Review: Secret Files Tunguska (PC)

Secret Files Tunguska
Developer: Fusionsphere Systems/Animation Arts
Publisher: The Adventure Company
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: 11/01/2006

Dr. Raymond Stantz once referred to the the Tunguska Incident as the biggest interdimensional cross rip up until the time the Gozhr the Gozharian tried to destroy all of humanity by taking the form of the Stay Puff Marshmallow man. The Tunguska incident is one of the most talked about unsolved mysteries of the 20th century. Folklorists, scientists, historians and the like have spent a century now trying to discover what actually happened back in 1908.

At 7:17am on June 30th, 1908, a massive explosion occurred in Siberia near the Tunguska region, with a force that had never been seen by humanity before. At 7:15am natives to the region reported a column of light as bright as the sun growing closer and closer to their land. Ten minutes later there was a blinding flash followed by a shockwave that could be felt all the way in England by seismologists’ instruments. Even hundreds of miles away windows and glass shattered from the explosion. In the United States, the explosion could be detected by a change it atmospheric pressure months after the blast. In Eurasia, the sky was lit up for days after the incident, allowing one to read a newspaper even in the middle of the night.

In the end, the most plausible theory is that a comet exploded about 4 miles above the earth’s surface with an impact of about 20 megatons of TNT, larger than any nuclear bomb that the US has ever detonated. Please note the largest nuclear bomb ever exploded was 50 megatons and made by the Russians in the early 1960’s. Remember that this was 40 years before we had such instruments of destruction, so this explosion was the largest humanity had ever seen since it began recording history. 60 million trees in a 830 square miles were obliterated. It is this event that has triggered several scientists to create theories that something similar is what killed the dinosaurs, and that such an event can, nay, will happen again and be the extinction of the human race. Oddly enough though, no crater or impact site has ever been found.

There are several other theories about the event, ranging from an underground volcano to more outlandish beliefs like antimatter, aliens, or even a temporary black hole were to blame. It has become a event for discussion for all members of the scientific community, where they believe there was something paranormal at work, or merely some sort of phenomenon that humanity had never encountered before in recorded history. It is this Tunguska event that Deep Silver has based its latest adventure game around. Deep Silver recently released the lackluster: Mage Knight: Apocalypse for the PC, but it’s also responsible for the Kingdom under Fire series. DS has created a wide range of titles that seem range from the awful to pretty popular. At least they’re always trying new genres, right? Well Secret Files: Tunguska is their first adventure game. How does it far?

Let’s Review

1. Story

Although the Tunguska Event of 1908 is the catalyst for the story, very little of the plot revolves around it. You play as Nina Kalenkov, the daughter of a prominent expert on the Tunguska Event. Nina goes to her father’s lab one day to find it ransacked and daddy dearest is nowhere to be seen. This sets Nina and one of her father colleagues at the museum he works at, Max Gruber, onto an adventure featuring secret societies, conspiracies, double crosses, mental asylums, and more. You’ll be going everywhere from Berlin to a climatic encounter in Antarctica.

The game is well written and has excellent pacing. It’s a pretty serious adventure game that has bits of comedy thrown in and even when the game does reach out to the bizarre or fantastical, it does so in such a way as to leave doubt as to whether things are paranormal or if it is just a ruse portrayed by the eccentric or mad.

The only real complaint I have about the plot is the ending. It was a little too anticlimactic for me, and little was resolved other than the good guys won. There is a patch for the original German version of SF:T that provides you with an alternative ending and an aftermath synopsis, but it has yet to be made available by TAC. Still, the rest of the game was a pretty enjoyable romp and I was happy to see that the sequel to this game will be out in 2008. Nina Kalenkov is a very likable female heroine who was portrayed very realistic and I look forward to her further adventures.

Story Rating: 7/10

2. Graphics

Wow. This game is simply amazing looking. The cut scenes/cinematics are gorgeous for an adventure game, and they really hold up well against any genre’s graphics. Even in the actual gameplay I was very impressed by all the detail but into the backgrounds, as well as the characters. Probably the most striking bit of the visuals for me was how real the water looked. You could see the waves rippling across the surface so realistically. I was very impressed.

I loved the character designs to. Max and Nina looked very realistic, and more importantly, very European. Of course, this game was made by Europeans, so that probably helped. It may sound silly, but there’s a definite distinction between American and European dress and how they carry themselves. Too often, because the majority of video games are made by US and Japanese developers, everyone who is Caucasian looks, dresses and walks American. It’s little touches like this take make Secret Files so enjoyable.

This is one of the best looking games I’ve played all year. Adventure games are normally very pretty, but this game is especially beautiful. Compared to games like Scratches and Keepsake which I’ve also played this year, SF:T is a work of art. If you play games for outstanding visuals, CS:T will keep you ecstatic for the 8-10 hours it takes to get through it.

Graphics rating: 10/10

3. Sound

There’s no real music to the game. There’s an opening and closing theme, but that’s about it, and both are largely forgettable. The voice acting is average. I didn’t mind the actors exactly, except that the two main characters are German and they sound like they are from Canada. Indeed, everywhere your characters go, it’s the same. Cuba? They sound like Canadians. Russia? Canadians. Ireland? Canadians. Not that there’s anything wrong with the Canadian accent, but I would have really appreciated people to have some semblance of an accent from the region they are supposed to be from. Even ignoring that, the voice acting is a mixed bag, with actors occasionally mispronouncing words or having little to no emotion. The voice acting here wasn’t as bad as say, Shining Force Neo, but there wasn’t anything especially good either. It was the level of voice acting we’d see back in the days of the Sega CD. Just a mediocre performance in all. Nothing that will make you unhappy when this ensemble returns for the sequel.

