“The Vortex,” along with its prequel “Quantum Gate,” seeks to break with this existing paradigm of interactivity and provide a more player-friendly kind of multimedia game. Director-designer Greg Roach of Hyperbole Studios has developed an innovative format he calls VirtualCinema, which combines visual, musical and cinematic elements to create a gaming experience that actually puts the player inside the unfolding plot of a movie.
The player in a VirtualCinema game views the action literally through the eyes of the story’s main character.
We learn about the character’s motivations and history through flashback and dream sequences, and as events unfold we are privy to his inner thoughts and musings.
In conversation we are presented with choices of how to respond, which cumulatively determine the outcome of the plot. Action flows smoothly from one scene to the next, with no fumbling with “where do I go now?” The result is an interactive film experience that makes the viewer an integral part of the product, watching a story that never need turn out the same way twice.
The plot of “Vortex” is a sci-fi
yarn about a young soldier named Drew Griffin whose unit is sent through a “Quantum Gate” to an alien world reported to have a highly toxic atmosphere and a hostile insectoid population, but supposedly rich in a mineral compound that can reverse the Earth’s catastrophic environmental decline. It’s the mysteries about the hidden goals of the mission and the government’s real motives that lie at the heart of “Vortex.”
On the technical side, “Vortex’s” design makes very good use of Windows’ video capabilities by not trying to bite off more than it can chew. Rather than trying to show entire full-screen filmed scenes that would choke most systems, it instead splashes inset boxes of the talking heads of characters over a still shot of the scene’s background. Transitional dissolves from scene to scene are generally quick and smooth, only occasionally bogging down the computer with too-complex graphical changes.
Taken solely as a piece of cinema, “Vortex” doesn’t really get above the “pretty good” level. Some of the performances are too overwrought, and the dream sequences seem to drag on way too long. But the engrossing interactive element and the wide variety of possible outcomes more than overcome these quibbles, making “Vortex” a worthy and enjoyable investment of time.