Adventure Gamers Awards
Pirates have long been a great source of fictional inspiration, particularly in the world of adventure games. The genre has seen more than its fair share of comedic pirate antics, and there have even been some serious swashbuckling offerings over the years. Perhaps without fully realizing its influence, much of what we now accept as traditional pirate lore comes from Treasure Island, and at long last a game has finally tackled Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel itself. The result can be a pleasantly diverting high seas adventure at times, though its treasures are a little too well buried to do full justice to its inspiration.
A more or less faithful adaptation of the book, the game opens with a teenaged Jim Hawkins at his parents’ graveside. Now all alone, Hawkins takes over as the sole proprietor of an inn that has seen better days, in desperate need of both repair and paying clientele. At the moment, our hero has been stuck with a deadbeat ‘customer’ named Bill Bones, who is in possession of a chest he keeps under lock and key. With Jim fetching supplies from the cellar, Bill is ambushed by former shipmates searching for a treasure map. Failing to find what they’re after, they issue Bill the dreaded black spot: an inkblot on a piece of parchment that curses whoever receives it. The shock of such a discovery causes Bill a heart attack, leaving Jim Hawkins and his friend Antoinette Trelawney to find the treasure map themselves and escape the pirates.
Although it has been a while since I read Stevenson’s novel, many of the key events are carried over here and seem to get an accurate portrayal: the meeting of a scheming Long John Silver, putting together a crew to sail the Hispaniola to Treasure Island, and the subsequent ship mutiny. Jim Hawkins’ naïve and overly trusting personality comes across well with nicely-written dialogue, and Long John Silver is as smooth talking as he is slightly sinister. The rest of the cast, including friend and potential love interest Antoinette (a new addition not in the original story), Dr Livesey and the prostitutes of Bristol, and of course a diverse band of pirates, vary in voice acting quality. They also generally seem a little on the one-dimensional side, lacking much in the way of distinctive personalities. Close-up facial expressions aren’t always realistic and the lip-synching rarely matches the spoken dialogue, either, which can make the characters come across more as props than real people. Even the animation is a little strange: when standing still people frequently change poses or perform hand gestures, but instead of making them more lifelike, it just seems forced and out of place.
Only a handful of central locations are visited throughout the game, including the town of Bristol, the Hispaniola, and the fabled island itself, yet the attention to detail is quite appropriate in each. While perhaps not technically impressive, the docks of Bristol look suitably authentic for a town from the 19th century, and everything from the cobbled stones to building paintwork is nicely created to invoke a sense of texture. In a couple of seafaring scenes, the sunset looks incredibly realistic, with light reflecting beautifully off the ocean and moving in a natural way. There is even a terrific storm segment on the Hispaniola, where Jim has to make his way from one end of the ship to another while gale-force winds blow water spectacularly onto the deck, providing a genuine sense of being stuck at sea and fighting the elements. The ship itself features many little touches: kitchen utensils hang in the galley and barrels of rum are scattered below deck, while the sails and rigging are suitably impressive in scale.
Although the visuals have a slightly stylized, almost cartoon-like appearance, it's the little details that ensure the environments feel true to the story and its era. Treasure Island itself is ordinary in appearance, looking very much like any other tropical island you’ve seen, yet such an exotic location has its own inherent appeal, with some lovely sandy beaches and treacherous swamps to explore. There is never any actual threat of death (either here or elsewhere in the game), allowing you to travel around and experiment freely. Despite the presence of some huts and a gravesite, the island is deserted with the exception of a single shipwrecked character who, while a little mentally unbalanced, proves to be a great help.
Throughout much of the adventure, orchestral music provides a soothing background. The soundtrack is often subtle but typically suits the location at hand, becoming more lively during scenes of tension. Yet the developers knew when to stop it completely in favour of convincing ambient sound effects: tweeting birds and other wild animal noises accompany your exploration of the island, and the sounds of the sea are almost hypnotic in setting a tranquil mood during the quieter moments.Continued on the next page...