Traitors Gate II: Cypher



Genre:   Adventure

Developer:    258 Productions

Publisher:     The Adventure Company

Released:   2003

PC Requirements:   Windows 98/ME/XP/2000, Pentium III 500, 128MB RAM, 8X CDROM, 32MB DirectX 8.1 compatible video card, Windows compatible sound card, Keyboard, Mouse





by gatorlaw


After I finished this game and started to write this review, it was difficult to know where to start. Now on good days this means there are so many positives to talk about, it is difficult to organize them. Not the case with this game. I feel like someone who has just attended some highly touted event, much to do about the dťcor and the honored guests. When you get there, you discover it is very different than what you were expecting. I am not sure how the developers started out with such a great idea and ended up with this game, but I can tell you that Traitorís Gate 2 disappointed on a variety of levels.

We first met our super spy guy Raven, in a great adventure involving the crown jewels of England. A secret organization within the US intelligence community learns it has a rogue agent. Our mission was to replace the real treasure with brilliantly crafted fakes and trap the renegade. At no time could we be caught or detected. If we were, then the agency in true covert style, would disavow all knowledge of our existence. This was a wonderful game for those who like a stealth, strategy based adventure. The graphics were exceptional and have held up extremely well over time. You perhaps spent more time down in the sewers than some would have wished, but it was a solidly crafted game and one I have enjoyed enough to play twice.

Now we move onto present day and the release of Traitorís Gate Two. Nigel Papworth, one of the founders of DayDream and the lead designer for Traitorís Gate One was onboard and the early news looked very promising. Letís look at the published pre-release info. First, we learn our agent has a name, Raven. He has a new high-risk assignment, code named Cypher. A terrorist threat has surfaced from deep within the sands of the Middle East. The location is suggestive of Iraq, with all the Babylonian references. Regardless, thereís trouble brewing for the world and we have to sort it out. The bad guys have gotten their hands on a virus that will destroy or create chaos across the worldís computer nets. They intend to uplink it to a satellite and transmit it to all the known international databases and computers. Our mission is to infiltrate the compound, locate the virus, copy it for analysis and sabotage the system by replacing the motherboard with one provided by our employers. The front entrance is out of the question, so we are going to sneak in through an ancient complex buried and forgotten beneath the shifting sands. We will have to negotiate its labyrinth of corridors and chambers, defeat ancient trials and puzzles to gain access to the terrorist compound. To aid in our quest, Raven has a new array of high tech gadgets at his disposal. Well this sounds pretty good, but I found that the reality of the game falls short of the hype in many ways.

Appearances are not always deceptive

You never really meet Raven in the first game and after seeing him in this game, perhaps there are some things better left unseen. There have been a number of advancements in 3D technology, over the last 4 years since the first game was released. None of them were evident. I am one of those who think the freedom of movement in 3D is a plus for an adventure game. When it is done well, the positives gained offset any minor loss in graphic detail. In fact with the advanced game engines around, these games now look better than many older 2D games. Or at least the technical possibilities to have eye-popping graphics in a 3D world are here. Not to be harsh, but a game released in todays market should look as good, if not better than a designers earlier efforts. In Cypher, the reverse holds true. Traitorís Gate 1 had superior graphics to its own sequel. The graphics in Cypher were grainy and blocky. The cinematics in the game looked great and the opening/closing segments were well done. But the contrast with the in-game look was significant. The coloration was uniformly drab, though some of the puzzles and rooms were interesting and detailed. Letís just say, I am one of those gamers, who really doesnít bring huge expectations to any given game. Didnít matter, the game should have looked much better.

Sliced and Diced

If I had to give you just one reason to lock up your dollars, hide in a closet and run away if this game knocked on your door, here it is. The puzzles. Not all the puzzles, there were some amazingly good ones. But there were also some of the most hideous challenges I have ever been unable to beat in a game. Some reference is needed here. I am no stranger to keyboard or action games. My first love is adventure games. But, I do love to stroll on the dark side and from time to time really enjoy a well-crafted story based third person shooter. Splinter Cell, Deus Ex, NOLF and Max Payne are lovingly displayed on my game shelf.

Point being, my difficulties with these puzzles has nothing to do with the fact that the game is allegedly keyboard controlled or that they were ďactionĒ based. You donít get to shoot anyone in the game or use any weapons at all. A shame as I could have shot something and probably would have felt a bit better. No, these puzzles were sadistic. Imagine you are in a room. You must retrieve an object to advance in the game. Fair enough. The object is on a stand in the middle of the room. As you walk over to the stand you notice there are holes in the metal floor. As you grab the item, you learn the reason for all those holes. It is so walls with spikes can crash down along three sides of the room. The fourth section of the floor, that lies right in front of the door, has spikes that rise up from the floor. In the door itself is a swinging blade of death. Should you get your timing down and survive the skewering and smashing, you face the corridor beyond the room. Here you have metal spiked blocks that crash together, with a swinging razor sharp swinging blade between each set of blocks. Come on!! What were they thinking ?! I didnít even bother trying this route of pain. This is now known in WTís  (how did they ever write them??) as the ďslice and diceĒ puzzle.  I tried to get my youngest son to give this puzzle a go, as he is my in-house console action expert and gaming partner. He took one look, made some impolite remarks about the game and fled the jurisdiction. There are a few others along these lines. This is a shame, as the game has some other puzzles that were great, assuming you last long enough in the game to get there. But like the piano end puzzle in Nine, there are some challenges so horrible they can ruin a game. Or in this case, ďslice and diceĒ it.

