NiBiRu: Age of Secrets



Genre:   Adventure

Developer:    Future Games

Publisher:    The Adventure Company

Released:  2005

PC Requirements:   Windows 95/98/ME/2000/XP, 800 MHz Pentium 3 or compatible, 128MB RAM, 16x CD/DVD-ROM Drive, 32 MB DirectX 3D Compatible Video Card, DirectX Compatible Sound Card, Mouse, Keyboard




by Becky


In ancient Sumeria, astronomers recorded the existence of a planet called Nibiru, thought to be the home of a powerful alien race.  The Sumerian astronomers speculated that the inhabitants of Nibiru might choose to live among the people of Earth as gods, building elaborate monuments and handing down their advanced cultural and scientific knowledge.

In time, as centuries passed, Nibiru faded into the obscurity of myth, its light no longer identifiable in the nighttime sky.

Nibiru: Age of Secrets opens as Martin Holan receives a telephone call from his Uncle Francois, an archaeologist nearing the end of a distinguished career.  Uncle Francois still has his finger on the pulse of the archaeological world, and he has picked up startling news from a friend working for the Central City Archive in Prague.  Uncle Francois decides to send Martin to meet this friend, Barbora Kanska.  You take on the role of Martin, thrilled to leave a tedious job for more adventurous work.  By the time he arrives in Prague, night has fallen on the rendezvous point, Barbora has departed, and Martin must search for her and for the clues to the mystery she had sought to reveal.

You will Meet a Dark, Handsome, Strange Environment…

Nibiru: Age of Secrets is a point-and-click mystery adventure set in exotic locations and played from a third person perspective.  This player’s first reaction was sheer astonishment at the beauty and detail of the graphics.  Those who have played Black Mirror (by the same developers) will remember the graphical style – Nibiru’s graphics resemble those of Black Mirror, except more jaw-dropping.

The settings in Nibiru are photorealistic, the perspective is just right, the composition of each screen is balanced and never humdrum -- often scenes are viewed from unexpected angles.  The branches and leaves on trees show just the right amount of randomness and variation to make them life-like.  The light pearlizes surfaces, then is diffused, throwing graduated shadows.  Each scene contains animations – a tram running along a side street, a tourist strolling across a bridge.  The detail is ridiculously good.

My only graphical criticism is that in very dark locations, some of the shadows look gray rather than black.  However, so much attention has been poured into the details, that I can’t help wondering if this isn’t a fault of my video card rather than the game.

I’m Not a Mule, You Know

Populating these environments is a cast of lively characters whom Martin meets as he works his way deeper into Nibiru’s mix of long buried secrets, obsession and intrigue.  My favorite characters were the guitar-playing street hobo, the tipsy theater troupe director, and Pedro, Martin’s archaeological assistant (the one who’s not a mule).  Visually, the characters are nicely detailed, and character movement is smooth if somewhat repetitive.  The only exception to this is Martin himself, who seems a trifle stiff when he moves.  Lip synch is almost nonexistent -- not surprising in a game that was written to be produced in several languages.  The lack of lip synch is easily overlooked because conversations rarely take place using a close-up view.

Voice acting in the game ranges from acceptable to good.  Some of the European characters have standard Hollywood-type foreign accents.  This wasn’t particularly bothersome to me, but to someone who has actually lived in Czechoslovakia or France, the accents will sound inauthentic.

The actor who voices Martin Holan does a good job, with effective inflection and expression in his voice.  The character’s voice does sound less smooth than one would expect from his appearance – but then a young American with a French uncle and a Czech education might plausibly be a somewhat amalgamated chap.  I think it would have added considerably to the game to know more about Martin’s background, as I found it difficult at first to feel a connection to him.  Nevertheless, by game’s end I did feel as though I had begun to understand his character, after having watched the way he beguiles, manipulates and outfoxes people, not to mention the way he manages to escapes from clever death traps and other fiendish machinations.

Listen to This…

Dialog in Nibiru is engaging, fun to listen to, and well paced.  You should be aware that the characters do occasionally use expletives for emphasis.  If you want to take charge of the conversation, you can click through dialogs or adjust the subtitle speed in the Options menu.  The subtitles are helpful -- though if you’re a stickler about typographical errors, be prepared to wince.

