Reviewed: February 15, 2003
Released: January 27, 2003
Dreamcatcher is known among adventure game fans for bringing quality adventure games to the PC at affordable prices. The Mystery of the Mummy is their latest release that allows you to put on that famous trench coat and hat and become the World’s Greatest Detective.
Of course I speak of Sherlock Holmes, and you will need every bit of his keen analytical mind (as well as a few brain cells of your own) as you tackle the mystery surrounding the disappearance of an ancient Egyptian mummy and an archaeologist. Before long you are caught up in a web of intrigue, robbery, and even murder. It will take all your keen powers of observation to find the clues and solve the cryptic puzzles inside the huge Victorian mansion and uncover the truth about the missing mummy.
The game starts you off with a very basic introductory cutscene that gives you just enough info to get started, but not nearly enough to really let you know what’s going on. That was a big concern of mine throughout most of the game. I really never knew what I was doing, where I was, where I was going, or why I was going there. I would find myself in a room and unable to proceed until I had solved the prerequisite puzzles then I would move on to the next area and do it all again.
With such a rich history and license to draw from I was more than disappointed that this game favored puzzle solving over storytelling. At times I felt I was playing a knockoff of the 7th Guest and not a very good knockoff at that. Even the puzzles seemed a bit disjointed for the story and the environments.
The Mystery of the Mummy plays like most modern day adventures putting you in a first-person view in a 3D environment that allows you to rotate and look around, walk forward to pre-programmed "nodes" and rotate some more. Occasionally you can zoom in on an area or item and interact with something. This might trigger a small animated cutscene or simply add an item to your inventory. The worst part of this design is that to travel from point A to point D you have to go through points B and C, spinning the camera, looking for the hotspot to trigger the next movement. It makes getting around a clumsy affair, even for short distances.
One annoying glitch that happened on several occasions was where I would enter a new area and the game would have me facing the direction I just came from. Unknowingly, I would click forward only to return to the previous area. Transitions between each node are instant (slideshow fashion). There are no walking animations or even that virtual perception of movement that games like Myst III have been using.
As always, my big problem with this type of interface is that the game quickly becomes a “pixel hunt”. You enter a new screen and move the mouse around ever square-inch and wait for it to change into an arrow or a hand or some other icon that indicates something might just happen if you click the mouse.
The rest of the interface is reduced to two icons. Click the bag to open your inventory and use the contents. Some items can be combined while others have a preordained purpose in the gaming world. When logic doesn’t work you can always go for trial and error. One thing that puzzled me was the lack of information available about anything I picked up when I picked it up. This forced me to open my bag and view the item just to find out that “object” was in fact a “seal”. And even then I was unable to zoom, rotate, or examine the object as a proper detective would want to do.
The notepad gives you access to all the information Mr. Holmes has collected thus far as well as the save and load screens. You are only given six save spots and you will want to use them frequently, as there are several “instant death” scenarios resulting from failing any of the timed sequences later in the game.
With these basic gameplay premises in place you get to wander around a large mansion that consists of five main levels or areas. Each of these has about a dozen puzzles ranging from minor brainteasers to “where can I find a walkthrough”. I did have issues with a few of the puzzles that were on timers and failure to beat the clock meant an early demise. There were also a few of those terribly annoying slider puzzles – you know, the ones you dig out of the cereal box. Come on designers. This is the 21st century. If you have to rely on slider puzzles perhaps it’s time for a career change.
As annoying as many puzzles were, there were also several puzzles I really enjoyed and felt a great sense of achievement in figuring out. The game will even attempt to offer cryptic clues to help you out with some puzzles, but most of the time these actually made the puzzle harder.
When your game is totally relying on graphics they had better stand out, or at least offer some level of acceptability. The Mystery of the Mummy does not look like a 2003 title by any means, but more like something that would have been released 5-7 years ago. The graphics are dark and grainy and just not that nice to look at; especially after coming from playing games like Syberia and The Longest Journey.
The lack of visual quality really hurts the gameplay as well. Inventory items or interactive objects are not highlighted in anyway. The bland color palette and graininess makes everything blend together so everything looks like it is part of the background. Your hunt for the “magic pixels” just got a lot harder and less interesting.
The music fits the period and works for the overall game. There was nothing really blowing me away here, but it wasn’t annoying either. The sound effects were all above average and effective, especially the thunderous explosions.
The voice acting was all over the place. The supporting cast was pretty good but the voice of Sherlock just didn’t seem right for some reason. Perhaps I’ve been too “conditioned” from watching other people’s performances of this character, but frankly I thought Bret Spiner acting as Data acting as Sherlock Holmes on the holodeck was more convincing.
Assuming you don’t download a strategy guide you will probably get about 15-20 hours of puzzle-solving enjoyment from this title. Admittedly, I got stumped very early on and downloaded a guide, and once I had it on my hard drive it was impossible to keep from looking.
There’s no branching story, no multi-solution puzzles, and no real reason to replay this game once you finish it. Thankfully, the game is only $19, so if you do decide to join Sherlock it won’t cost you a lot.
What I thought to be an adventure game with some clever puzzles thrown in turned out to be a puzzle game with a not-so-clever story thrown in. I was never caught up in the narrative; most of the time I didn’t know what was going on or why I was here, other than to solve some puzzles and explore the mansion for some inexplicable purpose that never really resolved itself, even in the end.
I hate to bash any game, especially adventure games since that genre is already hanging by a thread. I know that somewhere there is a team of designers, programmers, artists, etc. that are probably pretty please about this game, yet when I compare it to the other games you could be playing - even other $19 games, I simply cannot recommend this title. But by all means, feel free to download the 18mb demo and take Sherlock for a test drive.
I left this game with a few faint smiles and feelings of satisfaction from a few of the puzzles, but little else was memorable about this game. Adventure gamers and even hardcore Sherlock Holmes followers will probably want to pass on this title unless you are really craving a 3D point-n-click puzzle game and have played everything else that is out there.