There's a scene near the beginning of The Daedalus Encounter that typifies most of what's right and wrong with this extraterrestrial adventure. Your alter ego is a human brain inside a probe that you launch to investigate an alien ship. After you initiate the proper sequence on an easy-to-use on-screen menu, you're treated to a gorgeous cinematic interlude in which the probe, on automatic pilot, wends its way through a jagged asteroid field toward the lifeless derelict. Finally, the big moment arrives. As you approach the alien ship, the captain informs you that you'll have to shoot a laser beam to activate the main hatch. Your cursor turns into a crosshair, you train your sights on a little nubbin on the hull, and you get to fire off a single pulse. Aim a bit to the left, and the hatch explodes (at which point you have to start the sequence all over again); a bit to the right, and it slides open and lets you in.
If that sounds like a small payoff for a large setup, it is. Compounding this problem, there's not much you can do with the probe later on besides zoom back and forth, emit colored bursts of light, and latch on to assorted space debris with a grappling arm. It seems that most CD-ROM producers still haven't figured out how to combine compelling interactive elements with slick movie-style visuals and storytelling. But while The Daedalus Encounter-starring Tia Carrere and Christian Bocher (last seen on Melrose Place)-suffers from that limitation, the game's high-tech scenery and foreboding scenario are engrossing enough to lead you through stretches during which you have nothing to do but watch.
Daedalus' influences are so obvious they should be stamped on the box right next to the system specifications. From the Alien movies you get the story of a crew investigating an abandoned vessel whose insectoid inhabitants have been destroyed by inexorable, armor-plated parasites. From TV's Babylon 5 there are some gnarly, computer-generated special effects, including an alien ship that looks like a giant fossilized coelacanth. And The 7th Guest, another Virgin game, apparently inspired Daedalus' series of fiendishly challenging puzzles (most of them the equivalent of extraterrestrial combination locks) that have to be solved in order to advance the action. As with Guest, it's not enough simply to tackle these puzzles head-on; you first have to decipher their underlying logic.
Inevitably, The Daedalus Encounter's main selling point will be the presence of Carrere as the babe-a-licious cocaptain of the exploring ship. Surely the least convincing thespian ever to utter the line "I'm getting too old for this s - -," Carrere does fine in her multimedia debut. But the role's been so underwritten, it could have been played by virtually anyone. (In what seems like a nod to her nutty Wayne's World days, Carrere dryly observes Bocher drinking from an alien toilet in a sequence that's milked-or should I say flushed?-about 30 seconds too long.)
Like many sci-fi movies, Daedalus has its share of flubbed dialogue and inane plot developments. When they first enter the alien ship, for example, Carrere and Bocher doff their space suits-then traipse around in their civvies, fretting about those killer parasites. And there are some clunky shifts in narrative point of view between the human duo and the probe, which exaggerate, rather than smooth over, the uneasy mix of movie and game elements.
This game's true attraction is its genuinely creepy sci-fi-movie sequences, displayed with astonishing sharpness. As for interactivity, though The Daedalus Encounter flatters you into thinking you're the brains of the outfit, you're really just along for the ride.
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