting story which unfolds very gradually as you progress. The whole design of the game is top-notch, from the moment of installation until the finale. The unlimited amount of save game slots and easily managed inventory make it a pleasure to play. Shipped on 2 CD-ROMs, there is absolutely no disk swapping, and you can start the game from either CD. The manual is well written and easy to understand.
Walker will meet some other characters and can talk to them. The only voices heard, though, are during the full-motion cut-scenes and those are done very well. Other conversations are shown in text form on the screen. Questions can be asked by selecting from the choices at the bottom of the screen. After a while I didn't miss the voices. In fact, being able to read the dialog at my own pace was a refreshing change. The characters are well designed and have life-like features and as much personality as you can get using written dialog. Object descriptions and titles are displayed with a simple right click of the mouse. I also liked being able to view the cut-scenes again right from the main menu. Saving and loading games was as easy as pie.
There are numerous puzzles, too, which range from easy to hard. Various types are included in the game. You'll be pushing buttons on control panels, figuring out strange door locks, manipulating equipment, inserting tiles, and working plenty of very different slider puzzles. There are a quite a few timed sequences where Walker must perform actions in a certain time frame, but all of them fit well into the story. Some are very difficult to do and result in multiple restores of saved games, but I thought they brought the appropriate suspense and urgency to the moment. All of the puzzles will keep you on your toes and interested until the very end. Players who choose to play in the "easy" mode will have the option to automatically solve certain puzzles by clicking on a section of the screen.
Overall, I recommend The Ward to anyone who enjoys science fiction, especially experienced adventure gamers who are looking for a challenge. Even watching the credits is delightful. Younger players or those who have never played this type of game may become frustrated with the timed segments, however. I hope we will see more games like this from Fragile Bits in the future.
-- Jeanne Muse