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by EA

pic1.jpg (5190 bytes)A lot has been said about Majestic, EA’s new online game-type-thing. EA’s view, shared by Majestic’s most ardent fans, is that this is the future of interactive, episodic gaming. Indeed, it’s not quite like anything we’ve played before. On the other side of the spectrum are critics and gamers who not only feel that Majestic is not the great white hope of gaming, but that it is a fairly schlocky, disjointed mess that costs ten bucks a month. Certainly Majestic could be improved – every game could be better – but after a month and two episodes of play, I’m convinced that Majestic is spearheading a whole new genre of gaming. Is it the future of the entire industry? Absolutely not – who’s going to give up their flight simulators and sports games for this kind of adventure/story? But Majestic is unlike anything I’ve encountered so far, and in a videogame market starving for innovation that says a lot about how important it is.

pic4.jpg (5272 bytes)The most difficult task here is to summarize just what Majestic is. It’s billed as: "The game that plays you." That’s not too bad a description. Somewhat like the Dreamcast cult hit, Seaman, Majestic determines how much and when you can play, not you. Unlike Seaman, in which you had to keep a strict schedule to maintain your virtual charge, Majestic doesn’t keep you on any particular regiment. You can play whenever you’d like, but the nature of the game prevents you from logging long hours. In general, if you play for about 45 minutes each day, you’ll keep up nicely with the game.

pic3.jpg (5828 bytes)You sign up for Majestic: The Game, but quickly find yourself playing Majestic, the real-life conspiracy. You become a member of the Majestic Alliance, chosen to be a part of the alliance long before you heard about it. As part of the game, you’ll interact with a wide array of characters, from Kendra and Mike, who work for EA’s development studio, Anim-X, to Raymond and Fiona, old-school conspiracy bigwigs who assist you in figuring out a conspiracy that grows more convoluted and spooky every day. It all starts with what seems like a server crash at Anim-X, bringing down the game. Shortly after you experience this, your phone will ring. That’s right – YOUR phone WILL RING. You don’t click on a virtual phone to pick up and hear the spine-tingling message that clues you in to possible arson and murder, you pick up the same phone you use to talk to your momma and listen to a strange voice tell you that you’ve been chosen for the alliance.

pic5.jpg (6085 bytes)Yes, Majestic is a little freaky. When signing up for the game, you’ll agree to many disclaimers and be advised of proper use. If you have children at home, you’re asked to not allow the game to call you. You can set it to give a disclaimer at the beginning of each message. It will want your fax number, too, so it can send you mysterious documents and clues. All of this can be turned off and relegated to a desktop-like interface, but for the full experience, you’ll want the game to mess with you in every possible way. That’s how we’ve played it here at GF! headquarters, and we were thoroughly sucked in the first time the phone rang. Sometimes calls come early in the morning or very late at night; however, the grogginess only makes the illusion that much more thorough.

pic2.jpg (6622 bytes)Majestic is the kind of game that Chris Carter wishes he could write, and it beats watching what passes for acting or suspense in the X-Files. Most sane folks know that there are two reasons to watch the X-Files: First, you can recognize conspiracies and "Fortean" elements that you’ve read about in other places. Second, it’s incredibly easy to guess what the next plot twist will be or how the latest clue fits into the puzzle. I spend the bulk of the television show bitching about how Mulder and Scully have such difficulty dealing with such simple mysteries. Majestic allows you to quit the bitching and get with the straight-up puzzle solving. Granted, some of the puzzles in Majestic are as inane as those on Carter’s dying series, but they do improve as new episodes are released, and announced plans for future episodes sound veritably complex.

mike-sign-01.jpg (3767 bytes)Of course, Majestic isn’t sexy like the X-Files, but it makes up for what it lacks in red hair and boobs with true interactivity. Conversation bots, which exhibit a great AI, instant message you through AIM; the phone rings and you must pick it up; you’ll cruise through real and fake websites collecting clues; and you’ll find yourself calling and hacking voice mail systems. This kind of play is, for many gamers at least, immensely satisfying. The variety of techniques you must use to solve puzzles and gather information is incredible, and the mixture of real news articles, websites, and facts with completely fictitious elements blurs the lines between reality and game enough to keep Majestic on your mind throughout the day, wondering who you meet in day-to-day business is the victim of mind control nano technology put in place by the shadow government, or who is watching you from a spy satellite as you cross the street. Combine playing Majestic with watching one of those History Channel documentaries about spy techniques and you run a very real risk of developing some paranoid delusions.

