Quick gaming question of the week: what is "Nibiru"? To the Mayans, it's a dark star whose appearance signals the end of the world. According to eccentric scholars, it is the twelfth planet orbiting our solar system, having eluded scientific detection all this time (though one has to wonder what happened to planet eleven, even if you grant them the debatable number ten). My personal favorite is courtesy of a new age web site, which claims that Nibiru is the 4th dimensional flagship of the Milky Way Galaxy's Galactic Federation. It is a planet, a battlestar, and a ship, all in one, and was the main peacekeeping force in the galaxy until 2000 BC. With such diverse and imaginative theories abounding, developers Unknown Identity saw in Nibiru a theme ripe for exploring. So how did they use this elusive planet, space cop, ultimate detroyer? They used it as a launching pad for a classic bit of adventure gaming, complete with aliens, artifacts, and ancient sects.
NIBIRU: Age of Secrets is actually not a new game at all, but an older game reborn. Originally released under the title Posel Bohu (or Messenger of the Gods) as a Czech-only game in 1998, the success of the developer's subsequent game, Black Mirror, caused them to revisit their earlier creation and revamp it for a worldwide audience, with story and gameplay adjustments and a complete graphic overhaul.
This adventure starts, as many classic gaming tales do, with an ancient mystery, a hero (of sorts), and the age-old dark conspirators determined to find the ultimate secret of wealth, power, and world domination. Throw in some Nazi mysticism, foul deeds, and flights to parts unknown, and you have a time-tested and enduring tale, with a few unique twists along the way.
Martin Holan, our game's alter ego, is an archeologist reluctantly slogging through a pile of backlogged archives. But his true area of expertise is seeking mysterious relics and archeological finds in the wilds of the earth. Suddenly, he is rescued from his paperwork by an urgent call from his uncle, Professor Wilde, a noted though eccentric scholar. Martin learns there has been a fantastic discovery in the heart of Bohemia. Highway construction workers stumbled across an old tunnel and underground facility, built by the Nazis during World War II and used for mysterious "scientific" research. What they were doing there is a mystery, but Wilde is convinced it is related to the unknown planet Nibiru, and may hold the answers to ancient secrets, unimagined power, and proof of alien visitations. Yes, you heard me -- the aliens were here and Martin has a mission to find the proof. With a quick stop in Marseilles for equipment and vital information, our daring explorer is soon on his way to Prague for a midnight rendezvous with an inside contact. Of course, everything goes wrong; his contact never shows and Martin is left to his own resources to infiltrate the underground Nazi complex, breach its securities, and uncover clues vital to his quest. In classic Indiana Jones style, the game sends Holan on a global trek, racing against time and a determined nemesis and his henchmen.
Along the way, Martin encounters a wide variety of personalities, which are a definite strength of the game. Besides Martin's uncle, we meet a tired fisherman, an old (and slightly deranged) former Nazi scientist, an Incan mystic, and an annoying tourist, to name a few, and it's an engaging and credible mix of characters. There is also a great deal of dialogue, both automatic and player-controlled. Though a few of the auto conversations are overly long, the lines are well written and many game clues and plot points are revealed. NIBIRU pays homage to the Broken Sword games in many ways, both subtle and obvious. One that will look very familiar to fans of that series is the dialogue system. Rather than written lines, there are dialogue icons at the bottom of the screen. Clicking on one of these topic symbols brings up a related question to ask, which works as well here as it has in the past.
Unfortunately, the voice acting is a mixed proposition. On one hand, the accents and sound quality are fairly good. However, similar to Black Mirror, the delivery itself is sometimes wooden and poorly directed. Martin speaks and moves in a stiff and contrived way, as do a few others in the game. In context of the overall gameplay, it seems like a minor annoyance, but it needs to be noted. And for those who live and die on voice talent, this will definitely annoy.
The original game displayed graphics that would clearly be dated by today's standards, so to update them, the developers used a new engine, new backgrounds, and 3D modeled characters, creating a whole new look to the game. Though there are some grainy background elements in the 2D pre-rendered backgrounds (most notably the skylines), the refurbished graphics look excellent overall. There are a few places where the interactive options are a bit sparse, but most locales are rich in clickable items and details. These elements, though not always essential to advancing the gameplay, provide interesting backstory or fun commentary. There are not a lot of cinematics, as is more common in many games these days, but the ones that are included work well. One odd thing is that the existing cutscenes obviously date back to the original game. This creates an odd schism between the cinematics and the newer in-game graphics. The main character has a more realistic look in the animated scenes, which contrasts sharply with the more cartoon stylized approach to the playable version. It isn't anything that detracts greatly from the game; just noticeable and a little jarring. Although the walk sequences and movements of the 3D characters can be a little stiff at times, their facial movements and overall appearance are easy on the eye and add depth of personality to the cast. The updates here were clearly thought out and worth every penny, because this is a definite strength of the game.Continued on the next page...