Chronicles of Mystery: The Scorpio Ritual is the second adventure title from the Polish based City Interactive and while it is not a true sequel to their first game, Art of Murder: FBI Confidential, it easily could have been with just a few changes here and there.
It basically follows the same blueprint – a female protagonist embroiled in a globe-trotting quasi-religious mystery set-off by some beautifully rendered graphics. The only divergence is that Sylvie Leroux, the female lead, is an archeologist and not an agent of the FBI.
Sylvie has been contacted by her Uncle Oliver who demands she immediately drop everything in her life and fly to Malta to see his new discovery – which he dare not describe over the telephone - unearthed in the ruins on the Island of Gozo. Upon her arrival she, of course, discovers that Uncle Ollie has gone missing and immediately adding two-and-two together deduces that his disappearance can be linked to his discovery. Ya think?!
What follows is a watered-down version of The DaVinci Code and innumerable copycat adventure titles. Throw in a plot that revolves around the Knights Hospitaller - a Christian organization with ties to the Knights Templar and still in existence today as the Military Order of Malta - and you’ve now reached the nadir of unoriginality for as Gertrude Stein wrote, ‘A rose is a rose is a rose,’ or in this case, the Knights Templar, are the Knights Templar are the Knights Templar, even if you are trying to trick us by using the Knights Hospitaller. This plotline has been done to death in other adventure games, in books and in movies. It is readily apparent just from the above short desciption that the mystery will involve mystical and religious ramifications as well as clandestine involvement by an unnamed organization whose leader wears a big, pointy hat. Give us something new to hang our pointy hats on.
The game is third person point-and-click. The puzzles are never too difficult though they are sometimes cumbersome to solve due to a failure to ‘Americanize’ the names of a few items such as calling a fish net a ladle and a watering can lid a rose. I’m not trying to sound llike the Ugly American here, but if you’re going to go through the trouble of localizing your product and, if you want your product to succeed in North America, then it helps to have inventory items be identifiable. There is also one puzzle involving a light switch that stretches the limits of believability, but just about every adventure game ever developed is guilty of the same. The music could best be described as non-instrusive, nothing here that will have you tapping your toes after your monitor has dimmed for the evening.
Much like Art of Murder, the highlight of Chronicles of Mystery are the highly detailed graphics. The pre-rendered backgrounds are often quite striking and impressive and the fluidity of the characters seems to have improved somewhat, but it seems somewhat a waste that attention should be lavished on mostly mundane backdrops such as bookcase-dominated studies and overgrown ivy gardens.
All of this could have been bearable were it not for a few glaring problems: Sylvie Leroux is not as likeable a personality as Art of Murder’s Nicole Bonnet. While Nicole had some idiosyncrancies that humanized the character, Sylvie has none. But even if she did, they would have been diminished by the emotionless voice-acting which can be directly attributible to the flat and stilted dialogue.
Look, I don’t know of any adult who would ever approach another adult and say, ‘Let’s be friends,” as linguist James Anderson says to Sylvie upon first meeting her. Are you kidding me? It sounds like something two five-year olds at the playground would say to each other. City Interactive dearly needs to hire someone to polish the English dialogue in their games after it has been translated from its original language. Especially as even minor attempts at humor – such as one running gag involving a rotten fish - stink like day-old fish.
City Interactive’s talent – as well as an appreciation for the genre – is evident in the graphics, in the structure of the game and in the attention paid to puzzle construction, but it is lacking in the attention to small details that most often separate the ‘must play’ adventure titles from those soon to be languishing in the bargain bin.
But if you can’t get enough of the Knights Templar - er Hospitaller - and if a visit to the Vatican is on your virtual agenda and if you don’t mind a sense of déjà vu while adventuring, then grab yourself a copy of Chronicles of Mystery and hunker down for an evening of entertainment that will feel like a blast from the past.
Final Grade: C