The Dark Side of Archeology
Unearthing mysteries from centuries past and relating ancient discoveries to the history that once shaped present-day civilization is great cause for excitement for an archaeologist. However, the inherent nature of the profession – poking around in the dirt, dusting off old artifacts, and researching through the cracking pages of countless old tomes – is far less stimulating for the rest of us, which is why the most popular of archeological gaming excursions is packed to the gills with cleavage and guns.
Chronicles of Mystery: The Scorpio Ritual offers a more wholesome mystery adventure rooted in archeological research, theology, and conspiracy. With a brainy female protagonist who’s predisposed to wearing fairly conservative attire and packs a pocket full of letters and knickknacks rather than serious heat, the game isn’t going to win over the attention and affection of player’s who are accustomed to the near-constant titillation afforded by more action-packed archeological exploits. That said, The Scorpio Ritual is one of the better looking point-and-click adventure games available, and the clean, straightforward gameplay makes it much more accessible to newcomers to the genre.
From the relative safety and comfort of her office in Paris, young archeologist Sylvie Leroux is in the middle of working on a new book, when she’s contacted by her uncle who’s uncovered the ruins of a secret temple on the island of Gozo previously hidden by the Knights Hospitaller. Somewhere within its depths, he believes the knights have safeguarded a mystical relic capable of bringing about the apocalypse. The discovery ties into Leroux’s wild theories about Sodom and Gomorrah – two biblical cities destroyed by God – and her uncle requests she travel to her seaside hometown in Malta to meet him and check out his discovery. Upon arriving in Malta, Leroux finds her uncle has gone missing. Making matters worse, it seems there are also a number of unsavory forces that are keen on getting their hands on the mysterious artifact. Teaming up with a local linguist, she sets out in a globetrotting journey to track down the whereabouts of her missing uncle, uncover the secret of the hidden temple, and keep the holy artifact from falling into the wrong hands.
Though it’s deficient in explosions and gunfights, the Scorpio Ritual relies on a strong sense of mystery to draw you into the adventure. Naturally inquisitive players will feel the game’s many unanswered questions pulling at them to dig deeper. Despite her firm belief to the contrary, the cops suspect Leroux’s uncle has made off with a series of important stones from the archeological site after he was suspiciously booted from the excavation by a colleague. Soon it becomes increasingly difficult to determine who’s trustworthy and who is playing a part in the conspiracy. Leroux also comes to suspect her life could be in danger, when she finds her uncle’s flat ransacked and discovers she’s being trailed by shadowy figures. The tension continues to build steadily.
Moving through the quest is surprisingly intuitive, even for an adventure game. The Scorpio Ritual features a large variety of locations and large environments, but each is still reasonably contained. You won’t be wandering aimlessly through numerous maze-like settings. Also, many portions of Leroux’s journey take place on different islands and cities, and you’ll have to resolve any pending business at one location before moving on to the next. Though you’ll return to some previously visited areas during the course of the game, it’s all done in a linear fashion that follows the story. This makes it relatively easy to determine where you need to go. In the few instances where it does become confusing, exhausting all of your exploration and interaction options doesn’t take very long.
Some adventure games feature dozens of hotspots in a particular area; that’s not the case here. Moving the mouse over elements in a room causes the cursor to change to a context sensitive icon indicating what actions can be taken. Hitting the question mark icon in the inventory bar reveals all hotspots that can be physically interacted with without showing hotspots that only can be looked at.
Also, there are usually not very many hotspots in a given area. This streamlines the exploration process and makes it easier to focus your attention on the important elements. Control-wise the game is pretty standard fare; you’ll be pointing-and-clicking to your heart’s content.
For the most part, the many requisite puzzles to be found in The Scorpio Ritual are more straightforward than you might expect. There are a few outright logic puzzles in the game, but most of the time you’ll be combining item’s you’ve picked up and using them on appropriate hotspots. Adding a level of trickiness, you’ll often have to manipulate objects in your inventory before they can be combined. For example, you might not immediately realize that you actually have to manually remove the lid from a bottled item you’ve found before it can be used. This can lead to some frustration, but it’s nowhere near as irritating as puzzles found in some of the more brutally tough adventure games. Leroux also frequently drops her own verbal hints on where to go next or what needs to be done. Despite the game being slightly less difficult on average than other entries in the genre, you’ll still come across plenty of challenges.
One of the truly impressive aspects of The Scorpio Ritual is its in-game graphics. The pre-rendered scenery is quite beautiful. There’s a lot of sharp detail etched into every scene, and the frequent change in location keeps things from getting stale. Character designs, on the other hand, aren’t quite as dazzling in comparison, but they’re generally reasonable. Leroux, along with her cohorts and adversaries, show a good level of animation and movement – yes, even their mouths move during speech. Cutscenes are the poorest aspect of the visuals, and they’re not even that bad.
Chronicles of Mystery may be lacking in the excitement and action departments, but it’s and otherwise well-constructed adventure. Though the ending works, many players who enjoyed the tense sleuthing leading up to the game’s climax will find it disappointingly anticlimactic. Still, players who’d rather flex their brains instead of their trigger fingers should derive a solid amount of enjoyment from this mystery.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.3 Graphics
This is one great looking adventure game. 3.8 Control
Point, click, repeat – in a good way. 3.6 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Voice acting is solid, but the dialogue is hit or miss. 3.5 Play Value
While not overtly difficult or very exciting, it’s a good adventure that will keep you thinking. The slapdash ending takes away from the story a bit. 3.7 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.