The other side to this game is that about two thirds of the way through, you gain entry to the lair of the bad guys. Where the majority of the game at least had the varied chambers of an ancient temple complex, this side of the game is a maze of drab industrial-military  rooms and hallways. This is also the area of the game where your high tech gadgets come into play, but it was predominated by eye scans and pre-gassing rooms. On the plus side, there was more plot details imbedded here and the game actually started achieving some personality. I wonder if the game would have fared better, if they had focused the entire game on this side of the story. There were items to read, examine and look at. It felt more like an adventure game to me at this point. But it also seemed too little, too late.

Story, uhhm what story?

We have been spoiled lately by a number of adventure games, flawed or not, that had decent to great stories. I canít recall a game ever released in this genre that has less of a story than TG2. If you read the box and watch the opening cinematic, thatís about all the story you are going to get, except for at the end of the game when you finally make entry into the terrorist compound. For those who thought The Longest Journey was dialogue heavy, here is your alternative. Normally as you move through a game, your character will comment or objects will highlight. I am not exactly sure, but I believe I had only 5 or 6 moments where Raven said anything at all. And his comments were about 4 or 5 words long and amazingly dense. Plus you have no smart cursor, no items that highlight, no reaction at all to anything as you walk around a room. You are left with moving Raven up to items and then clicking the ďactionĒ or ďenterĒ key. He either does something or he doesnít. This is something you must go through, over and over and over again.

Now there is a journal   belonging to some long gone explorer that provides bits and pieces of clues to rooms and objects within the ancient compound. But hereís another poor design choice. You cannot access this journal from within the game. No instead, you have to exit to the main menu to, bring up the journal. Now once you do this Ė it pops up inside the game. But still, this is a major inconvenience. On a positive note, the clues are so cryptic that you really wonít miss using the journal anyway. If the game had held my interest better, I might have worked around the interface and copied the journalís 100+ pages in my game notes. But since what I read was of little help, I ditched the journal and never went back. I fared better just blundering my way through. I should add that wandering and blundering is common throughout this game. You see, they designed the ancient complex as a vast, multi-level maze. It has three levels as best I can tell and secret doors that take you all over the place. If you are a maze addict Ė hereís your environment. It is a large place and has some great rooms, passageways and places. But with so little plot, no characters, scant dialogue and a poor interface, I have to admit maneuvering through this maze was not a high point.

Technical Babble and Interface

I ran into a number of glitches while playing the game. For one thing you are supposed to retrieve a copy of the virus. I re-loaded 3 different saved games and got the copy. Raven in one of his rare verbal moments even commented on it. Despite this, at the end I was rated a failure, as I hadnít copied the virus. I gave up on even the thought of a successful ending, enjoyed the end cut scene for the last time and closed this game down. There are also moments when the game just wonít work. There are a few timed puzzles where the time slips, other moments where the graphics went wild, I stepped into nothing or the device just didnít work. Now the game never crashed Ė it just didnít work.  I donít have the expertise to describe it any better than that. I got a saved game and trudged on. You can also get stuck in places, if you donít maneuver well. There may be other glitches, but these are the ones that stand out for me.

The interface is awkward at best. For one thing there was no description in the manual or anywhere else of what keyboard commands you have in the game. I kept thinking there had to be a ďlookĒ feature and searched the manual, the game files and the internet. There are only the arrow keys and the ďenterĒ or action key. Raven always runs by default, if you want him to walk you need to push the shift key. The space bar makes Raven leap or jump. Thatís it. On the positive side, this is the simplest keyboard configuration out there. On the minus side with all the action parts Ė I could have used more options. Positioning your character to interact with things was not always an easy task and made gameplay awkward at best.

The good parts, yes there were some.

In some ways the best part of this game for me was the final cut scene. One, it contained the first human voices I had heard in hours and two it meant the game was over. But I have to admit there were some interesting places and puzzles in the game. It was suggested to me, that the game is better appreciated if approached as a pure puzzler. After reflection, it does make a difference. Is it enough of a difference for me to recommend this game?  Probably not.

But, I do think that people who have are not easily frustrated, donít mind using saved games to finish, love intricate environments and tons of puzzles might consider getting this game. It does have some intriguing challenges. There was one where you used fans to maneuver a boat that was a bit obscure as to which key or keys you needed, but you couldnít die, it wasnít timed and it was an interesting chamber. You have to observe the rooms, note their structure and visual clues. I found the journal less than helpful. But those who have a patience and love for the obscure, would probably read the entire thing and gain a lot from it. Many of the mechanical puzzles were well designed and unique from what you find in other games.  Though the graphics lacked clarity, the individual chambers were varied with giant statuary, vistas and ambiance. The musical overlay helped create some of the better points of the game.  I ended up saving some of the music files to my hard drive, for later enjoyment. I think if they created a patch for the glitches, created a saved game download for several areas and created a detailed map for download, then I would say there are those who will find value in the game.

How do I put this?

Well letís keep it simple. My bottom line on Traitorís Gate II: Cypher is, donít buy this game. Or at least, donít buy it now. It does have some great puzzles among the debris and if you like wandering around for a long time, it is one vast place. Otherwise save your money for some of the great titles already released or coming soon. With Broken Sword 3, The Black Mirror, Jack The Ripper, Jane Jensenís game and many more, the Adventure Company has an impressive game list. They canít all be home runs or even just a solid hit. Everybody has their lesser moments and Traitorís Gate 2: Cypher is it.

Review Grade:     D


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