The Sphinx--the icon of ancient Egyptian legacy--is a half-lion, half-man beast that watches over the Great Pyramids of the Giza Plateau. Greek mythology calls the creature a curse. Historians call it an architectural wonder. Ancient Egyptians called it a guardian of the most sacred tombs. And the Omni Creative Group called it inspiration for their first foray into the realm of adventure point & clicks with Riddle of the Sphinx: An Egyptian Legacy.
“What walks on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon and three legs in the evening?”
This official riddle told by the Sphinx to passing travelers in Greek mythology is said to have been deciphered by a single man, named Oedipus Rex. But now the beast is back and two game enthusiasts--a husband and wife team, Jeff and Karen Tobler--have come up with a new answer to the riddle: it’s not just an aging man, but an adventure gamer spending his life stuck at a slider puzzle in the middle of the desert. The Toblers’ quasi-edutainment title strives to un-stick players and make them mobile explorers in one of the most mysterious locations in the world, the Giza Necropolis. While this game could have easily fallen off the radar as yet another ancient Egyptian-based adventure, ROTS continues to sell well because--regardless of the desert sands--its plot and settings are deeply rooted in contemporary research and Egyptological debates. To boil it all down, this game isn’t afraid to explore more realistically the mystical nature of the Sphinx and the Great Pyramid…and do it without smirking. ROTS is the refreshing oasis the burned-out Egyptian theme has needed to revitalize adventure gamers and get them excited--once again--about scarabs.
As predicted by the prophet Edgar Cayce, your friend Sir Gil Blythe Geoffreys, an archeologist, unearths a mysterious tunnel leading below the Sphinx. Does it lead to the Atlantean hall of records... to a secret burial chamber of a long-forgotten pharaoh… or to a secret spa resort? The tunnel and where it leads, however, is left an enigma since soon after its discovery, your friend vanishes, leaving you to follow in his footprints and unlock the secrets buried under the sands of the necropolis. I have to be honest about my bias: I love ancient Egyptian history and will gladly spend hours researching the Sphinx and the Great Pyramids while surfing on-line. So the story snagged me with its contemporary and intriguing premise.
No, you don’t wander the ancient world in search of magical spells to heal an Egyptian mason, as you do in The Egyptian Prophecy, another game distributed by The Adventure Company. Instead, you enter a recreation of the Great Pyramid, and hike up the exact great hall into an identical Queen’s chamber only to use a robot--a real robot, known as Upuaut II--that had been created and used by Rudolph Gantenbrink. In real life, Gantenbrink and his team, who searched out answers to Cairo’s mysteries, were kicked out of the Great Pyramid and their robot research was terminated. You pick up where these men had truly been cut off.
An interesting note: since this game’s release, the actual door found in the star shaft by Gantenbrink’s robot has been drilled into and opened by none other than the very man who booted Gantenbrink and his robot off the sacred grounds.
For anyone at all interested in a game that takes its research seriously--as found in the Gabriel Knight series by Jane Jensen, for example--the Toblers’ work is for you. ROTS unveils a story that combines realistic details, from structural recreations of Egyptian artifacts to well-researched ancient art design, with fantastic plot twists to create an engaging story for those who may already enjoy Egyptology. For those who don’t, there is little here beyond investigating the mysterious disappearance of your archeologist friend.
The tempered sands of ROTS are navigated in what is now a traditional first-person point & click style. By clicking on a series of nodes floating out among the golden pixels, you can transition from one sometimes-static, sometimes-360-degree panoramic screen to the next in search of whatever hidden clues lie among the ruins. Overall, this game works best as a first-person experience, especially since your persona is devoid of any personality and is as empty as the Sahara desert. ROTS is not about building character or about interacting with others; it never even pretends to be about the people involved. It is simply about exploring, discovering artifacts and solving ancient and even prophetic mysteries. So, if you like your adventure like you like your bathroom experiences--relaxed and with little conversation beyond talking to yourself--then ROTS is the game that will keep you glued to your seat.
Yet, when the mystery wears thin and the environments fall flat, the game suffers. For example, as I strolled into the very epicenter of a special, hidden pyramid, I found myself in the midst of a rotating chamber, a quasi-maze made more complicated by the navigation system and by having to swing the camera around in every which direction simply to orient myself. To be sure, a third-person point of view would have made this kind of task more approachable and even more enjoyable. But instead, you simply must torture your persona with sudden head-jerking motions in order to escape tight corridors. Maybe it is a good thing the character has no dimension; you’d break her neck otherwise.
When in doubt, or when the game’s pacing slows, you always have the visual feast of Egypt to gander at. Not only did the Toblers do their research, they also used their imaginations. Far too often, we--as adventure gamers--get one end of the spectrum or the other…an edutainment title devoid of well-utilized fantastic elements, a la Timescape: Journey to Pompeii, or a fantasy environment devoid of any grounding, as seen in Forever Worlds. ROTS not only effectively combines these two elements in its unraveling story, but also in its detailed pre-rendered environments. Okay. I know what you are thinking: “But I’ve seen the Great Pyramid before. Nothin’ special.” True, but you’ve never before seen an image-by-image recreation of its innards, nor have you seen a mythological valley of the kings reconstructed with rich color and proportioned detail before its erosion. Then again, the question is: do you want to see anything Egyptian at all? Because all this game can truly provide is one earth-toned picture after another, however intricate they may be.Continued on the next page...