Note: This review was originally posted August 7, 2003
First of all, let me say it loud and clear: this game will be an instant CLASSIC adventure game. I have not been so absorbed by a FMV (Full Motion Video) adventure game since Tex Murphy: The Pandora Directive. Despite some minor issues which I will explain in detail, this game has the story, characters, and puzzles that make a great adventure game.
Fears for the future of mankind are overflowing. Society, in the middle of the 21st century is threatened by a devastated natural environment, overpopulation, crime and an increase in different kinds of depression and nerve related illnesses. Nick Delios, a top medical software student of University of Thessaloniki, has been back-stabbed by his own scientific research leader. Dimitris Argiriou claimed Nick's project as his own, threw Nick out of the team, and broke Nick's marriage with his sister. In his frustration, Nick abandoned his study and became a private detective specialized in solving cases of industrial espionage by using his medical studies and acquaintances of the underworld.
When Thanos Pekas, Police Investigator and old friend, asked him unofficially to help him solving a murder case of a small time crook, Nick, who needed the money, accepted the case without suspecting where he is about to get involved. This simple case will lead him into a complex case of multiple conspiracies, where nothing is what it seems to be and which surpasses the borders of our very planets.'
Sounds interesting? That is the subject of this great adventure. Believe me, after the first 1-2 hours of your gaming time, you will forget everything about your time, surroundings, and maybe even family. This is a highly addictive adventure game. The simple case will evolve into a big spider web of conspiracy that will keep you on edge until the conclusion. In fact, this is one game that I did not want to be over. The developers lived up to their promise to provide at least 230+ puzzles, 30 characters, and 20-25 gaming hours. By any means, this is definitely not a short adventure game. I do not remember the last time I spent more than 12 hours to finish an adventure game since The Longest Journey.
There is only one solution for each puzzle, but they can be solved in any order you like (most of the time). The puzzles are mainly logical, mechanical, inventory-based, code-solving (you will see a lot of this) and of course the inevitable (but easy) maze. The puzzles range from easy to extremely tough. Almost all of the puzzles are integrated to the story and quite logical. At first, I thought there are one or two puzzles that are some kind of being forced to be there. I will not give any spoiler within this review (you'll have to wait for my walkthrough), but the Rania's barrier and Professor Prokopiou's laptop key codes are difficult puzzles and they did initially seem to be illogical. But, once you understand the overall story, everything fits into place. Still, beware of these two puzzles as they are headache inducing.
Other puzzles are relatively easy as long as you pay attention to conversations and your surroundings. If you do become stuck in the game, then you have likely missed some important clues during a conversation. At one time, I spent almost 2 hours to try to figure out what to do next because I missed a small clue from a previous conversation.
The developers of Conspiracies claim that it is a non-linear adventure game. Supposedly, you could solve the puzzles in any order you want, but I still think this game as a non-linear adventure game in a 'limited' way. Why? It is true that some puzzles can be solved in random order, but often the game will not allow you to progress until you first solve a specific puzzle or accomplish certain actions.
Navigation is quite easy and is very similar to Tex Murphy games. The mouse is used to control your view and the keyboard arrows to walk. Using the 'Shift' button in conjunction with keyboard arrows will increase your walking speed. The right mouse button brings up item descriptions and also accesses the 3D inventory item close up view. This is where one of the minor issues that I mentioned above. It is sometimes very difficult to use your left mouse button in conjunction with the 'Ctrl' button to rotate the item in a 3D view. I had a tough time during one of the puzzles rotating torn papers for a better view.
The other thing is your mouse cursor will not change when it go over usable items on the screen. Usually I really dislike this kind of feature because it will tend to lead players to pixel hunting. Fortunately, the items that could be used most of the time are very easy to spot. Anima-PPD told me that they did this intentionally to make the puzzles harder to solve - and it worked! We hope that this feature will not make players avoid this game because it is really an enjoyable game that encourages you to pay extra attention to every scene.