Sound Rating: 5/10

4. Control and Gameplay

I have to say this, as it’s best praise I can give to SF:T: This is the best point and click engine I’ve ever played with. It’s as if the designers had taken careful note of every major annoyance people have with the genre and did their best to eliminate them. You know the adventure games where have the game is spent mindlessly walking from one area to another? A simple double click of the mouse button and you’re whisked to the next area with minimal loading times. Do you remember all those times where you spent an annoying amount of time clicking damn near every pixel on the screen in hopes of finding something you can interact with because the developers made the click area too small or slightly off from where it should be according to the graphics? One click and for a brief amount of time, everything Nina or Max can interact with on the screen in highlighted with a magnifying glass, ensuring you don’t have to waste time getting frustrated with the game in question. Stuck on a puzzle? The game will give you one basic hint without solving it outright for you. This is simply a wonderful engine and for just this reason I’m chomping at the bit for it to be 2008 so I can interact with this style of adventure game again.

Aside from these excellent upgrades to the standard adventure game engine, Tunguska plays like any other point and click game. Your mouse controls everything. The left button lets you look at objects while the right lets you interact. You can move by clicking on areas with the mouse and talk to people by clicking on them. The controls are all intuitive and make the game accessible by all, regardless of age or experience with gaming.

Highest possible rating here. Simply wonderful and more adventure games need to take not of this engine,.

Control and Gameplay: 10/10

5. Replayability

Like all adventures games, replayability is SF:T’s Achilles heel. Everything is exceptionally linear and nothing will change the second time you play through. Thankfully the alternate ending will soon be downloadable and the game is so enjoyable you finally have a reason to play through an adventure game twice!

People who really connect with the game might mind it worth coming back to, but even with Adventure games I really love, I have a hard time playing through them again unless several years have passed. The exceptions seem to be Still Life, Dracula: Resurrection and the original Monkey island for me.

Replayabiity Rating: 3/10

6. Balance

Like all adventures games, it’s a bit tricky to rate SF:T in this category. Sometimes the puzzles are obvious and other times they’re not as logical. It all comes down to your ability to solve puzzles. There weren’t any that were hard of even difficult in SF:T although there were times when I knew I had to do something or put a certain object in a certain place but the game wouldn’t let me do it just yet. Also, there are times when you’ll have to reclaim or get duplicates of an object and this generally throws the more seasoned adventure gamer of, as it’s rare that an item has multiple uses or that you can take multiples of the same item.

In all, SF:T is a well made game that will force you to kick your brain into a higher gear than it would be if you were playing, oh…say Contra.

Balance Rating: 7/10

7. Originality

I always love it when adventure games go the historical fiction route. Games like Barrow Hill, The Black Dahlia, and the like always intrigue me because it’s nice to see developers taking a slice of reality and injecting it into their games. I’ll admit I’m never been too interested in the Tunguska Event before, but as a folklorist I was well aware of it. This game made me want to rummage through my library to find articles and essays on the event so that I could give you a Nyogtha-esque opening.

Besides the quasi-reality approach, the game did something nifty with the age old point and click engine and it gave us a pretty interesting plot. It’s a fresh approach on the adventure genre while still clinging to the classic aspects that make the genre popular with its respective audience.

Originality Rating: 7/10

8. Addictiveness

SF:T is only ten hours long and it’s quite possible to beat it in one marathon sitting. The story is well done and it’s broken up enough so that you can take breaks and still have everything seem fresh and clear the next day. I will be honest and say the game didn’t hook me as much as other adventure games I’ve played, but I still beat them game in about 4 days after receiving it and preferred it to FFXII which I’m currently playing through for review purposes as well. It’s an enjoyable game, but I was far more into the game at the beginning than I was at the end. I assume the voice acting and the lackluster ending dampened it a bit for me.

Addictiveness Rating: 6/10

9. Appeal Factor

As SF:T feels like a summer action/thriller film, but with a more substantial story, it’s sure to be one of those adventure games that crosses over to garner some appeal outside the relatively small adventure game scene in the US. It’s easily accessible to gamers of all ages (although there’s some strong profanity, fecal humor and sexual innuendos interlaced into the dialogue) and the controls are such that all gamers can have fun with it. Although I find Barrow Hill to be the best Adventure game released in 2006, Tunguska will certainly attract a larger audience. Well, as large of an audience as an adventure game can here in North America.

Appeal Factor: 6/10

10. Miscellaneous

Now I’m fully aware that I’m one of the few reviewers in the industry that actually likes Adventure games. But then, I also love 2-D shooters and fighters, so my tastes are pretty out of sync with the current American outlook of “Sports and FPS games RULE!” Still, I had a lot of fun with this game; far more than I expected to and it’s definitely on the nominee list for Best Adventure Game -2006 here at IP. I just hope some of you actually make an effort to pick up this game, and this includes my fellow IP staffers. Tis is a good game that really does deserve some mainstream press. I just hope it gets it.

Miscellaneous Rating: 7/10

The Scores
Story: 7/10
Graphics: 10/10
Sound: 5/10
Control & Gameplay: 10/10
Replayability: 3/10
Balance: 8/10
Originality: 7/10
Addictiveness: 6/10
Appeal Factor: 6/10
Miscellaneous: 7/10
Total Score 69/100
Final Score:7.0 ( Good)

Short Attention Span Summary
SF:T is Deep Silver’s best release yet. It’s a wonderful adventure game and one of the best games I’ve gotten my hands on this year. Barrow Hill is still the better Adventure game for pure adventure gamers, but I can honestly recommend Tunguska to gamers, no matter what their preferred genre is.