The Sydney Mystery

 

Genre:   Adventure

Developer & Publisher:    Twilight Software

Released:   2003

PC Requirements:    Windows

 

 

 

 

 

by gatorlaw

The Sydney Mystery

I have to admit a personal preference. I was initially attracted to this new indie game because I have a particular liking for FMV formatted games. I was also intrigued by the fact that it was using FMV at all. Twilight Software, the developer, is a small operation.  So the fact that they took on this sort of format for their first game was ambitious and gained my admiration.  So - how did they do?  The plot of the game straightforward enough: You arrive at your home in Sydney Australia, only to learn that your Uncle has gone missing. Your character, the niece, has her work cut out for her if she is to find out what came of her Uncle and what mystery is involved. He is a private investigator by trade and not much more is known than that the police are treating it as an abduction. You also learn that a series of mysterious bombings have occurred around the city. Are they related to your Uncleís disappearance and if so how?  Is your Uncle alive .. or worse.  And if your Uncleís disappearance has nothing to do with his cases as a PI or the mysterious bombings, then why was he taken? With all these possibilities surrounding us - off we go to explore Sydney and to try and find the answers to these and other questions.

Graphics/ presentation

The footage shot for the game is adequate. I wouldnít say the production values for this game were as good as they could have been - even given a tight budget. However the visuals around Sydney were fun and there were many locations where you could look at a view or vista - even though it was not game play related. For future development,  I would suggest going with a higher end camera and perhaps including more gratuitous exploration within locations. One of the pleasures of FMV, is the ability to check out new places and just explore around. In this particular instance, I  would have liked to have seen just a bit more of Sydney. However, this is a personal inclination and may not be practical given budgetary concerns. The bottom line is that I enjoyed the game footage that was used and would say that overall the graphics were a plus for the game.

Characters/Voice Talent.

For obvious reasons - in a game using FMV, the choice and abilities of the actors involved is a key element to the games success or lack there of. I thought the main characters or narratorís  voice was a little flat emotionally,  but it was pleasant.  The remainder of the talent ranged from adequate to very good. I thought the persons who portrayed the Uncle, The Former client and friend Dame Gertrude, the Uncleís former partner and several others were extremely good. I was expecting perhaps lower levels of talent for the game in this area and was pleasantly surprised at the quality of acting. I realized that few if any were professional (meaning equity paid talent).  Still, the developers had to  choose who they would use and showed a high level of creativity in this aspect of the game. Perhaps, picking up a paycheck,  isnít always the benchmark for professionalism. This may seem like something a reviewer shouldnít make this much of.  But, given some of the recent offerings from better funded and larger organizations, it was a genuine surprise to find Twilight so talented in this area. I thought given what must have been scant resources, Twilight showed that if the developer doesnít have the ability to detect good from bad - money doesnít help. Well done Twilight!

Interface/Game Play

The game plays off the CD - so no installation is needed.  I did have to lower my graphics acceleration, as I encountered some significant graphic drop outs early in the game. Once I made that slight modification, the game played flawlessly.  The CD saves your games in a small directory placed in your system registry. So for those who donít even like to keep saved games loaded on your PC  - you will have to dig a bit to find them. It is a very small file - so it is just as easy to leave them where they are.  I understand that those with XP can play this game with ease - but there is a small patch/program you will need to download and install from the official game site.

The game is mouse controlled and has an oversized cursor icon. Actually, it is a very large cursor. In my case, the larger size was a good thing, because I was stuck for an inordinate amount of time due to missed location spots.  So perhaps the larger icon is a good idea. To travel within the game, you access areas from a map feature. New locations will appear as the game progresses and your character opens those sites up.  Once in a scene, you advance along strictly defined directed paths to various spots of interest within each environment. To leave you have to back out along the path you took into the scene.  I found this to be an acceptable design choice. It may feel a little antiquated to some - even annoying to others.  But,  if you have to parcel out scant production dollars - having the ability to turn around is not where I squander my money. Instead - I think that quality video tape, decent voice transfers and the like are better game quality enhancing choices. Twilight chose this route and I am happy that they did. But for the purposes of this review,  if in-game movement linearity would be a real bother to you as a player, it is something to take note of.  However, I didnít see it as a negative that affected the quality of the game or my enjoyment of it.

