Every once in a while a game comes along that just gets it right. From an easy control system to an absorbing storyline, from cinematic quality cut scenes to a developed main character, this game delivers.

The game begins with two gorgeous video sequences, one briefly detailing the Tunguska phenomenon, and the other an eerie prelude to the game.

Very briefly, by way of background, in real life 1908, hundreds of eyewitnesses saw a fiery object streaking through the sky, and directly afterward there was a massive explosion that obliterated an area in the remote mountains of central Siberia. Unexplained to this day, there have been various theories set forth about it, and some of these can be sampled in the game manual. The game itself may advocate one of the theories…

After the videos, we begin our game with Nina, the main character. Nina is searching the ransacked office and apartment of her father, a scientist who has mysteriously disappeared. As with most of the scenes, there is a lot to see and do, and the objects to look at are colorful and varied. There is an exquisite use of 2D and 3D, with the characters in 3D with lifelike movement. Nina looks like the girl next door, in jeans and eschewing the spiky high heels that some developers seem to think their characters should be able to run in. She looks and sounds natural, and she is comfortable to be around. She is courageous, determined, occasionally sarcastic in her thoughts, and not above a flirt or two to reach a goal.

She soon discovers clues that lead her to believe her father’s disappearance may have to do with his past expeditions to Siberia. She finds out that the Russian secret police have kidnapped scientists and are taking them by train to a remote laboratory in the Tunguska area. Is her father one of the kidnapped scientists, and who is trying their best to stop her from finding him? Armed with little more than a cell phone, our intrepid gal sets off on a journey, but not without the hint of romance with a young colleague of her father.

For purposes of this First Look, I played approximately a third of the game. The game begins in Berlin and the scenes I have seen so far are in various locations throughout Russia. Further investigation I know will take me to Ireland, Cuba, China and even Antarctica, and I am eager to travel there too. It was a treat to see St. Basil’s of the Red Square, and I hope there are video clips of other interesting sights to come.

MECHANICS

The game installed from one CD without a hitch. I have not come upon any glitches or bugs thus far, and no crashes. It is alt/tab friendly.

It is point and click, with a slight innovation that I thought most helpful. When you pass your mouse over something with which you can interact, your pointer becomes the picture of a computer mouse. It will either show both left and right buttons as green with a hand icon, which means you can get information about the object with a right click, or get or do something with the object with a click of the left mouse button. Or, simply a green right mouse button with an eye icon will appear to show that you can obtain some information regarding the object. Items that can be combined in inventory with a new item you pick up are shown immediately this way with just a pass through them.

Conversations and video sequences can also be right clicked to bypass, but you never know what you might miss. Be sure and not right click through the opening credits (and they’re gorgeous, so why would you?) as you may miss the second cut scene of the game, and it’s a doozy.

Special Features

There’s also a feature that may be helpful on occasion, and that is accessed by a magnifying glass icon on the bottom of your screen (or you can hit the space bar on your keyboard). What this feature does is show with arrows all the hotspots and exits in the scene where your character is at that moment. If there is much to look at and you think you might have missed something that you are scratching your head over, this can be a very nice feature. This is on by default, but you can elect to turn it off as well.

There is a diary that helps with continuity of the game if you are only playing sporadically, and also a hint section for puzzles (if you have left the above feature on in the game menu).

Sound

The music and the background sound for this game are superb. I was playing with headphones on, and numerous times I stopped to see if sounds I heard were coming from the game or were occurring in real life. Each time they were actually coming from the game. Boards creak, cars go by. A very nice touch. The voiceovers are also well done for the most part, professional inflection and mood; although I confess I was a bit taken back with the Russian organized crime fellow having an accent from Jersey or something. Then I realized that all the characters had American accents of some sort. No matter, they sound good.

Visuals

As I mentioned before, it’s a pretty game. There’s enough 3D in it to make it realistic, yet enough 2D to keep it detailed. Most appealing. Facial features change on the characters to reflect mood, and the characters generally move realistically. Although your character doesn’t run with a double click, the scene fades out to the location you are trying to access, so perhaps this is even faster. The scenes are vividly colored, and even the drab garbage looks good! Visually it reminds me of a cross between the games Still Life and Broken Sword.

There is a wonderful use of shadow throughout all the scenes I have played. If your game is not running as well as you would like, this can be an option you may want to adjust, as well as the quality of video option. There is a lot of detail in the manual about technical problems you can solve by adjusting these controls (regarding frame rate, refresh rate, and so on). I encountered no problems, but I can imagine that the video scenes may be a drain on older computers.

Puzzles

The puzzles thus far have been mainly inventory type puzzles of a semi-realistic nature, and well integrated into the story line. There have also been a few logic type puzzles that are not terribly difficult, but yet not so easy that it is a complete breeze for the seasoned adventurer.

Saving the Game

You can save the game from any point outside of the video footage, and thus far I haven’t encountered a limit on saves. Although you can’t name your saves, each save shows a picture and a time, and I was happy with this.

Other

There is some swearing in the game, although at this point in the game it has been isolated to two scenes.

This edition of the game comes with a well written manual that is easy and fun to read. Also included is a poster of the game on glossy paper (I just love extras, don’t you?)

In all, a most impressive game that I am enjoying immensely. If the other two thirds of the game play out as well, I would be surprised if it did not become an addition to many Favorites lists.


Want to learn more about Secret Files: Tunguska? Read the full review by Looney4labs here.
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"How could drops of water know themselves to be a river? Yet the river flows on."
- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry