Margaretha Geertruida Zelle, aka Lady MacLeod, aka
Mata Hari, meaning “eye of the day”: circus horse rider, exotic dancer,
courtesan. Maybe a spy and maybe not, although the name these days is
synonymous with espionage. And a girl’s own adventure in which feminine
wiles and guiles routinely outwitted besotted men.
It’s a background almost crying out for an adventure
game. And bringing that background to life are the “parents” of another
adventuring icon, Indiana Jones. Having brought us his Fate of Atlantis,
Hal Barwood and Noah Falstein switch genders and breathe life into Mata.
You have to think Indiana himself would approve.
The game takes place in pre-WWI Europe, in its
biggest and brightest cities - Berlin, Paris, Monaco - and among its high
society. The sumptuousness in some settings is well realised; the elegant
ball early in is a case in point. It looks good and suits the feel of the
Needless to say, despite initially seeking to
advance your dancing career, it’s as a spy that you play as Mata
throughout four chapters. History takes a bit of a back seat, although
historical figures are present. I have no idea whether Mata Hari ever met
Marie Curie, but it doesn’t really matter – this is entertainment, not
Many of Mata’s legendary traits are present. You do
get to dance, seeking inspiration in the clouds, the twirling of an
umbrella, the spin of a bicycle wheel. You do get to use seduction, in its
various forms, and you will wake up in the bedrooms of important men and
ransack them before taking your leave. All in a day’s work, really.
Trust no one
You also get to travel. Way too much. To-ing and
fro-ing is commonplace in adventure games, often to try and work out what
to do next. Here, it is a deliberate part of the game design, and I
confess towards the end it seemed artificially induced to create length.
Catch a taxi, go to the train station, buy a ticket, arrive in the next
city, have one conversation, catch a taxi, go to the train station, buy a
ticket, travel back where you came from, have another conversation, do it
I am not exaggerating. It seemed less intrusive in
the first part of the game, but thoroughly overwhelms the second part.
Having gone over a walkthrough, there are nearly forty occasions where you
need to travel to another city. So allowing for trips to see if there is
something you need to do, or do something you forgot to do, you may do
many more. Of the forty compulsory trips, only about ten are in the first
two chapters, so my feelings were pretty right.
The puzzle design on occasions doesn’t help. I was
in Paris and needed to get someone to come to Paris. I had to travel to
Berlin to ring her, to ask her to come to Paris, and then travel back. A
phone in Paris would have made way more sense.
I got travel sickness. So badly, that if I hadn’t
been reviewing, I might have stayed in my Paris hotel with the duvet over
my head. It’s a shame, because there are some nice touches elsewhere.
When you do travel, you get to play a little
turn-based mini-game in which you move Mata from location to location
trying to evade the pursuers on her tail. They get more difficult as you
progress through the game, and given the amount of travel, you play this
game a lot. Or maybe not.
One of the previously mentioned nice touches is that
you can skip the mini-games in a variety of ways. One is to choose the
panic button setting from the game options, which gives you the chance to
skip any of the four or so different games within the game. Another more
game based solution is that by asking a friendly contact, you can get the
ability to buy an express ticket for each rail trip; purchase that ticket
instead of the standard “all stops” ticket, and you simply arrive at your
intended destination. You won’t get points for completing the mini-game,
but you will avoid a game you might not want to play. And whether or not
to play remains within your control, as you always choose whether to buy
standard or express tickets. You can even back out of the mini-game and
buy a different ticket if you want, or re-enter and try again; if you do,
the puzzle will be different.
It’s actually not a bad little mini-game. Not forty
times, I hasten to add, but I reckon I played about half, and certainly
alternated depending on my mood. It gets more complex as you go, with more
options introduced and more choices given to you to make. You get more
points too for successful completions as it gets harder.
The points go towards determining the ending of your
game. They are awarded for skill, which comes from successfully completing
a number of the mini-games; wealth, which is accumulated through doing the
dancing mini-game; and spycraft, which comes from finding “hidden” items
in various scenes. These items are hidden, in that they are the only
hotspot that will not be revealed by pressing the space bar. Careful
searching with the cursor, though, will reveal the information, and a
little “puff” of points will be added to your diary, which keeps your
tally as you go.
The other mini-games occur about three or four times
each. Solve some codes, reorganise some pipes or wiring and dance at the
theatre. The latter you can choose to do more than the obligatory three
times (that’s how many I had to do) in order to make more money, but it
was the least interesting of the lot. A stream of musical notes moves
across the screen and you need to “knock” the notes out of target circles
as they pass through by “hitting” them with your cursor. Not terribly
original, and the least entertaining of the games. I certainly wasn’t
moved to do it more than I needed to.
If it sounds like this is a collection of mini-games
held together by a narrative, in one sense that is right, but not the
totally correct sense. When you aren’t playing these games or travelling,
some of the adventuring is good old-fashioned third person point and click
An interesting embellishment is the way conversation
topics and tasks, even ideas, become part of the inventory. Everything is
neatly displayed in a ribbon that appears at the bottom of the screen when
touched by your cursor, and each topic or item has its own tile. It’s
colour-coded so you can tell at a glance whether something still needs to
be completed, and you simply click your tile and drop it on your intended
object or person. Combining items in the inventory works in the same way,
and tiles will light up if placed on something with which they can
interact. Redundant tiles get excluded from the inventory, and while it
could benefit from some fine-tuning, all in all it’s a well managed
Puzzles are generally of the “use the right item in
the right way” variety, although the final puzzle might take a little more
brainpower. Mata Hari is not a hard game, helped by the ability to
reveal all hotspots, and wrong conversation choices are easily rectified
by simply doing it again. There is some hit-and-miss in some of those
choices, most usually when Mata is trying to seduce someone, but these are
fairly limited in nature. There is one maze-like game, but a little
thinking will reveal an easy way through. The creeping game is too much an
exercise in randomly trying where to go next to be interesting or
challenging. The game is a mixed bag puzzle ways, but the ups outweigh the
downs, and it suits a range of adventure experiences.
As befits the title, Mata is the star. She can’t
run, presumably because the heels are too high or the gowns too tight, but
double clicking a hotspot objective will “jump” her to it. She can be
grimy and plain, or finely costumed and elegant. Scanty as well,
especially when dancing or seducing. She starts out a little wide-eyed and
way too trusting. How she ends up depends on you.
The plot, in keeping with its spy roots, is full of
intrigue and double-crosses and playing both sides off against the middle.
Prewar Europe was built for this, and the countries involved all have
their own agenda. Mata gets tangled in all of them, wheeling and dealing
to stay one step ahead or simply to try and catch up. It’s dialogue driven
and there is much to say and find out, and many triggers to…well, trigger.
A diary keeps track of tasks, as well as your skills
and a range of other information. You can browse it at your leisure. The
sounds and music are excellent, the latter in particular being well used
to draw an appropriately moody veil over the scene in question. The voice
acting too is high quality, finely nuanced and never irritating. The game
world is crafted with an attention to detail, and is rather lively,
especially in the outdoor locations. While many scenes are single screens,
there is a little side-scrolling in some locations.
What Mata Hari needs is a makeover. Severely
prune the travel, put phones in a few more locations, ditch the dancing
game. For me, it struggled under the weight of those things, breaking out
for periods, but never completely. Not even the last puzzle and the
dénouement could overcome the heavy travel at the back end of the game.
Which, as I said before, is a shame.
I played on:
OS: Win XP
AMD Phenom 9500 Quad Core CPU 2.2 GHz
Gx card: ATI
Radeon HD 3850 512Mb