Hi all, Retroplayer here. Here’s a game that many of you probably haven’t even heard of. In fact, I only came across it relatively recently, and as someone who loves to stumble upon an interesting looking game previously unknown to me, I had to give it a whirl. To my surprise it turned out far better than I initially expected.
Odyssey: The Search for Ulysses, developed by In Utero and Cryo Interactive Entertainment and released in 2000, is a wonderfully direct, yet complex adventure. As titles such as God of War prove, if done right Greek Mythology can be a strong basis for a videogame. Whether it’s an action title or simply an adventure game, the well of inspiration, characters, and interesting locations and situations, are rich and vibrant in Greek Mythology. Odyssey: The Search for Ulysses is based upon Homer’s Odyssey, an epic poem recounting the journey home to Ithaca of Ulysses after the fall of Troy. His journey, spanning over a 10 year period, sees Ulysses visit many islands, interact with various people and creatures, and go through many trials and tribulations. However, Odyssey: The Search for Ulysses doesn’t put you in the role of Ulysses himself, no, but rather that of Heriseus, a childhood friend of Ulysses. Sent to find the presumed dead Ulysses, Heriseus follows the road his old friend took, interacts with the people he crossed paths with, and seeks to find out the truth behind his friends disappearance.
The Search for Ulysses is a third person adventure game that basically consists of interacting with NPCs, navigating various locations, puzzle solving, and some very rudimentary combat. The formula pretty much remains the same throughout the game, but never quite feels stale due to the drastic change-up in locations, and the excellent narrative driven game-play. Levels are presented as pre-rendered backgrounds, while items and characters are fully 3D. However, unlike titles such a Final Fantasy VII, The Search for Ulysses contains large, 360 degree panoramic pre-rendered backgrounds. As the player runs through a location, the camera often follows them revealing some rather impressive sights. Upon beginning a new area, the player must solve various quests or puzzles to advance on to a new location. These range from merely interacting with certain characters, making your way through a maze, item fetching, using items to interact with the surrounding environment, or puzzle solving.
Yet despite this, the nature of the game strongly takes a focus on the story of Heriseus, the truth behind of why he didn’t take part in the war on Troy, and his place in the grand scheme of things. As stated before, various items are found throughout the game, and though it could have used it much more, at times the player must combine certain objects together to advance beyond certain areas. For instance, when imprisoned by the hulking creatures, the Laestrygonians, the player must combine a rope a Rams skull in order to create a very crude hook and rope, in order to escape. There are also times in which a knowledge of Greek Mythology is needed for some puzzles, so those of you not up to scratch on the tale of Prometheus or Hercules may need to consult a walk-through. Combat is very rarely used , which is good because it’s clumsy, awful and without a doubt brings out the worst in the game. The utterly tedious battle against the Gorgon comes to mind, sadly. Terrible.
There are tiny annoyances that drag The Search for Ulysses down too. Controlling Heriseus is rather simple and pleasant, though the controls can’t be remapped. This means that for those of you who primarily use W,A,S and D when PC gaming, you’re are out of luck. The items screen is bizarrely designed, with it often being clumsy and uninspired. The main menus within the game are horrendously realised, too. Apart from the horrible, garish colours used, even the most seasoned gamer will need to take time to figure out what exactly they’re looking at. Furthermore, the inability to properly pause the game during dialogue sections, instant player deaths, and barely vague hints at what the player should do next are among other concerns.
Most of these can be overlooked though, as the best aspect of the game is in its story, characters and world. The story itself is expertly told here, with the script being smart, interesting and containing a particularly strong dialogue sequence in which Heriseus is being judged by the gods. The locations, and the unique story tied to each of them, nicely stand apart as almost singular adventures under the umbrella of the greater, overarching mystery. The Search for Ulysses doesn’t base its story on Homer’s Odyssey lightly either. It’s a serious tale of a man following the path of Ulysses. It plays out wonderfully.
Graphically it’s pretty great. Though some locations suffer from pixelation in the pre-rendered backgrounds, and at times pathways are obscured by badly chosen camera views, the game gives the player some impressive and diverse sights. From the sun scorched dream world that the Lotus Eaters perceive, to the grief laden torment of Tartarus, the Greek Underworld, locations are highly enjoyable to explore and stand as one of the games finer aspects. The only let down are the lack of animations within these pre-rendered backgrounds. This is most apparent when it comes to the game’s static skies and seemingly solid water. Beyond the backgrounds, characters are presented nicely, and despite being 3D on a technically flat background, they blend it quite well at times. Visually it all comes together surprisingly well. The soundtrack, composed by Gilles Sivilotto, delivers on many levels too. Though very sparingly used, and at times the loops are too noticeable, there are quite a few music cues that really steal the show.
Overall, Odyssey: The Search for Ulysses is a mixed bag that I ultimately grew a great fondness for. While the story, characters, and voice acting are all extremely well realised, the game-play is lacking at times, and what the game does best it doesn’t do perfectly. However, once you get over some of the games little annoyances, it’s an adventure well worth taking. It’s one that doesn’t treat the player like a fool, or excessively spoon feed them. It’s a smart tale that respects it’s iconic source material as much it respects the player, and overall comes out on top as a highly enjoyable experience.