The Mystery of the Druids



Genre:   Adventure

Developer:  House of Tales

Publisher:     CDV Entertainment

Released:  2001

PC Requirements:   Win95/98/2000/Me/XP: Pentium 200 MHz (Pentium II 400 recommended and 3D accelerator card), 32 MB RAM, 2 MB VGA video card (with or without 3D support), 16 bit sound card, 150 MB free hard drive space, DirectX 8.0.





by gremlin

Adventure games get bad press just now, and have done for a number of years. Sometimes fairly, often unfairly, in my opinion, but I don’t think there will be many defenders of this also-ran in the genre. But first, a warning; this game has an ELSPA rating of 15+. I believe this is correctly rated as the game is based on the idea of human sacrifice and cannibalism. Not themes I would suggest addressing in a game for your average Tomb Raider fan!

The Mystery of the Druids comes in a standard DVD casing, on 3 CDs, one for the installation; one marked The Present, one The Past. Funnily enough, part of the game takes place in the present, and part in the past. The installation program runs smoothly enough. However, it wasn’t until I looked at an FAQ on the game’s website, that I discovered that there is the option of a full-install. Then, no more disk swapping, or disk loading pauses between scenes.

If you don’t have space for the full install, the experience of the game is somewhat jerky, and I know that some people have experienced a lot of crashes. However, I must say that my own experience, having done a full install, is that the game was stable, and didn’t crash until the end credits.

Now the game itself. The game interface is the standard point-and-click third person perspective. This is generally fine, although finding some of the hot spots is pretty frustrating. For example, you have to pick up a key that is not actually visible on-screen, except for its effect upon the cursor image. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to tell whether the action cursor means some item in your inventory can interact with the target object, or that clicking on the target will have some effect. But I must mention one nice feature, that I know some will appreciate, is that you can often interact, albeit superficially, with many objects that are not actually involved in the game.

This is a police procedural story to begin with, with all the attendant clichés. You play Detective Brent Halligan, who’s been given the task of investigating the Skeleton Murders, out of the desperation of the maddening Chief Inspector Miller, who’d far rather someone with some passing skill as a detective be given the case. With the assistance, or otherwise, of the slimy-but-successful-with-women colleague, the slightly strange scientist in the forensic lab, and the ice-maiden computer operator, Halligan is the archetypal socially inept, unkempt, disorganized primary protagonist. Yes, it’s a young Columbo, right down to the dirty trench coat, but without the wit, the charm, the cigars, or the “Oh, one more thing?” From this point on, the plot just went down hill.

The police detective’s handbook pretty soon goes out of the window, as you have to use underhanded methods to achieve almost anything, even within your own department in Scotland Yard. Strange that, I thought that a police detective could at least expect some support from his colleagues. And I wonder how many police investigations in the Thames valley result in a detective making ad-hoc trips to France, not to mention 11th century England, without first informing their superiors?

Would you believe, there’s a love interest as well? At least, I think that’s what it’s meant to be. In amongst the tangled and clumsy conversation trees, there are some suggestive dialogs with the secondary protagonist, an archaeologist, Melanie Turner. She also takes over as the player’s point of control in the game for three minor sections.

Okay, let’s look at the technicalities. For those who remember The Longest Journey from late 2000, this game appears to use similar graphical technology, with 3D modeled actors on 2D rendered backgrounds. But, the developers appear not to have bothered to make sure all the polygons stitch together, and as for characters walking behind foreground objects? In hardware mode on my Celeron 400, with Voodoo 3 and the latest drivers (just about the recommended configuration, as it happens), Halligan frequently walked through tables and walls, and the Chief sits in the middle of his desk! However, the two software modes worked fine in this respect.

Having compared Mystery of the Druids with The Longest Journey (one of the very best adventure games of the last few years) once already, I think I ought to also say that Mystery of the Druids has quite realistic looking graphics, but absolutely nowhere near The Longest Journey. And as for imagination? I think the German designers of Mystery need an urgent imagination transplant from neighbouring Norway!

I guess you must be asking by now, are there any redeeming features to this game? Well, surprisingly, there are. For a change, especially with titles originating in continental Europe, the voice acting in Mystery of the Druids is actually quite good. Yes, the Chief is annoying as a character, but there’s nothing wrong with the actor’s portrayal of him. And, as a whole, the other characters are just as well acted. The music is also reasonable, with some good orchestral moments, but it does become repetitive. The other sound effects are generally totally forgettable. You might take this to mean that the sound effects melted into the background in such a way as to give a good general ambience to the game, but I’m afraid this is not the case. Most of the time, there basically are no effects to speak of.

So, let me conclude by saying this: The Mystery of the Druids takes quite some time to play, even with some nudges from a walkthrough, but unfortunately, unlike, say Riven, this is not because of the richness of the environment. Nor is it, as in Schizm, the intellectual level & mathematical brains required to solve the puzzles, but because of the illogicality of the methods you have to pursue to make progress. To put it another way, I’d far rather buy another copy of The Longest Journey to play again, than be paid to play this wannabe title.

Grade: C+

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