pic9.jpg (7029 bytes)As with all games, innovative as they may be, we must deal with the naysayers. Majestic is interesting enough that folks will debate its qualtiy as a game for months to come. Currently, I am more than enamored with Majestic, and I have a hard time believing that I’ve had my gaming world so drastically redefined this year between serious sessions with Black and White and Majestic. The most common beef with Majestic, and Black and White for that matter, stems from the contrary nature of many gamers and game critics – it’s easy to take the opposite point of view when everyone starts clamoring about how innovative a game is. This is understandable, mainly because of the unabashed promotion that game companies put forth and because of the "me too" aspect of so much gaming coverage in the media. The fact of the matter is, many of the large consumer media outlets don’t know Jack about games and just take the word of the press release to decide if a game is good or bad. A high gee-whiz factor does wonders for reviews. The point here is that a lot of gamers, especially of the "hardcore" variety, are going to come down on Majestic just because that’s cooler than saying the same thing that Time magazine said about it.

pic6.jpg (7960 bytes)The real criticisms of Majestic center around the quality of the puzzles and mysteries you’re asked to solve. Some of them are very easy, requiring you to simply do a search on a term or wait for somebody to contact you to give you the answer. These are especially noticeable in the pilot episode and episode one. The defense against this criticism would be that a game like Majestic must take its time teaching gamers how to play it, especially since EA has made it known that they are not only seeking the Internet super-savvy hardcore gaming audience, but the "casual gamer" who isn’t necessarily as familiar with the technology or conventions of gaming. It does seem silly that a world famous hacker who has agreed to assist you must ask you to use the Network Solutions "Whois" tool to find the administrator of a site you hack in the game. There are other elements of the game that make computer savvy players wonder, but I found it no more disturbing than some of the common conventions in gaming, such as health being littered around a barren level or being unable to blow away a door when armed with a rocket launcher. To further ameliorate this issue, EA has gone back and added extra mysteries into the pilot and first couple episodes called the Solitaire Revelations. Solitaire is an alliance member who presents you with mysteries that you must solve entirely on your own. Upon solving them you are given extra information about the scope and details of the shadow government and the overarching conspiracy. In addition, EA claims that in later episodes you are given the tools and clues to solve puzzles with no assistance or guidance from the NPCs, allowing more skillfull players to advance with a greater degree of difficulty.

The only other major criticism has to do with the mechanics of the game. Overall, your desktop Majestic application, combined with the basic website interface, works very well. However, being an online game, Majestic relies heavily on your Internet connection. If you have a broadband connection, things run smooth as silk. If you use a dial-up connection, you may encounter some difficulties with the streaming video and audio. Some of the video you see includes very important visual clues, which may be skipped if the stream is choppy. Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do to remedy this, but there are a lot of sites that post information in such a way that you won’t have the story or mystery spoiled. Because it becomes obvious very quickly which segments suffer at the hands of an analog modem, the Majestic community is prompt and reliable for assisting with these troubles.

Yes, Majestic will change the future of gaming. No, Majestic will not usurp or take over the gaming world. Majestic is a whole new genre of game, somewhere between game and television, reality and fantasy. It proves that flashy graphics and high tech requirements do not make a game good or immersive; concept and execution do that. If you want to stay abreast of the most exciting developments in gaming, Majestic is one of those games you absolutely must play. Sign up for the free demo through www.majesticthegame.com and check it out. If you’re not impressed, at least you’ll know what the rest of us are talking about. If you are sucked in, it’ll set you back $9.99 per month to keep the conspiracy flowing, a small price to pay to be a part of the salvation of humanity.

Shawn Rider   (09/09/2001)

Snapshot

Ups: New kind of interaction; great story; diverse ways to approach puzzles; calls you on the phone!

Downs: Some puzzles are a bit simple; possible problems with 56K Internet connection.

Platform: PC

 


1995-2001
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