Every Wednesday, we highlight rarely-remembered but interesting games for our "Games Time Forgot" series.
I was never much of a PC gamer. I missed out on many of the games considered to be classics today, even all of the great point-and-click adventure games such as your Mysts and Monkey Islands that you all hold so near to your hearts. My family did not have a computer at home until around '96, and the few games that I had that weren't educational came packaged with that Packard Bell.
Ever the curious child, I went through the rather large stack of CDs one by one that summer. They were mostly cookbooks, encyclopedias, interactive stories, and Spider Man Cartoon Maker (which would also be great Games Time Forgot fodder, if only it were an actual game). Within the pack of colorful discs filled with software aimed towards younger children, there was a surprisingly dark-looking disc with a picture of a one eyed robot. I popped it in, expecting something like the others, and when it turned out to be what it was, it blew my mind. I had never played anything quite like it before, and as such, it left quite an impression on me. It's just a shame that I eventually forgot its name as time progressed.
Long after the computer had died and the collection of software was lost, I had faint memories of playing The Journeyman Project, but I chalked it up to something made up by my imagination. I had to eventually rack my brain for the game's name myself, as I never came across any discussion of a game that sounded like the weird 3D time travel game that I had stumbled across in my youth. To my suprise, there were actually three of these games, making the series a overlooked trilogy among many.
Story: The three Journeyman Project games put the player behind the eyes of Gage Blackwood, or Agent 5, an employee of the Temporal Security Agency. The TSA is an organization of 24th century Earth, built around the creation of the planet's first time machine, codenamed Pegasus. Agents have access to the machine to prevent and repair any temporal rips in time that may be created by changes in the past, whether accidental or acts of terrorism.
Each game sees Agent 5 in different scenarios, ranging from saving the world to clearing his name, using Pegasus to travel to several different times and places in order to preserve the history of mankind from time-traveling threats.
Gameplay: These games are 3D point-and-click adventures with an emphasis on time travel as a plot device and a tool. Everything is seen through the single bionic monocle over Agent 5's left eye, and the first two games use installable Biochips from the monocle's terminal to do certain things, such as granting instant access to Pegasus while in the past or future. This is also where normal inventory items, such as keycards and optical disks, can be selected for use in the field of vision.
Each game has an average of three different times to travel to in order to solve their respective puzzles, in addition to the present time that the game begins in. The different time periods can be visited in any order, but some things need to be done in one time period before you can do something in another, and it is up to the player to use the information they find in-game to figure out what needs to be done, and in what order.
Specific things about the gameplay change as the series progresses -- for example, in the first game, The Journeyman Project, player death is used very loosely as punishment for not doing a puzzle right or not solving it in time. But by the third game, Legacy of Time, player death is a thing rarely seen, if at all. The third game also gets rid of the Biochips used in the first two games, for better or worse.
Why you're probably not playing them: No one ever talks about them. Has anyone but me played these games? Out of all the articles, reviews, and game tributes I have read over the years, no one has ever mentioned The Journeyman Project. This is why I firmly believed that it was merely something I dreamt and mistook for actual memory for so long.
That aside, it's very hard to play through the trilogy due to the glaring differences between each entry. Most of the changes were not necessarily improvements, as the only real problem the first game had was with slow performance (several fixes and two remakes, Turbo! and Pegasus Prime, were released to deal with these issues). They seem to mess with the initial formula of the game, even changing how much of an impact the player's time traveling has on the game's events. In the last game, it is more of a plot device than something that you have at your disposal.
That being said, it may be hard for someone to love one of the three and then be happy with the next one that they play. Some may prefer the more punishing time travel-centric first game, while others may prefer the simplicity and larger screen of the third game. The second game is somewhat of a middle ground between the two. Personally, I found it a bit hard to enjoy the last two games after playing the first. In fact, the added humor of the latter two games, brought in by an AI named Arthur, was the main reason I got through them. But on the flip side of things, the first game has not aged well, graphically speaking. The graphics still plods along a bit even when playing the fixed versions.
It's almost criminal that these games are never brought up in conversations about great adventure games, especially when they pushed the envelope in nearly every aspect, from their graphics to the depth of their puzzles. At the time, these were some of the most advanced PC games out there, as far as design was concerned. The first game's box proudly proclaims that it is the "World's First Photorealistic Adventure Game", and while I'm not sure whether or not that's actually true, it had to be one of the first at the very least.
The Journeyman Project series may have been Buried in Time (such a wildly appropriate name), bullied out by other PC games of its kind that are considered superior, but it will always have that special place in my heart because it was my first "real" PC game. I may look at them with some rose-colored goggles halfway on, but this trilogy of games certainly doesn't deserve to be forgotten. I've since burned its name into my mind; I will never let it slip from my memory again.