Reviews: NiBiRu: Age of Secrets
What begins as a short expedition to Prague turns into a dangerous and thrilling mystery involving Nazi secrets and the demise of the Mayan civilization
Developer: Future Games
Publisher: dtp (Europe), The Adventure Company (N. America)
Genre: Sci-Fi / Mystery / Adventure
Release Date: 2005
Alternate Title: NiBiRu: Messenger of the Gods (UK)
Note: Originally published 26 September 2005
Something wonderful happens when you mix Mayans, aliens, and Nazis. If you’re looking to make a good adventure game, you really can’t go wrong with this particular trifecta. Well, you could, but you’d have to try pretty hard. That’s why I was so excited at the prospect of playing Future Games’ NiBiRu. After all, it contains all my favorite elements, neatly rolled into one little ball of gaming pleasure—ancient civilizations, conspiracies, alien legacies, Nazis, murder. Man, if only it had the Knights Templar, it could have been…. Broken Sword! Although the Knights make nary a mention, this game does have yet another element in common with the Broken Sword series, or so I think. I’ll return to this point later.
In the meantime, let’s recap the important points of the storyline. Our hero is a young linguistics and archeology student by the name of Marin Holan. Martin travels to Prague at the behest of his uncle, an esteemed professor in search of clues to a mystery. What begins as a minor quest to speak with his uncle’s friend in Prague ends in murder… which begins an adventure of an entirely different sort. Eventually the grim specter of Nazis is raised, and nothing good can ever come of that. One interesting thing about Martin is that, while ostensibly European, he speaks with a California accent which is to say, no accent at all.
In fact, I spent the entire game absolutely certain that I was listening to the same actor who brought Broken Sword’s George Stobbart to life. I was so certain that it didn’t even occur to me to check the credits until the end of the game. Turns out, Rolf Saxon is not listed as a voice talent. Instead the voice of Martin Holan, the lead character, is done by Rory O’Shea. This explains a couple of things that had me confused. While O’Shea does an overall good job of voice acting, he lacks that certain panache that marks all of George Stobbart’s lines, and it comes off as a bit flat. Of course, this could also be due to the difference in writing. There are no clever quips or astute observations to give this game depth. Dialogue is pretty much the meat-and-potatoes sort.
Speaking of line delivery, this is a good time to mention the similarities—and the differences—between this game and Black Mirror, also from Future Games. Now I, for one, am a huge Black Mirror fan, although I fully acknowledge the flaws that garnered such mixed reviews. In BM, the horrid dialogue and delivery are glaringly obvious; so much so that they border on unintentional comedy. The developers seem to have taken due note of this and don’t make the same mistakes in NiBiRu. While neither the writing nor the acting is likely to win any awards, they’re also not impediments to the game.
Of course, Black Mirror wouldn’t have lodged itself in my brain so firmly if it hadn’t had good points as well, and those are definitely carried over to NiBiRu. I recognized the graphics style, the architectural elements, and puzzle types as well. That the graphics and game play should be similar is no surprise. After all, both games were created using the AGDS engine. As in Black Mirror, the characters’ movements are somewhat stilted but the surroundings are lush, dark, and ambient. This particular game engine renders very realistic environments and lends itself particularly to melancholy, dreamy landscapes filled with rain and fog, and the sparse sound echoes the sentiments perfectly.
Most of the time, the puzzles are another seemlessly-blended element. I say most of the time because they degenerate into slider puzzles toward the end. I’m not sure whether the developers just ran out of ideas or think slider puzzles are a must-have in any adventure game, but the result is a triple-whammy at the conclusion. I much prefer the problem-solving puzzles found in the rest of the game, which are highly believable for each situation.
If you’re trying to pass cheap wine off as an expensive vintage, it just makes sense to grab a spare bottle from a wino. What else would you do? And if you need to distract a repairman, creating a short in an electrical circuit is just the ticket. Those are the sort of puzzles that make NiBiRu an all-around great game for mystery/ adventure fans. By and large the puzzles are not arcane or mysterious, they’re just common sense.
*End of Spoilers*
Now, I’ve already mentioned the many diverse concepts that get introduced in the game. That’s a lot of material to pack into one story line, and the writers have done a passable job of tying them together. Unfortunately, some aspects just kind of get dropped along the way and picked back up toward the end as sort of an afterthought. I’m speaking specifically of the aliens theme here, and to some extent, the Nazis. While it's necessary to garner the name of the mysterious 12th planet (NiBiRu), and it adds something of an occult twist, it really doesn't seem central to the theme at all.
It began as an idea just tossed around by Martin’s uncle, and makes a final, unimpressive showing at the end. Speaking of the end, don’t get me started. I hate to beat a dead horse here, but I’m going to have to drag Black Mirror into the mix once again. I think of all the games I’ve played, none has had such an odd, abrupt, dissatisfying ending as that game. But where BM left me saying ,”Whaaaa?!!!!,” NiBiRu simply leaves me staring blankly. It makes sense… sort of. But it has the feel of someone quickly dashing to conclude a story with too many elements, and not enough time to do so. Kind of like a reviewer who really needs to wrap things up, so she compresses her final thoughts into one small, final paragraph:
While my last few impressions of the game leave me slightly sour, they don't override the excitement I've felt throughout the rest of the game. I thoroughly enjoy the mystery, the puzzles, and the graphics, and feel right at home with much of it. In the same spirit that caused me to love Black Mirror despite its laughable flaws, I’m going to have to give NiBiRu an A-.
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OS: Windows® 95/98/ME/2000/XP
CPU: 800 MHz Pentium® 3 (or comparable)
RAM: 128 MB RAM
Free Hard Disk Space: 2.5 GB
CD/DVD-ROM Drive: 16x
Video: 32 MB DirectX® 3D Compatible Video Card
Sound: DirectX® Compatible Sound Card
Input: Keyboard, Mouse and Speakers