I’m going to say a phrase and I want you to observe the first thought that pops into your head: Full Motion Video. Some of you just curled up into a fetal position on the floor with your thumbs in your mouths, and others of you are just wondering why it took so long for another one to hit the shelves. The history of FMV adventure games is not a pretty one, and it seemed for a while like there were ten bad ones for every good one. Conspiracies is one of the good ones, but it also shows that even years down the line, the limitations of FMV are still present.
You are Nick Delios, a private detective in a futuristic version of Greece. The story begins with you being thrown out of a casino after racking up yet another gambling debt, then accosted by thugs and shown to the office of your ex-fiancé’s brother – the man who now owns all of your debts. If you handle a small missing person case for him, the debts are wiped clean. Oh, and you have no choice in the matter. From this humble beginning, the tale of Conspiracies unfolds into a huge tangled storyline that ends with you standing between the salvation and destruction of Earth.
The story behind Conspiracies is incredibly well executed, with enough twists and turns to satisfy just about any mystery enthusiast out there, although not much can be said without ruining the story. I wasn’t thrilled with the beginning hour or so of the game, but it ramps up quickly, and by the end I was engrossed.
Sound-wise, the game delivers well, with a few minor issues. The actors doing the dubbing work range from mediocre to above average. The actor dubbing Nick really delivers a great performance, but most of the supporting actors sound fairly wooden to me. I wish there would have been an option to play in Greek with English subtitles, as this really would have added some atmosphere to the game. Hearing the original voice inflections – even in a language that I’m not familiar with – seems to add power to a performance, and gives a better understanding of a character than any amount of dubbing could do.
Controls are standard for the FMV genre. You move with the arrow keys, rotate your view with the mouse, and click on items to interact. But be warned that if you are used to the ‘three items to a shelf’ easy to find items of some adventure games, you will get lost fast here. Items are hidden behind shelves, under pillows, and in one case I spent an hour looking for an item I needed, because it could only be viewed from a certain angle in a certain spot. This will frustrate some gamers, but it’s the kind of challenge that I think most players will enjoy greatly. To add to the frustration/joy, you can also combine items as well as bring some items up and rotate them for other clues.
Unlike most games, puzzles in Conspiracies run the gamut from laughably easy to fiendishly difficult. By the end of the game, you will have handled inventory combination puzzles, code puzzles, and everything in between. None of the puzzles seemed illogical however, and it was nice to see such a challenge from an adventure game again. The only issue that I had was with the way that conversation was handled. When you are talking with people, a list of subjects is displayed with a button to scroll up and down in the conversation list. But when the conversation list exceeds about ten subjects, it becomes difficult to determine what you have and haven’t asked about. I was stuck at one point with no direction of what to do merely because I kept missing a conversation point in the middle of a list of topics. A nicer option would have been for items to be removed as you talked about them, so as not to get lost in the conversation.
As with most FMV games, the video and graphics are going to be the polarizing point. The video of the characters is set against computerized backgrounds, and it does have a tendency to be jarring. An acting character sitting in a nice leather chair behind a grainy, boxy, polygonal set just takes me out of the game. Another odd thing is that when you are not talking to a character they are represented by what looks like a cardboard cutout of the actor or actress. I wish this could have been handled a different way, but in an FMV environment I think this was probably the best that could have been done. But despite those issues, the story more than made up for any problems that I had. The actors, as with the voices, varied. The actor playing Nick did a good job, with most of the other characters being your average B-movie actors and actresses.
One big gripe that I did have with the game was load times. Even with the full game install and a 1.2G machine, I sometimes waited for 30-45 seconds for a location to load. This isn’t a huge problem – although it’s annoying – the first time you visit a location, but if you forget something or have to travel back and forth for some reason, it starts to wear on you very quickly.
This is a game that is going to be around for some time, and I hope to see a sequel in the works very soon. If I had played this game in a Sierra/LucasArts graphic style or even a style similar to Omikron, I probably would have enjoyed it slightly more, but even so, this is a really good game. Despite some issues I have with the FMV – the same issues I have with most games of this type – this is a game that will be talked about for a long time.