I think sometimes I should change my moniker to “Skeptical Gamer” and leave it at that. It isn’t any one game or one developer that has caused me to slide from my once “Happy Gamer” mindset. No, it seems like there is a trend of releasing games that are uneven in design, gameplay, and other aspects, resulting in so many “could have been so good” titles that missed the mark.
As I played these games, there were times I wondered if competing designers worked on each game section. One part played great, but then you would get a bit further into the game and run smack into the wall of “What on earth were they thinking?” So what does this have to do with Sentinel? Well, more than I preferred. The news isn’t all bad; it’s just that I expected a bit better from Detalion. Yep, better grab your mouse and hang on ’cause it’s gonna be a bumpy review.
The start of the game demonstrates this sense of uneven design. The opening of Sentinel is very abrupt and dumps you right into a scene with the bad guy, his henchman and a struggling girl. After being spoiled a bit by lush opening cinematics in so many games, this felt disorienting and oddly disengaging. A first-person game, there is an odd choice of camera angle from the player’s view. The camera angles are so skewed that you look way down on the trio, although you appear to be standing in front of them. The lack of a contextual introduction and the unusual perspective creates an immediate sense of detachment from the gameplay and environment. But don’t fear, as the game suddenly takes a turn for the better.
What truly impressed me after leaving that sketchy beginning was the interface. Now, I know there are those who get dizzy with 360-degree turning and full-motion movement through 3D environments. But the ability to explore freely truly immerses me in a title. If gaming is a respite, an escape, a source of other-worldly pleasure from the slings and arrows of work-a-day life, then give me that free feeling of cruising through my games. In Sentinel, you aim your mouse where you want to go, click the (right) button, and away you go.
Along the way, you can turn at will and eyeball plenty of graphical candy. It would be hard to find fault with the graphics, as they are gorgeous. Detalion used the Jupiter 3D engine from Mysterious Journey II to build this game. Now, we are not talking about fine hand-drawn art, but the look is fluid and dynamic, with real-time animations and solid texturing. Not only that, but the worlds you roam in Sentinel are spectacular. When you end up in a world of ice and snow atop floating islands, you’re ready to break out your coat and hat, because it just feels cold. You won’t need that coat the whole time, though, because the environments change dramatically throughout the game. From a deep cavern tomb to a deep sea wonder world, and on to a place where the only land is granite rock perched in oceans of flowing lava, to name but a few, you’ll encounter plenty of gameworld variety in your wanderings.
Detalion did more than just create grand vistas; they also did an amazing job with the ambiance. The care taken with the sounds and music is obvious, and it truly adds to the distinct atmosphere particular to each highly unique environment. Travel to the volcanic domain is one of the best experiences in the game. Though it is a grim place, replete with seas of molten lava and a sky blackened with thick rolling clouds of ash from a nearby volcano, it feels so dynamic. You’ll hear hissing and crackles as errant sparks fly off from molten streams, and the ground shakes as tremors rumble beneath your feet.
One thing sadly missing is actual interaction with these wonderful scenes. No inventory, no interactive dialogues, and nothing much to pick up and examine. The only genuine interaction is strictly related to the larger puzzle specific to each place. It was as if the entire game had a “look, but don’t touch” philosophy. I would find myself in a particular location that I once again truly enjoyed. The interface and 3D environments meant I could roam at will and check out every nook and cranny. The levels themselves are for the most part not very large, but each is filled with doorways, bridges, and towers, making good use of every pixel. There is a great deal to explore and look at; unfortunately little of what you see is a clue or hint related to the overall game goals. Even less is reactive. Doors are locked, and items do not move. There were rats and birds in one level that I was grateful to see. Why? Because whenever I approached this one rat it would move away. It was the first real interactive element I had discovered in hours. I actually had more fun pushing the rat around by moving towards it than I had in many other corners of the game. I have to pause and think how disengaged from a gaming experience we have come where the prospect of a rat running makes us jump with gratitude. This sort of low interactivity isn’t fun… and that is sad.
Fortunately, Sentinel does have more than just sensory candy working for it. Even in barren landscaped games with not a person in sight, the story can give a point of depth and sparkle to what would otherwise be a sterile field of play. In this area, Detalion did shine. While the plot synopsis could probably be laid out on a short page, it has ample twists and turns to keep you engaged along the way.
Sentinel takes place in the future; not Earth’s, but that of a peaceful civilization in a faraway place. Our alter ego is a young man named Beni, a descendant of an advanced race whose history and legacies are largely unknown. Hundreds of years ago, they simply vanished, leaving little trace of their existence other than a number of tombs. Eighty-five in number, they are rumored to house mysteries, treasures and hidden knowledge, and are guarded by holographic constructs with complex A.I. to help them protect their realms. These tombs are said to feature traps for the unwary and their guardians do not take lightly to intruders. The largest and perhaps deadliest of them all is Tomb 35. As any intrepid explorer knows, the strongest defenses are employed to hide the greatest treasures, and for those motivated by the fame of successfully outwitting a guardian, also present the greatest challenge. Many have been drawn to this most renowned underground resting place, and it has beaten them all, except for one--Ramirez. He does not speak of all that he saw or found there, but he went in and more importantly, made it out alive. He brought out no treasure, but he did bring tales of a deadly guardian and the traps that lie waiting inside for the imprudent tomb raider.Continued on the next page...