Riddle of the Sphinx

 

Genre:     Adventure

Developer:    Omni Creative Group

Publisher:    Dreamcatcher

Released:   2000

PC Requirements:    Windows 98/95: Pentium 166 MHz or greater, SVGA monitor (640 x480 with thousands of colors), 8x Speed CD-ROM drive.

Walkthrough  Walkthrough  Walkthrough  Walkthrough

 

 

 

by Becky

Riddle of the Sphinx (ROTS) starts out with a strong emphasis on realism. The player sees what a visitor to the Sphinx would actually discover, down to the rusty barrels, battered tents and port-o-potties. Here you see ancient, unyielding spaces defaced by modern technology's attempt to pry open every secret. In one of the tents you find a series of audio tapes filled with dictation about the artifacts on site. These tapes are strangely relaxing to listen to -- like watching Bob Ross paint. Later, as you find your way into the long, cramped tunnels in the Great Pyramid the realism becomes downright disturbing -- it's hard not to feel claustrophobic, with all those tons of stone bearing down on you.
The game's beginning also does a good job of developing character and getting you interested in the plot. Sir Gil's paranoia starts to feel a little excessive. You acquire further insight when you stumble across the notes of a former archaeological assistant. You start to wonder why Gil is hiding clues to his discoveries in such a way that only you (or the person who wrote your walkthrough) can understand. Is he telling you everything, or are you being set up for some strange, ritualistic Ultimate Sacrifice?

Then, once you move to the unexplored sections of the Great Pyramid the game does a 180-degree shift. Archaeological fantasy and speculative wonder take over. The underground areas are magically lit by flickering torches. You see room after room filled with fabulous Egyptian stuff -- statues, chests, harps, weapons, vases, furniture, games, toys, wall paintings, jewelry. At this point the game loses its plot orientation, and Riddle of the Sphinx becomes unadulterated exploration and puzzle solving. There is LOTS to see, so the puzzles don't come too hard and fast. You do find many, many parchments which give game hints and also hint at the backstory; but since the parchments consist of pictures and hieroglyphs, they don't advance the plot.

There are several remarkable locations in this game. One of my favorites -- a huge room with marble walls every inch of which is inscribed with hieroglyphs. The walls gleam where lit by torches. You climb a unique staircase; and with each turn you can stop and look back to see new views of the room revealed in shifting light and shadow.

Another favorite location -- a small room filled with items made almost entirely of gold. Until I found this room, I was secretly upbraiding myself for not doing the right thing in the first place: contacting the authorities with my "find." After the gold room, the idea of contacting any authorities seemed ludicrous. I had a strange sensation resembling gold fever. I pelted from room to room, looking for more objects made of gold. I chuckled when I could place them in my inventory. I complained under my breath when the game wouldn't let me pick up the gold rings, the gold fans, the gold figurines....

About two-thirds of the way through the game, I found myself satiated with all this excess. I started longing for more variety in the game -- contact with another human being, a location without those oppressive stone walls and ceilings, even a badly-acted video message.

It was at this point that I ran into a certain puzzle that took me several hours to solve. By the time I finally got it right, I was angry and exasperated. This puzzle, combined with the large number of locations to explore, plus some pixel-hunting in a few places made the game feel really, really long -- perhaps the longest I have played.

ROTS reminds me in some ways of "Qin", with its large area of underground exploration, its mysterious aura spiced with a tang of danger, and its beautiful buildings and objects to admire. The puzzles are reminiscent of certain puzzles in "Timelapse" -- many of ROTS's puzzles require you to be good at observing patterns and interpreting symbols.

The music adds greatly to the gaming experience. Unfortunately, partway through the game the music started to cut out briefly whenever I clicked the mouse. This made movement with the mouse feel unusually disorienting and jerky.

Technical issues: I had difficulties during installation. I had to delete all former versions of Quicktime and install the version that came with the game. This wasn't hard to do, but it was annoying. The new version of Quicktime works for all my other games except "Obsidian", which now won't run. Also, the game never gave me a message that it had fully installed -- after awhile the installation program just sort of stopped. I waited and waited, and finally managed to exit. The game then told me that I hadn't fully installed, though apparently I had, since after that the game ran smoothly. I installed the ROTS patch before playing.

ROTS is almost entirely mouse-driven. There are two mazes. There are no sliding tile puzzles.

Near the end of the game the pace seems to pick up (maybe it's just that the final puzzles are a little easier?!). The ending has a couple of interesting twists. Not everything is explained (in fact, I'm still trying to puzzle out a full explanation for some of the things I saw). Nevertheless, I did enjoy how the Riddle of the Sphinx is resolved.

(Side note: now that "Amerzone" has just been re-released, it might be interesting to play "Amerzone" and ROTS in tandem, in order to enjoy the tremendous contrast between desert and rain forest environments.)

Final Grade : B

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