August 24, 2006
A dark street. A car engine revs. A woman crosses the street. A scream… You wake up and notice that your beloved Roxanne is not lying in bed beside you. A note lies on her pillow. Where is she? Did something happen to her or was it all a nightmare?
Tears of Betrayal (ToB) is a 3D, 3rd person, dark, mystery adventure. You take the role of James in his quest to find what happened to Roxanne. The first thing that stands out is the very clever and flexible interface. James can be moved around by the use of either the keyboard or the mouse (I found using the keyboard a lot easier for that task) and can interact with almost every item in every room. Right-clicking on an item will bring up a menu from which you can choose among 33(!) commands. And if the mouse-menu system doesn’t suit you, then commands can also be typed. This menu was the most pleasant surprise and reminded me of the good old days when adventures meant full interaction, instead of the simplicity of two or three basic “use”, “take”, “talk” commands.
If ToB sounds as though it features the best interface ever created, well, that could have been very close to being true if there weren’t two issues. The major one being that when using commands from the menu, the game sometimes gets confused between items that bear the same name. As a result the feedback gets mixed up or certain actions cannot be performed. For example you may try to examine an item using the commands menu and get a response that there is no such thing around, simply because the game thinks you are talking about a similar item that exists in another area. Using the command line in those cases is the only way out.
The other issue does not actually affect gameplay, but could have enhanced it a great deal. With all those commands available and with so many items open for interaction one would expect the game to feature a lot of unique feedback. Unfortunately, you mostly receive the same, generic feedback regardless of what you’re interacting with. Having recently played one of the finest examples in that area, Al Emmo, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed by this lost opportunity to take advantage of the full potential of such a magnificent interface.
Apart from the interface, the other very strong element of ToB is the dark and mysterious atmosphere, which actually features one of the creepiest scenes I’ve experienced in an adventure game – note: I said “creepiest” not “scariest”. Unfortunately that is true only for about 75% of the game. After a certain point, the game takes a really unexpected turn and completely loses its charm with some very disappointing revelations. Imagine watching Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and then towards the end of the movie Jean-Claude Van Damme appears to beat everyone up. Something similar happens here. No, the game doesn’t turn into a Tekken clone nor does it introduce any action sequences, but all the mystery and horror elements fizz out, leaving a very simplistic last part of the story. It made me wonder if the last part was actually written by a different person and then spliced to the original story. Or, if the developer simply ran out of ideas or got tired. A really big let down, since the game featured some very well crafted creepy scenes and managed to build up the mystery and the tension.
When it comes to puzzles, your brain won’t be put under too much stress in most cases. That doesn’t mean that ToB is the easiest game in the world as the difficulty varies between easy and slightly moderate. Some puzzles aren’t mandatory but there aren't too many of the ones that are. Most of the non-mandatory puzzles will present a funny easter-egg if solved, and probably award you some points. Yes, there is a point system in ToB, and I was very glad to see that. A few more brownie points for the interface here! The big drawback in the puzzles area is the fact that money plays an important role in the game and, guess what, you weren’t born rich. So you will have to earn money along the way, but while there are a couple of ways to do that adventure-wise, there is no escaping the primary way – gambling. Unfortunately, this turns out to be a tedious and time-consuming process, and should have either been omitted or rendered optional. But since it’s unavoidable, my advice to you is to gamble as early as possible and try to win a lot of money at once in order to put this tiresome process behind you.
When it comes to graphics there isn’t really much to say, other than they are functional and do their job. Same applies to the music, which features some nice tunes and changes properly when required, becoming brilliant at certain instances, like during the aforementioned creepy scene. There is also no speech, except for at the beginning and the end of the game. Remember, ToB’s purpose is not to make people’s jaws drop to the floor, so if you’re after groundbreaking, state of the art visuals and sounds, you need to look elsewhere. Of course, if that’s all you’re after, you probably need to look to other genres, since adventures never were and never will be about the graphics. The game gives you the option to make things as nice as possible though, by changing the resolution to up to 1600x1200, turning shadows, mirror and light effects on and setting the texture quality to high. And you won’t need a beast machine from the future to achieve that either!
As a full 3D game, it came as no surprise to me that ToB suffers from the incurable 3D disease: clipping. When you see clipping infesting multi-million productions, you know that a game coming from an independent developer wouldn’t be able to escape it. The problem is, along with the clipping comes a severe 3D bug. So, sometimes, if you try to squeeze James in tight places, like between tables and chairs, he may get stuck there unable to escape! This happened to me twice, and the only way out of it is restoring or quitting the game.
Speaking of bugs, there is a patch available that the developer strongly recommends installing before starting to play. I played the game with the patch installed, so I don’t know how things are without it. But even with the patch, the above 3D bug is still there, as well as a few other minor ones. There is though one bug that I need to mention because it makes the game look as if it’s at a dead-end, when it’s not. At the pawnshop you can buy a lamp and a letterbox, but if you don’t have enough money, the store owner will tell you you can’t buy them yet. The thing is, he’ll keep saying that even after you get the money! Good thing you don’t need the lamp or the letterbox to finish the game! If you do want to buy them though, don’t ask about them until you got plenty of money.
Ok, so reading this review may have made ToB seem a bit like a pain in the buttocks. Gambling, bugs, oh and you can die too – but never unfairly and in one case in a nice Larry 1/Laura Bow 2 kinda way! That is not entirely the case though. Indeed the aforementioned problems are annoying, but the game does compensate with its story and atmosphere. Of course if you’re not into dark mysteries, you won’t get much out of it, but if you are, ToB will be rewarding.
Overall, playing ToB was a nice experience, but marred a bit towards the end. But finishing the game gave me a promise that Frixx-It can achieve big things. They know how to creep you out and they know how to create brilliant user interfaces, they just couldn’t take advantage of their full potential yet. All they need is experience, and now that they got the ball rolling I have high hopes for their next production.
Final Grade: C