March 3, 2001.
Riddle of the Sphinx™ review by: Brett Todd on GamesDomain.com
Veterans of Myst and its countless clones will be right at home with the game’s first-person interface. Movement is linear, taking you along specific paths to locations where some aspect of the evolving mystery will undoubtedly be revealed. Entering these locales—which are typically rooms, tents, tomb passages and chambers, and so on—triggers the game’s VR Mode. This freezes you in one central position and allows 360-degree pivoting to look at and interact with different items in the immediate vicinity. Different mouse cursors inform you of what’s possible. You’ll be able to pick up objects, flip through books, grab and turn handles, play audio cassettes, and generally be able to act wholly like an erstwhile archaeologist in a B movie.
VR Mode depicts some of the most enigmatic aspects of Egyptian history. All manner of New Agey rumors and theories are embraced by the developers at Omni Creative Group Int’l (which seems to mainly be the providence of the husband and wife design team of Jeffrey and Karen Tobler). So if you’re against the sort of speculative (okay, perhaps “outlandish” might be a better word) research written up by the likes of 21st Century Von Danikens, like Graham Hancock and Robert Bauval, you’ll find the subject matter here either laughable or just stupid. You’ll discover that the Great Pyramid has hidden chambers and shrines, that the Sphinx isn’t what historical researchers claim it to be, and even that certain Biblical stories have more than a ring of truth to them.
Yeah, that’s all a little goofy. But the Toblers manage to pull it off, presumably because they’re either convinced in the veracity of these wild notions or are remarkable con artists (insert your Graham Hancock joke here). At least I bought almost every minute of it, and I’m a fairly serious student of ancient history with the degrees and the passport stamps to prove it. I’ve visited Giza myself, spent many sweaty minutes inside the Great Pyramid marveling at the Grand Gallery, and I still marveled at the authenticity of the scenery. The Toblers do a good job of transporting the gamer to Egypt, even with the inherent graphical limitations of the QuickTime format and annoying CD access skipping (the installation settings don’t allow a full install). That you can lose yourself in what are often grainy, clunky-moving visuals is a tribute to their understanding and love of the setting, and the adventure game genre.
Even the puzzles are generally handled properly. Proper exploration and a lick of common sense will let you solve any conundrum in the game, which is something that can’t be said for the majority of adventure titles out there. Nothing here requires the all-too common flights of fancy that send even the most astute gamers scrambling for walkthrough sites on the web.
Although it’s unlikely that I’ll ever get into adventure games again, I enjoyed Riddle of the Sphinx as a nice change of pace from my modern current faves No One Lives Forever and Baldur’s Gate II. It’s good to see that Dreamcatcher has so admirably picked up the slack left when Sierra abandoned the format for publishing Tribes 2 screenshots on the web and LucasArts decided to devote its attention to selling us on the questionable merits of Episode One. There are a lot of casual gamers out there who want to play an adventure as a form of escapist entertainment akin to reading mystery novels. Hell, there are probably enough fans of Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series of Egyptological page-turners to make a game like this one break even.
Perhaps that stops short of a glowing recommendation, so I’ll add that I never once dreamed about being somewhere else while I was wandering through the game’s ancient tombs. If you enjoy adventures, or just want to relive games past, give Riddle of the Sphinx a shot.