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Review by: Bob Mandel
Published: March 5, 2001
As a lover of science fiction, I am fully aware of its advantages in unleashing your imagination in circumstances beyond your wildest dreams. More than any other art form, it can place you in fantasy environments which operate according to wondrous rules of their own, drawing you away from your conventional assumptions which keep you tightly bound in the mundane world in which you live. But sometimes you are transported so far from reality, from anything you can remotely recognize, that you begin to lose your bearings. Such may be the case in the new release The Ward, developed by the Croatian company Fragile Bits Interactive and published by the Gathering of Developers’ Dallas-based budget label On Deck Interactive, where the intention of the designers is to take you far away from your comfort zone in a mysterious quest unlike any you have ever encountered.
The plot in The Ward reflects on the surface a rather conventional science fiction premise, but lurking underneath is boundless complexity. You play the role of David Walker, an American astronaut who is part of the Apollo XIX crew. You are undertaking a routine mission to collect information about unusual seismic activity detected upon the surface of the Moon. When you are almost finished with your mission, everything goes wrong: something attacks and explodes both the command module and lunar excursion module, killing everyone in the crew except you. After losing consciousness in the aftermath of this disaster, you wake up and realize you have been captured by aliens and transported to a secret base on the Moon. Noticing that a security necklace around your neck restricts your freedom of movement, you have no idea why the aliens have selected you and what purposes they have in mind.
Indeed, a closer look into the underlying backdrop leads you directly down the path of confusion and downright unintelligibility. Long ago a highly technological civilization developed, and its members began to alter their genetic structure and became known as the makers. As the technology became more powerful, they start to think of themselves as gods. Eventually they face an unsolvable problem, which they enigmatically call the compression of outer space. Then they turn to time transport to figure out the secret of space compression. Over the centuries afterwards conflicts develop, and most of the makers’ technology is forgotten. But a persevering alien race finds some maker artifacts and get to know the maker technology through the technovirus. But the technovirus has been separated into two components, the ark and the quickener: the ark is sealed on the Moon, while the quickener is hidden on the holy mountain. Only one person — the Ward — can unite these components and return the knowledge. With a burning desire to combine these components, these aliens destroy David Walker’s command and lunar excursion modules and kidnap him because they suspect that he might be the actual Ward. Meanwhile, a different alien race organizes a riot to save the Ward, providing him with protection so that he may find the technovirus ark component. I suspect most of you readers are now as lost as I am from this muddled tangle of storyline, and believe me that throughout most of the game you perform tasks with meanings you could not possibly comprehend.
You pass through three completely distinct chapters in your quest, and you must assume three distinct postures in the process. First, you find yourself alone on an alien moon base, and while scrambling around you try desperately to figure out the reasons why you are there, the issues causing conflict, the nature of the alien technology, and your means of escape. Second, in a much more conversation-oriented segment, you find yourself in a human prison colony on Mars; and you learn through discussion with the inhabitants about the Ward, without fully realizing you are the one to whom everyone is referring. Third, you move from being a fugitive and information gatherer, to direct action and interstellar conflict on an alien spaceship; and ultimately on the holy mountain: you engage in heart-stopping subversion and sabotage to keep the aliens from destroying mankind.
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