reviews\ Mar 26, 2003 at 7:00 pm

The Omega Stone: Riddle of the Sphinx II - PC - Review

Dreamcatcher, the parent company of The Adventure Company, has managed to tap into a neglected goldmine: the frustrated adventure players who've been abandoned by most other companies. As this particular group of gamers is small compared to fans of other genres, it just made sense for major companies to give up the expensive business of making games that only a small portion of the market would buy and to concentrate on more profitable games. So how does Dreamcatcher manage to make money? By concentrating on the publishing aspect, leaving the risky business of designing and producing the games to others.

This means The Adventure Company can pick and choose from a host of games produced by various companies, and for the most part, they've picked several decent games such as Syberia and Post Mortem over the last several years, to the glee of adventure gamers everywhere. One of their latest releases is The Riddle of the Sphinx II: The Omega Stone, a sequel to the fairly popular Riddle of the Sphinx.

The Omega Stone is designed in the classic Myst manner, with a first-person perspective and a quiet, lonely style of investigation, as the player is for the most part the only human around, except for the largely reticent driver. In the first game, Sir Gil Geoffreys discovered a secret scroll pertaining to the lost Ark of the Covenant of the Jews. In this sequel, a second scroll has been discovered in the Sphinx with disturbing implications for the future of the planet, one that links many ancient civilizations together. Sir Geoffreys needs you to travel to several different sites, searching for the answers that will save the earth from possible disaster. And search you will....

The adventure begins in the Sphinx, with vague instructions from Sir Geoffreys about possible areas of concentration. The player's goals are not expressly voiced, so it's up to the player to explore and figure out just what he or she is supposed to be accomplishing. The main locations to visit at first are Giza, Chichen Itza, the Devil's Triangle, Easter Island, and Stonehenge. By searching diligently, certain items can be picked up for use later, and helpful information can be gleaned by reading various books and letters. Unfortunately, most of the written clues can't be placed in the inventory, but must instead be photographed. For some reason, the photo tool can only focus on part of the picture, so several shots will have to be taken to get the whole picture. This is a major aggravation when trying to decipher picture clues, as players can't study the entire picture at once, but must instead flip back and forth between pieces.

The puzzles are brain teasers, and some time will have to be spent on them. Most times the general sense of the solution is known, but the tools to figure it out are not known and there are no hints given in the course of the game, really, to direct the player of just what to be looking for to help solve the puzzle, except for a fairly easy puzzle on Easter Island involving statues and a mask. Most of the time, players will be blindly searching every inch of the locations for items to possibly use later. As many of the items are extremely difficult to see against the dark backgrounds, often they are missed without the player having any clue about there being anything there to look for, anyway.

Some inventory items are in plain sight, but finding the location itself isn't very obvious. Early on in the game, I became somewhat stuck because I hadn't clicked the directional cursor in the right direction in a few locations, so didn't know that certain areas were accessible, and therefore missed several key items for my inventory. Fortunately, some friends helped me out and I was able to progress.

The atmosphere of the game fits very well with the theme of archaeology and mysterious, ancient civilizations. Historical buffs will enjoy exploring the different sites, which is good because they will definitely be doing a lot of that. The sense of isolation is nicely done, although not very believable, as in reality these are tourist spots, and they would be literally teeming with people, even though the game tries to explain in some instances why certain sites are closed and/or empty. For the most part, a serious, somber mood is evoked, except for certain instances of comedic relief.

There is a slight tongue-in-cheek approach oftentimes to the story and clues, most evident at Stonehenge, which utilizes a fantasy novel with plenty of romance overtones for information to use later. The excerpts from this novel are funny in the extreme for their sly digs at popular fiction. A letter to the former dig assistant from his parents also makes for amusing reading.

The interface offers a wide, panning viewpoint from the player's perspective which works well most of the time, and offers two choices of movement; a movement where every touch on the mouse moves the view, or a more rigid view where the view only shifts when the mouse is either clicked at hot viewpoints, or is moved vertically to the edge of the screen. I found I preferred the second choice of movement, as the other made me seasick.

