Review: Chronicles of Mystery: The Scorpio Ritual (PC)

Chronicles of Mystery: The Scorpio Ritual
Developer: City Interactive
Publisher: City Interactive
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: 11/26/08


I have a rather large soft spot for adventure games. I used to pour hours upon hours into Hero’s Quest/Quest for Glory, Police Quest and many others. More recently, the adventure games on the DS have drawn me like iron fillings to a magnet, and it nice not having to deal with stringent system requirements. But I’d been wanting to dive back into PC adventure gaming, so when this game came in, I jumped on it eagerly.

Let’s see how it measures up.

Story
In Chronicles of Mystery: The Scorpio Ritual you take on the role Sylvie Leroux, a young archeologist who takes after her uncle. She receives a late night call from him telling her to come to Malta, the place where she grew up. However, when she arrives, he’s nowhere to be seen. From there, it’s up to her to gather and piece together clues in order to figure out what happened to her uncle and to find him. The search takes her from Paris to Malta, Gozo, Istanbul, and Rome. She also attempts to continue her uncle’s investigation of an underground temple bearing the crest of the Knights of Malta and contains an hidden chamber. In doing so, she also becomes entangled in a rivalry between the Vatican and Mossad. The story didn’t quite draw me in at first, but nonetheless I did want to know more about what was going on. It does pick up later on, but then it kind of just…ends.

The ending feels rather abrupt and fails to tie up any loose ends or explain anything. The consequences of opening the chest are not explicitly divulged, as the introductory cinematic shows that some of its contents were leaked out. Certain characters’ motivations for doing what they do are also never fully expounded upon, and some key points are never explained. Sure, you could try to piece things together, but you’re never really given much of anything concrete. There’s a difference between leaving some things up for interpretation and ending a story without resolving anything. Sadly, this game falls in the latter category.

The characters each have their own distinct personalities, even the minor ones you bump into once and then never encounter again. The parrot makes random (sometimes morbid) wisecracks the whole time you’re standing at the dock, and the banter between her and Tore is amusing. Sylvie herself is likeable, which is good because you’re dealing with her throughout the game. She does tend to make smart aleck comments, such as terming all her stealing as basically “didn’t have a chance to ask for permission, oops” and when she asks a guard, “Will you show me your biceps?” Man, I didn’t know that was all the rage in pickup lines nowadays – you learn something every day.

Story: Mediocre

Graphics
<The environments are beautifully rendered and are rather intricately detailed, from the wood grain to cracks in the sidewalk. Little details like a bird flying overhead, an occassional passing car, and waves crashing against rocks help bring them to life. The cutscenes are smoothly animated, though they seem somewhat bleary. The game runs only at a 1024 X 768 resolution, but it still looks fine even when displayed on a larger monitor.

The character models, on the other hand, are less impressive. The outlines of these models look somewhat jagged and pixalated, which is jarring next to the polished surroundings. Their hair looks like one big shaped clump and never moves, except for Sylvie’s bangs during cutscenes, and even then they’re obviously seperated from the rest of her hair. Clothing also looks somewhat flat and pasted on and looks like it clings to the characters’ bodies. Nonetheless, they do have a good amount of detail to them.
Graphics: Very Good

Sound
There’s plenty of voice acting in this game, all of which is pretty respectable. The accents sound authentic enough without coming across as obviously fake or hammy. Sylvie will also comment on various things, though her commentary can get a bit repetitive if you need to examine something more than once. If you’d rather do without the voice acting, you can turn it off in the sound section. At times, however, the voice doesn’t quite match up with the subtitles. Granted, there’s only minor deviations. The soundtrack’s alright and isn’t likely to induce headaches, but it also doesn’t really stand out. I barely paid attention to the music as I was playing.

Sound: Decent

Control and Gameplay
Given that this is a point-and-click, you use the mouse for everything. On the bottom of the screen is a filmstrip-like display of all the items you currently have in your possession. You can right-click to examine an item more closely or left-click to select it. If you left-click on another item while you have an item selected, you can combine the two (of course, only certain combinations actually work). Naturally, many of the puzzles in this game will involve combining items and applying the results to something in the environment in order to complete a task.

There’s a question mark icon in the lower right hand corner that you can click on to have question marks briefly appear on objects you can interact with and exits, which can be helpful if you’re stuck. However, it does not include objects you can examine, so you’ll sometimes still have to use the old fashioned method of moving your cursor slowly over everything until it changes shape. A hand means you can interact with it, a magnifying glass means you can examine the item more closely, and an eye means you can examine it. The aiming icon (which looks like a bow and arrow) appears when accuracy is required to do something.

