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|29 JUN 2011 at 4:53pm|
Posts : 1833
Joined: 2 NOV 2011
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Posted In: Articles : Reviews
Game reviewers Ė for that matter, all reviewers Ė are supposed to be objective. And we do try. But I should admit from the outset that I have always had a soft spot in my heart for video-based adventure games. There was that brief period in the '90s when a bunch of good (or at least popular) ones were made. I really enjoyed Gabriel Knight: The Beast Within, Byzantine, Black Dahlia, and Ripper. Hell I even enjoyed both Phantasmagoria (1, 2) games. And letís not forget Tex Murphy.
There was just something about the feeling that I was driving a movie, I guess. That, and the fact that the best of those games took me places I really wanted to go (Istanbul, Neuschwanstein Castle). I just ate them up.
So you could argue that I was entering into the experience of playing and reviewing Conspiracies II: Lethal Networks with a chocolate heart on my shoulder.
I just wish I could tell you that the game is better than it is. But then Iíd be shirking in my duty, dear reader.
But letís start at the beginning. As you probably know, this is the sequel to 2003ís Conspiracies. Like that game, it comes from a Greek development studio and takes place in a not-too-distant dystopian future.
The opening cinematic is promising enough, though it may be quoting a little too blatantly from Star Wars. Still, steal from the best, I guess.
There is an enormous amount of back story to the game. You get it through on-screen text and via the (sometimes quite lengthy) conversations. If you like digging into a complicated political science-fiction plot, thereís a lot here for you to chew on.
Alas, the acting is, in a word, amateurish. It may just be the very bad translation into English, but it makes the worst moments of an early Tex Murphy game seem like Citizen Kane. Particularly awful is the actor who plays the lead. Heís the player character, the one you need to identify with, control, and root for. And the actor playing him is remarkably unattractive (sorry, that counts in a game like this Ė do I need to remind you how handsome Chris Jones (Tex Murphy) Darren Eliker (Black Dahlia), and Scott Cohen (Ripper) were? For that matter, Victoria Morsell (Phantasmagoria) was easy on the eyes as well. Anyway, it counts.
But a bigger problem is his performance. He plays every scene like he doesnít want to be there. His default tone is a whine. He doesnít seem interested in getting out of bed, much less solving a dangerous mystery. Why would anyone pick him to be a secret government agent?! Iím frankly baffled by his casting and his performance. Maybe heís the CEO of Anima PPD Interactive; that would certainly explain it.
Okay, well so maybe you donít care about the performance part of a video-based game as I do. It can still be a good game, right? Letís see.
In the first big section, youíre wandering around a friendís villa. (Because for some inexplicable reason, even though youíre a high powered secret government agent, you canít pay your rent and get thrown out of your apartment by your landlady.) The game expects you to examine every room with a fine tooth comb, combining inventory items in ways that are utterly non-intuitive (why would it occur to me to attack a projector with a knife?).
And then thereís the character interactions. Character interaction is good, right? Well, it might be when Tim Curry and Mark Hamill are doing the voices. But in Conspiracies II itís a bit of a chore. The story has a potentially interesting setting: Earth is a junior member in a multi-race galactic alliance, and thereís a deadly conspiracy to investigate. However, this premise requires an enormous amount of exposition, which the game serves up during excruciatingly boring (and badly acted) cut scenes. Even worse than this, there are times when the game stops dead and requires you to ask questions. A lot of questions. Thereís a scene with your boss where you literally have to talk your way through twenty topics. Note to the game designers: Making me ask about twenty topics isnít fun. And itís not even really gaming.
Whatís even more distressing is that you will need to go through all of these topics every time you talk to this character, or risk missing the one topic that contains a vital nugget of new information. Again, this isnít a fun or entertaining process. It should go without saying that the primary job of a game is to be fun, and itís difficult to picture the developers of Conspiracies II play testing these mechanics and having their testers say, ďYeah! We love having to go through twenty-six topics over and over again, hoping that one of them will change! Bring it!Ē
And then there are the environments. I understand low-budget games. I root for low budget games. Machinarium, from a couple of years ago, was a low-budget game, and it was absolutely beautiful. The environments in Conspiracies II are not only unattractive, theyíre sort of puzzling. Early in the game you spend time in a tennis club that looks and feels like no tennis club Iíve ever been to. Now, I realize itís a tennis club in Greece, and in the future, but still. Since you spend so much time exploring your surroundings in a game like this, it is a great help if the environments make sense and feel organic.
The interface is workmanlike and gets the job done. As in many games like this, you pick up everything thatís not nailed down. Frequently you combine objects in your inventory interface. Look! A stick, a rubber band and a pebble become a pea shooter! Like that.
The game is fully 3D, and you move through it the same way you would through a first-person shooter. The real-time rendering and movement is silky smooth, and the movement speed is pleasingly brisk, so that it doesnít feel laborious to cover a lot of ground when youíre backtracking to look for something you may have missed.
The game is pretty shaky on the feedback it gives you regarding your environment. It can be very fussy when youíre trying to combine objects or use an inventory object on the environment. It can be tricky to determine what objects are ďliveĒ and which are just part of the environment. There is a patch which adds moving arrows to the screens, theoretically pointing out important hotspots. But this mechanic is unreliable and inconsistent, so itís of limited value.
The puzzles in the game are quite traditional. Look for passwords and clues. Improvise lock picks and biometric workarounds to get doors open. Make sure you talk to everyone about everything and then talk to them again when new information or developing events could trigger additional responses.
Another warning: The game does resort to the dreaded ďtimed puzzleĒ mechanic. Yipee!
Hereís the thing: If you have the patience to deal with the endless exposition-filled dialogs, the dreary and unintuitive environments, the fussy interface, and the bad acting, thereís actually a lot of game here. The adventure is long, features many varied planet-hopping environments, is rich in content, and has a complicated science fiction mystery story to explore. How you might grade this game would depend on if the things that irritated me about the game irritate you to the same degree. If they donít, you could get a lot more bang for your buck than I did with Conspiracies II.
-Well, listen to my story, a story I will tell, of an airborne sapper, who would go through hell, His home was FT. Leonard Wood, the land that God forgot, the mud was 18inches deep, and the sun was blazing hot.
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