The inventory, options and main menu selections are accessed easily by simply right-clicking to bring up or down. Several options can be chosen for game configuration, such as mouse movement, music, and cursor options for clues. This interface is generally intuitive and is a pleasure to use when compared to many other similar games. There were a few odd glitches with inventory items, as in when one item just magically appeared (the grappling hook) without me ever clicking on it anywhere, and the disappearance of two items picked up from a shrubbery maze. However, this didn't affect the gameplay any; I simply picked up the missing inventory items again, as they were back where they had originally been found.

The sound is practically non-existent. While loud theme music would have been distracting from the cerebral tone of the game, still, more sound effects would have added to the experience. What voice-acting is included is nicely done, and the actors do a good job. Sir Geoffrey has a nice accent, although his choice of vocabulary is a trifle stilted, as if the designers believe that the upper-class of the U.K. are stuck back a couple of centuries. I had to laugh at his comment on my being thrown back from the Ark of the Covenant at the game's introduction, "It was a sight to behold!" A "sight to behold"? Who says that anymore? But otherwise, the actors and their scripts were a good combination that blended in well and wasn't jarring or intrusive, except for one interaction with a 'friend' of Sir Geoffrey's that just didn't logically fit with the story.

For instance, the player will have to visit this guy at his house. Despite the warm, welcoming tone of his letters, he acts like a consummate jerk and won't even let you in his house, but says that you have to basically figure out how to get in yourself. Now, I understand the constricts and norms of these type of story puzzles, but given the story line up to this point, his crankiness made absolutely no sense.

The graphics are typical for this type game, and while not breathtakingly beautiful, are pleasant to look at and do a good job of adding to the atmosphere of the game as a whole. Each location is faithfully rendered to be as realistic as possible, and players will enjoy exploring just for the fun of seeing all these antiquities.

I found this game somewhat enjoyable, although this particular type of adventure isn't my favorite. I'm a big adventure fan, but I prefer third-person, dialogue driven games where there's always someone to talk to. A Myst fan I'm not, being much more a Monkey Island and Grim Fandango kinda girl. That said, I still enjoyed this program, mainly for the locations and interesting puzzles, rather than the story, which I found uncompelling. Fans of this type of adventure will find much to interest them, though, as this game is fairly well-designed and offers a good mix of esoteric puzzles and clue-hunting. The obligatory maze is present in a few instances, but mercifully is short each time comparatively to the torture many games offer in the name of amusement.

This is a decent offering on the altar of adventure, although a few improvements would have enhanced the gaming experience; namely, some type of directional goals imparted to the player during the course of the game, and the ability to add the written material to the inventory in its entirety, rather than piecemeal photos. Still, a worthwhile effort and one that many first-person adventure fans will appreciate.

Gameplay: 7.5
An interesting adventure that is a little short on story, but offers plenty of head-scratching puzzles and problems to work out. It will take several hours of playing to solve everything. Some drawbacks to the gameplay are the fact that advancement may be halted due to missing an important piece of inventory, and as the game doesn't give any direction on finding many things, this missing piece and its whereabouts may be forever a mystery.

Graphics: 7 
Average graphics that do an adequate job of evoking these wonderful locations, but nothing more.

Sound: 6
Not much to the sound.

Difficulty: Medium
The puzzles range in difficulty from easy to pretty difficult. Finding the inventory items isn't puzzling, so much as just hard to accomplish because of either resting against a dark background, or by being in a non-obvious location.

Concept: 7 
This type of game has been done many, many times before, but there is still room for more!

Overall: 7.1
A nice adventure to while away the hours with, especially if players are historical buffs. The locations add to the fun, with exotic places like Stonehenge and Easter Island. The story itself is a little weak, but most players of these type games are more interested in the puzzles than the story. Players who enjoyed the first Riddle of the Sphinx are sure to enjoy this sequel.


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