Most people probably never heard of Biosys, a PC game that came out in 1999, as it only saw the light of day in the UK where it was made and Germany. That fact alone leaves me puzzled why it wasn't offered on a wider English-speaking market. Sales were terrible and a planned sequel was cancelled. It's my favourite game to this day, though I haven't played it in maybe 15 years. Most of what I write is form my memories alone. I'll try not to spoil anything past the first hour or so, but it's generally a very short game, so that might be too much already.
It's basicly a puzzle-adventure game done in a myst-like style, but with a more or less dynamic environment and survival mechanics. The latter, a common theme nowadays, was extremely rare in the late 90s and early 2000s. I think this is because it was always badly implemented and therefore either meaningless or extremely punishing (Robinson's Requiem, anyone?). Biosys, however, handled the survival mechanics in a relaxed but still realistic way. Health and wellbeing of the player character could become a major issue if you didn't take care, but wouldn't stand in your way if you kept it in mind. Most of it felt natural - except that you were able to sleep everywhere, including a swamp hole, but rain would always wake you up.
You play as Dr. Alan Russell, a scientist who wakes up in the middle of a jungle with - how else could it start - amnesia, only remembering what you saw in the intro sequence: You running away from fire through some kind of tunnel. You soon find out that you are trappend in a complex made out of four giant glasshouses, biospheres, containing different biomes. The structure, called Biosphere 4, is a billion dollar research facility, isolated in the Andes. For some reason, you seem to be alone there.
Here's where it gets really interesting: First, the main character is somwhere in his 70s. He's an old man. He's still fit, but you have to keep his age in mind as you play the game. Putting him under too much stress, carrying too much weight, pressing on while tired - these things might be detrimental to his health. You might not notice now, maybe he starts getting tired sooner, maybe he seems weaker... Yeah, you can get yourself in an unwinable situation like that. Out of convinience, I once had him eat too much canned meat over weeks. The game wasn't much fun to play with coronary heart disease and high blood pressure. You have a meter that tells you how good your diet is. Chances are, though, you‘ll never look at it before it is too late.
Second: Russell's backstory seems to be extremely dark. You soon find out that he once was a major environmental activist, head of an international group on the way to influencing legislation in many countires. Then, out of nowhere, he abandoned his organization, effectivly killing it. Instead, he started working for Subtech, a company developing technology for oil drilling. They bought him by making his dream, the construction of Biosphere 4, come true. And, as it seems, they also keep him quiet by blackmailing him: Russell seems to have hired a hitman to murder an old friend from his environmentalist days decades ago.
It gets even worse. After years of paying for the research project and not getting enough out of it, Subtech planned on turning the glass houses into a luxury resort. Ignoring Russell‘s angry protest, the construction of „Club Eden“ started. You find notes written by the foreman complaing about Russell snooping around the construction site, stealing stuff and sabotaging machines. Then the fire happend, with toxic fumes killing every single worker at the site, their corpses slowly rotting (yes, they visibly decay!) there as you play through the game. If you get Russell drunk on mescal, he‘ll shout out how they all deserved it.
And that's just the beginning. If that‘s not an interesting character for a PC game, I‘ve never seen one. The game start by telling you: You fucked this up, because you are a terrible human being. Oh, but at least you didn't play Dr. Frankenstein and create a monster, too. Or did you? Of course, many things are not as they seem, but they never are, are they? But there you are, haunted by nightmares (I still know the poems from them by heart) and you are probably going to die from an overdose of prescription medication or by pouring water on electrical equipment.
So what is Russell trying to achieve? He‘s trying to get out of his sealed glass domes to escape the wrath of his former boss and possibly justice. But for that you have to get all the systems damaged by fire and toxic smoke back running. You slowly gain control of the enviromental controls, water purification, energy production and so on. Sometimes it can feel like an educational game, making you remember what kind of biome needs what at which time of the year. And it is educational! As a teen I got an A in biology because I could explain how exactly reverse osmosis water filtration works due to this game. Nevertheless, it‘s always more of a quite dark adventure.
From todays standpoint, the graphics are rather ugly. The resolution is low, as well as the colors. While I always loved the environments, I thought it was rather ugly back when I bought it in 1999. The puzzels are varied, mainly employing dumbed down real life logic, that is kind of hard to explain sometimes. Most of it is rather simple, though. The game has its fair share of bugs and was never patched. For example the meters for thirst and hunger are swapped, forcing you to eat much more often than to drink. This probably makes the game much easier, because the ways to transport water are limited, open water is often polluted or full of germs and drinking from taps drains hundreds of liters of water from the system for some reason. Some scenes failed to load properly in my version and there were game-breaking graphics issues.
I never finished the game. I always stopped before taking the last step at the end. I don‘t know why. Maybe I felt so at home in the environment I could control.
So how can you play it today? Well, if you get your fingers on an old copy, forget it with anything more modern than Windows 95. But there is a free version floating around the web, an all-inclusive installer that contains a virtual machine of the OS. That‘s probably not legal, though.