Imagine, if you will, being dropped into the middle of the huge, labyrinthine Hermitage Museum for your first-ever visit. Someone turns out the museum’s lights and hands you a penlight. “Enjoy your visit,” they say, leaving you to stumble cluelessly through the huge collection in the dark. Actually, you don’t have to imagine it. The Hermitage (Cascade Marketing/Intersoft Inc.) gives you the experience on CD-ROM, and they’ve made it all the more exciting by doing the multimedia equivalent of tying your shoelaces together first. Just try to navigate this title with the interface of cryptic buttons, whose icons apparently have no relationship to their function. Once you do figure out how to move around, you still won’t have any idea where to go or how to get anything useful out of your visit. There’s no orientation, and all the material is arranged without any discernible meaning. This is a shame because the content, while spotty in some areas, is quite decent. You’ll find nicely digitized imagery that can be examined in detail, some interesting and lucid hypertext-linked essays, maps of the galleries, and even a half hour of classical music by primarily Russian composers. Too bad the videos are so blurry and that so much of the supporting material is really just narrated slide shows. In terms of content The Hermitage is worth a look, but accessing it will really try your patience.
– May 1996