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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
copyright © 2003