Story

Unfortunately, this is the one area that I felt Twilight fell a bit short. It was a decent story.  But the plot pathways were a tad predictable. I also had hoped for a bit more detail in the ongoing plot than what I got. As a result,  I  thought that the end game sequence felt a bit rushed.  It took what would have been a low A high B game and brought it down a little. It is difficult to discuss this aspect of the game in greater detail,  as no reviewer wants to spoil the game for the player.  I just thought there were some characters that I would rather have seen a bit more about and some plot details that were hurriedly disposed of in a quick scenario at the end.   A good story is a good story, regardless of how it is dressed up or presented.  In this game, I think the story could have been a bit more detailed and perhaps displayed more originality. I still think the game is worth while and plan on paying close attention to Twilights' future games.  

Puzzles/Challenges

There were not a large number of  puzzles.. But then I didnít expect  a ton of them in this game. The existing challenges were all common sense scenarios that you worked out by applying inventory items secured through your journey and explorations. Now this might seem like the start of a criticism,  but I liked them very much as they were presented in the game. For one thing, the inventory objects you picked up along the way,  were in probable spots and logically acquired.  If I were in a city, without many resources,  I might check phone booths and gutters for items as I was running along. It felt real. In FMV games - I think that the reality based  format must be mirrored in the inventory and challenges. I have to give Twilight high marks for their presentation of the mystery and story line using practical means and items.

Music and other factors

The music, sound affects and such were decent. They didnít really stand out that much too me. It was on a loop track of sorts and actually became a tad annoying places. So,  I turned the volume down from time to time until I ran into a character that I wanted to hear.  It was nice as a side feature in the end sequence - where a sense of urgency was needed.  The rest of the game would have been fine without some of the hectic sounding music that was used. Ambiant sound effects was a feature that ranged from enhancing to distracting. There is one scene, where a bad choice of background noise levels swamped the characters dialogue almost completely.  I think that if an interface to turn down back ground sounds and music was not possible, at least an option for sub-titles should have been possible.  Now this suggestion may be misplaced - my technical knowledge is not the best. But it is the one real negative I found in the game.

Bottom Line

Recently, there has been a good deal of interest in review standards for games.  Particularly whether indies should be held to lesser standards than higher end production games. The Sydney Mystery is an independent game from a very small design group. It is also their first game. I do think it is more reasonable to give such games leeway, in cost intensive areas like graphics, length and music. All the extras that large production facilities routinely put in their development budgets. So I tend to look at the game with a few caveats in mind. Twilight has done a job that it should be proud of with itís release of The Sydney Mystery.  There were some problems and a few shortcomings.  However, I credit many of these to a lack of experience. I will expect that Twilight will take in all the positive feedback and with an eye on the negative,  produce a second game that takes it all a step higher. Bottom line, the point of playing any given game is to have fun and be diverted and engaged for a time. I enjoyed The Sydney Mystery very much. I was charmed by some of the characters and their portrayers. I loved the screen shots of Sydney and the surrounding area. The story line was developed enough to catch my interest.  I think that to appreciate any game - you have to look at the sum of itís parts,  rather than any one  isolated aspect. The devotion and exuberance of Twilight Software  in creating this game is obvious. You could tell that all of those involved were invested in making the game as good as it could be. A little rough around the edges to be sure - but itís charms were there and easy to enjoy. I admire Twilight for their dedication, am delighted with their first creative efforts and definitely hope that The Sydney Mystery is but the first of many more games to come.

Final Grade 80% or 3 Ĺ BAAGs in GB speak.

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