You can double click a spot to have Sylvie run to it instead of walk, but you might have to click a few times to get it to register, which is a small annoyance, but an annoyance nonetheless. Even when running, movement still feels slow, especially when traversing across large areas. You can review any dialogues you’ve engaged in and documents you’ve found in the notes section. Sylvie will also keep a journal recaping what occurred in the location she had just visited, so you can figure out where you left off even if you walk away from the game for a while for whatever reason.

Control and Gameplay: Very Good

Replayability
Lack of replability has always plagued games in the adventure genre. This is no exception. Once you’ve beaten the game, you’ve really seen all there is to see. There’s no variation in puzzles or storyline, nor are there any other endings to unlock. Considering how lackluster the ending is, the latter would’ve been a welcome addition. You also can’t skip cutscenes or Sylvie’s commentary, so that bogs down the pace a bit. But you can skip through dialogue by clicking in the text area There’s a gallery cutscene if you ever want to rewatch any of them, lessening the need to replay the game.

Replayability: Bad

Balance
A lot of the time, I was able to predict the purpose of a given item and what I’d be using it for before I got to the point where I actually needed to do so. The puzzles range from easy to medium difficulty, and you’ll likely not need a guide for most of the game. The only puzzle that had me stuck was one involving throwing stones in order to stop two moving platforms, and that was because it required very precise timing to work. The game also won’t let you leave the area until you’ve gotten and done everything you need to there, so you’ll never be stuck enough to have to start over. For instance, the compass on your scooter will only light up after you’re completed, and you won’t be able to start it until then. However, you can basically pick up items in any order and, provided you have the required items, do tasks in a slightly different order.

Balance: Enjoyable

Originality
The whole “searching for a missing relative and getting entangled in some larger conspiracy” storyline has been done before many times, but it’s executed well enough here. Some of the puzzles do require a degree of resourcefulness and thinking outside of the box. At one point, you even go incognito as a nun. However, nothing here is especially mindblowing, and there’s never any real sense of suspense until near the end.

Originality: Decent

Addictivness
Honestly, part of what kept me going was knowing that the game was relatively short – about 4-5 hours, depending on how long it takes you to find everything and solve the puzzles. But another part was geniunely wanting to see how everything would turn out. I did also have fun grabbing anything not nailed down (or rather, what the game would let me take) and .

Addictiveness: Above Average

Appeal Factor
Those with an itchy trigger finger may want to look elsewhere, as while you do indeed use your index finger to click aplenty, there’s also long dialogue trees to sit through and documents to read. But those who have been craving an adventure fix should enjoy this. Most systems should be able to run it due to the relatively lenient system requirements, and it’s a budget title, so there’s not much to lose in giving it a whirl.

Appeal Factor: Above Average

Miscellaneous
Sylvie will sometimes comment about a dialogue, right in front of the person she just spoke to. For example, after talking to James for the first time and telling him she’ll get the old volume for him, she comments, “I should go get the book for him” and “I think I just made an ally” while she’s still standing right in front of him. I suppose that’s meant to be internal monologue, but it seemed strange since she’s gesticulating the same way as when she was talking. The fact that the other person never reacts to such commentary supports the internal monologue theory. It still looks a bit strange, though.

There’s also several typos scattered here and there in the dialogue and the documents. While they don’t obscure the message being conveyed, it looks sloppy. It’s especially unkempt when combined with the askew syncing between the mouth movements and voices. It looks rather odd to watch Sylvie carry on a phone conversation with her mouth closed while she’s supposed to be talking.

There’s even an advertisement with “Art of Murder 2 – Coming Soon” in the game, a nod to City Interactive’s previous title, Art of Murder: FBI Confidential. When you examine it, Sylvie remarks, “That face looks familiar…” That could imply that the games are related somehow, or maybe it’s just an observation of how the two protagonists somewhat resemble each other. But finding out what it forebodes will probably have to wait until (or if) that sequel gets released. It’s possible that the abrupt ending is due to them wanting to save material for a sequel, but the lack of conclusion is somewhat irritating.

Miscellaneous: Decent

The Scores
Story: Mediocre
Graphics: Very Good
Sound: Decent
Control and Gameplay: Very Good
Replayability: Bad
Balance: Enjoyable
Originality: Decent
Addictiveness: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Above Average
Miscellaneous: Decent
FINAL SCORE: Above Average Game

Short Attention Span Summary:
If you’re looking to play a PC adventure game and are on a budget, this game will only set you back $19.99, and the system requirements are not particularly demanding. It’s a decent enough way to spend your time playing. However, there are better adventure games out there.

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