Secret Files: Tunguska Review
|Release Date:||September 29th, 2006 (UK)|
|Reviewer:||James Barlow (Malis)|
|Buy now at Amazon.co.uk|
No matter how much we move on, some things never change. From flares to Minis, Doom games to EA sequels, there are certain things that you know will always be around. Remember when you were younger and you played all those fun games like Monkey Island and Day of The Tentacle? Many of you will. Point and click adventures were around at the start of gaming, and they're still around now, despite games in general getting more violent and action-packed Indeed, this doggedly stalwart staple of gaming is actually enjoying something of a renaissance at the moment, with a new Broken Sword title just in the shops and new Sam & Max due very soon. Riding this crest of popularity comes the charming Secret Files: Tunguska, a modern point and click adventure based on mysterious real events.
The mysterious events in question occurred in 1908 when something exploded in Tunguska with the power of a nuclear bomb, destroying everything and lighting up the sky in Europe. Nobody knows exactly what caused the explosion, with theories ranging from meteors to UFOs. Into this historical backdrop steps Nina Kalenkow who discovers that her scientist father, Victor, has gone missing in very shady circumstances. Following a trail of clues and aided all the way by the young Max Gruber (Victor's colleague), the player controls Nina on a mystery adventure that doffs it's fedora in homage to Indiana Jones along the way.
Story is focal to any adventure game, and Secret Files: Tunguska is no exception. The search for Nina's father is told with some maturity, and is genuinely engaging and interesting. The central secret of what exactly happened in Tunguska, and how Nina's father ties into it will keep you playing until the very end - as I can testify. To help lighten the mood you can expect a stream of wisecracks and jokes from your character, which can be quite amusing - Nina's comment when faced with a certain button is "not to be confused with Jenson."
As you'd expect, the majority of the story is told through dialogue, and Secret Files features voice acting for every bit of speech. Sadly this is perhaps the game's biggest weakness, with voices ranging from acceptable to irritating. Most notably, Nina's voice tries too hard to be sassy and cool and instead ends up being over-blown and annoying. Luckily none of this damages the game, you soon learn to phase out the dodgy bits and get on with things. Other characters like Max are much more suitably voiced, and it's a real shame the level isn't consistent throughout the cast, it definitely goes down as a missed opportunity.
You'd do well to pay attention to what people say though, regardless of their vocal ability. For mastery of Secret Files' puzzles requires real focus on conversational clues, items and the environment itself. Often all three of these areas are seamlessly integrated in an effort to create immersive and believable puzzles. For example, at one point in the game you'll have to work out where a prisoner is being held and rescue them. Eavesdropping on a conversation will let you know that a guard is watching TV. Wandering outside you'll notice a satellite dish on the wall. It's a logical step to assume that by tampering with the dish you might be able to distract the guard. Better check the inventory for something to sabotage a TV dish with then...
It's clear that the artists in Secret Files took great care in creating their fixed camera scenes (which look fantastic). Everything is highly detailed and realistic to look at, from a bloodied torture room to a messy office. Even elements which are non-usable can provide clues to completing a puzzle or overcoming an obstacle, such as a network of sewer pipes that visually connect to the room above. As such, Secret Files requires your absolute attention when playing. The reward for this dedication is completing logical and satisfying problems. Whether it's using a stethoscope on a door to eavesdrop, or Macgyvering together a blow gun from a hollow chair leg and a syringe, puzzles rarely, if ever, escalate to incomprehensible or silly levels. The biggest personal stretch I came across was making jam by throwing dried fruits, honey and fruit juice in a saucepan. Hmm, thinking about it, I know a few student cooks who could probably lay claim to doing that.
The refreshing nature of the puzzles is helped by a well designed interface. Items are displayed along the bottom of the screen in big, chunky icons that you can examine at any time. Next to your items is a magnifying glass, the search scene button. Click this and an icon will briefly flash over any items or 'hotspots' in the current scene. This is a nifty tool that makes navigating through the game much smoother as you can be sure that you aren't stuck on a puzzle due to missing a clickable object at the very least. In addition, the mouse cursor proves of great help in avoiding hours of testing item combinations. Right click always examines something, while a left click will pick up or use an object. If you take an item from your inventory and hover over another, the cursor will display a left click symbol to indicate if they're able to be combined.
Progress through Secret Files plays out in a very secular fashion, and one that ultimately suits the game very well. After a section of story you're dumped in a zone, which is typically comprised of two to four scenes. Each zone tends to start you off with no items and it's up to you to find what you can in the surrounding scenes and apply them to overcoming the main obstacle, which in turn will let you progress the story and move to the next zone. This eliminates the back-tracking so common in games of this nature - no more getting a bucket of water halfway through the game from the sea (because the ocean equates to an obvious water supply) and lugging it across town to pour on a sleeping man you met in the first five minutes of playing. Yes, I made up that puzzle, but it's precisely the sort of problem you won't be seeing in Secret Files: Tunguska. The feel of the game becomes much more satisfyingly aligned to surveying your immediate surroundings and picking the best items to overcome a problem.
Although the secular close-knit scenes and ability to see when items are combinable with each other might seem to indicate an easy ride through the game, Secret Files isn't afraid to throw in some fiendish puzzles and red herrings. Often you'll be given excess items to confuse you, or items appear to be usable with each other but don't lead to any results. Later in the game some of the puzzles get very creative, including a memorable sequence where you're given control of both Max and Nina who you can change between on the fly. Separated by a wall and a few floors, the pair must trade items and pool resources to overcome an obstacle. It's well thought out and brilliantly executed, a true brain test.
Secret Files: Tunguska is a charming and entertaining game. If you're a fan of the genre, or looking for a slower-paced game to relax to, it's definitely worth your time with refreshing, logical puzzles and genuinely mysterious story. However, at heart this remains a classic point and click game, so those who feel that story based adventures are the province of old men won't find anything revolutionary here to change your opinions. Like a good book, Secret Files: Tunguska deserves your full attention, rewarding you with a relaxing and enjoyable evening. If the voice acting were of a higher standard, and the actual character models a slightly higher quality, this would be one of the top in the genre. Nevertheless, if you can afford the time, you could do a lot worse than check out this title.
- Generally logical and satisfying puzzles
- Mysterious story
- Helpful interface
- Backgrounds look pretty
Not so good stuff
- Unlikely to supply more than one play-through
- Voice acting is off in places
- Character models could be more detailed
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