To combine items in your inventory, you need to click the first item and then click it on the second item. Beware though, Conspiracies uses a one-way combination system. That means it works only in one direction. For example, if you want to write something on a piece of paper, you never put a paper on your pencil. Instead, you must place the pencil on the paper. A coffee puzzle early in the game is meant to introduce players to this concept. So when you want to combine items, make sure you know what you want to do or at least try both ways as the 'combine everything with everything' way of thinking will definitely not work.
By the way, the inventory has limited slots. You can only carry 27 items maximum at any time. This is not a problem most of the time because an inventory item will automatically disappear when it is not useful anymore. This is a neat feature as you do not have to carry around useless inventory items. But the game will not allow you to go to a certain area where items are automatically added to your inventory if you do not have an open slot for them. This useful feature might present a problem though if you are not aware of it. I got stuck for a long time once because all of my inventory slots were full. I thought that I've done everything to be able to reach a hotel for an appointment but the game would not allow me to enter it. Accidentally I figure it out after I drop an item at Nick apartment and try to proceed to the hotel again. So in case you are running out of inventory space, just go to Nick's home and drop some items there for future use. Be careful on where you click on the screen when you have your inventory item on the cursor because you might accidentally drop the item and do not realize it. I lost one of my important inventory items because of this so that I have to restore my game again.
There is no difference whatsoever between the DVD and CD versions. The CD version includes only the Greek version of the game, whereas the DVD includes both the Greek and English versions. If you choose to do a full installation, you only need to use the DVD for starting the game. Once the game starts, everything will be run from the hard drive. If you have extra space on your hard drive (around 2 GB), this is the recommended setting because it could speed up the game.
Conspiracies graphics are above average graphics quality. Even though sometime real images and 3D background do not blended nicely, it is still very colorful and neat. Seems that the pictures of the real actors are placed on the background as a poster instead of as a 3D object. You could see them as flat objects from the side. Voice acting is quite good but not top quality. One or two characters have very annoying accents but they are still bearable. The voices are dubbed in English language so that the lips movement does not match the voice. I enjoy the acting more when I play the Greek version even though I do not understand the speech. I wished they use subtitles so that we could enjoy the 'real' voice acting of the actors.
The conversation tree could be better with a minor adjustment. A 'gray out' feature for exhausted conversation lines would be very helpful so the player knows when a line of questioning has been exhausted. Sometimes you need to ask a question again when Nick learns new information. So do not hesitate to ask a question again and again if you are stuck at some point, but occasionally I would have to go through the conversation tree again just to reach the interrogation mode. A conversation should only need to be initiated the first time we talk to the person. Fortunately you could skip the speech by pressing your mouse right button but this still became redundant. Also, some of the conversation lines could lead to a game over situation, some might give different paths and some do not affect anything at all.
The game ran smoothly without any single crashes on Windows 98, 2000, or XP. This is really almost a bug free product. In rare cases you will see some 3D clipping problems and occasionally the screen will be out of sync or your character may become stuck in 3D spaces (in my case the bug appears at the university main frame room). The developer explained that this might happen to players using an AMD with low resolution settings. Hopefully they will soon release a patch. The developers spent a lot of time testing this product before making it available to public. This should be a philosophy for any game developers out there. We do not want to waste our money to buy buggy products.
Finally, I have never experienced customer support as good as Anima PPD: all email requests were responded to in less than 24 hours. Like us, they are also hardcore gamers and recognize the value of good customer support. This is a big plus for them. They are aware from experience what kind of games or puzzles that gamers demand.
Despite some minor issues here and there, this is a MUST have for any adventure lovers. Conspiracies deserves to be placed in the 'A' adventure games list. It is almost included in the elite 'A+' games such as Gabriel Knight, The Longest Journey or Monkey Island. So order your copy now and prepare to experience one the first 'A' rate adventure titles in 2003. Hopefully there will be a sequel in the future. Oooopps.. did I say a sequel? You should be able to see a possibility when you see the ending. As for now, just enjoy this brilliant adventure game.
Final Grade: A
The English version of Conspiracies will be release on August 15th and can be ordered directly from theAnima PPD website.