Ambient sounds in Nibiru are impressively realistic.  There is not a great deal of background music in the game.  Usually the music only surfaces briefly at moments of particular tension – it adds to the atmosphere, but so subtly that you might not notice it unless you were keeping a sharp “ear” tuned for it.  There is delicate background music when you open up certain particularly detailed inventory items that must be studied or read -- I think the music makes sense here, as you would otherwise be reading in silence.

Sleeping Upright and other Oddities

The game installed and played without a glitch.  Nibiru does contain a few oddities – there are times, especially when the scene of the action changes, when you hear Martin narrating but see only a blank screen.  These transitions would be smoother if there were a visual representation of what was happening as the transition takes place.

The other oddities – Martin seems uncertain as to what to call his Uncle.  Sometimes he calls him Uncle, sometimes Francois, and sometimes Professor.  Unless you are following the conversation closely, you might become confused.  One other odd moment occurs when, at the end of a long day of adventuring, Martin collapses in exhaustion in a comfortable hotel room, but doesn’t remove his coat or shoes.  He then proceeds to fall asleep literally sitting up.

Load times for new environments were occasionally long enough to be noticeable, though not long enough to be annoying. 

Waterloo (Or the Agony of Defeat)

The challenges in Nibiru are, for the most part, a happily constructed lot.  Often the characters in the game throw obstacles in Martin’s way that he must overcome.  The obstacles created by the “civilized” characters tend to be less entertaining than the obstacles created by the lowlifes, paranoid schemers and thieves.

The game is linear, but in a good way.  You are restricted to a few rooms or environments in each part of the game, so if you’re stuck you know pretty much where you need to look or what hotspots you need to work with.  I like this much better than wandering all over huge worlds trying to figure out what I’ve missed. 

There are some pixel hunting kinds of challenges, and it is a continual challenge to remember to right-click on everything.  (I know, this should be a no-brainer, but it is surprisingly easy to forget.)  There are inventory challenges involving creative, though logical combinations.  The inventory is especially detailed.  Before an item goes into inventory, you see it framed in a circle at the top of the screen.  Once in inventory you can examine it closely, and each item has an identifying sound attached to it.

There are no mazes, and no sound matching challenges, but there is a sliding tile puzzle -- one that’s on the easy side.  There are also a few timed puzzles with generous time limits.  I found it possible to die at three locations within Nibiru, though the game returns you immediately to the moment before death takes you.  (For two of the deaths, I had to sit there doing nothing for a stretch in order to die.)

Last of all, there are some mechanical puzzles that you fiddle with.   In this last category is the (soon to be) infamous Colored Balls puzzle.  This is the first puzzle in my eleven years of adventure gaming that I couldn’t complete, and I was compelled to use a saved game to get past it.  (Since then, a GameBoomers member has figured out a step-by-step solution so that a saved game is not necessary for those as flummoxed as I.)  Apparently, the puzzle is based on a concept similar to the dastardly Rubik’s Cube.  The developers would, in my humble opinion, have been better off if they had left old Rubik alone – or else provided a bypass for this particular challenge.

Plot Puzzles – My Favorite

The mystery in Nibiru is complicated enough that it is difficult to understand everything that is going on the first time through.  Fortunately, there are unlimited save slots, so once you’ve finished the game you can return and play through the portions that feature plot nuances and explanations.  Doing this enables the gamer to put the plot pieces and details together – another layer of challenge in the game, and one that I particularly enjoyed.

Nibiru’s ending is enigmatic.  That is, the events are clear, but the meaning is open to different interpretations.

Quick List for Nibiru: Secret of Ages

Third person point-and-click adventure with spectacular graphics.  Intriguing, complicated plot, walking a thin line between history and scientific speculation.   A couple of violent scenes and a sprinkling of “mature” language.   Lots of interesting characters and character interaction.  Mostly competent voice acting.  The player character cannot run, but double-clicking on the exit will speed you to the next scene.

Inventory challenges, mechanical challenges, one Rubik’s Cube-like challenge of the extreme hair-pulling variety.  A few easy timed puzzles.  No mazes, no tone matching puzzles, one sliding tile puzzle, one puzzle in which color discrimination is key.  You can die at three locations, but you are restored to the point immediately preceding death. 

No game glitches, unlimited save slots.  Once the game is installed, you can play it from the hard drive without having to put the game disk in the CD drive. 

Nibiru is aimed at fans of Black Mirror, and at those who enjoy mystery adventures, archaeological discoveries and the chance to explore some of the most dazzlingly photorealistic environments in gaming.

Final Grade:  B+  

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