Although a name not widely recognized around the world, Diabolik has been around for many decades, an achievement that has finally earned him the distinction of his own adventure game. Inspired by the fictional French master of disguise Fantômas, and created by sisters Luciana and Angela Giussani, Diabolik made his first appearance in 1962 with the publication The King of Terror, and he has been a key figure in Italian comic books ever since. For those who don’t know who he is, Diabolik is a handsome and perilous man, a thief with a knack for expensive technological devices and a consummate womanizer, although in the end he remains ever-faithful to Eva Kant, his soulmate and partner in crime. In the early books, Diabolik was depicted as a ruthless and cruel criminal, and he and Eva were capable of doing anything to accomplish their goals. Over the years, however, their motivations became more ambiguously portrayed – like a modern day Robin Hood, but without the whole “give the loot to the poor” thing – and they were shown stealing mainly from enriched malefactors, mafia lords and corrupt politicians.
Though still qualifying as more of an anti-hero than your typical game protagonist, it’s in this new form that the charming thief stars in his first adventure, Diabolik: The Original Sin. The game begins abruptly, initially putting the player in the role of Eva, who awakens in a cold, damp cell with no recollection of what brought her there. As soon as she frees herself from the rope tying her wrists, the door bursts open and three massive thugs enter the room, dragging a man’s lifeless body inside. They throw it on the floor and exit without a word. Cautiously, as a pool of blood widens underneath the body, Eva approaches it to see the dead man’s face: it’s Diabolik!
After this shocking prologue, the adventure takes players back 72 hours, and through the course of the game’s seven chapters, we discover what happened to Eva and the thief to arrive at this point. The cinematic opening shows Diabolik recklessly driving his Jaguar as a voiceover explains that Eva has been kidnapped by a mysterious man, who – in exchange for her life – has asked Diabolik to retrieve a priceless painting, the titular “Original Sin”. The artwork, to be carried on a high-security train during its transfer to a museum, is protected by well-trained guards, armed to the teeth. If Diabolik fails to retrieve the painting before the train leaves the station, the kidnapper has threatened not only to murder Eva, but also to blow up the train. This is no easy task, but Diabolik is not your common pickpocket: after creating a diversion to sneak onto the train, he disguises himself as a guard and starts his frantic race against time.
This is only the beginning of the adventure, and the ensuing story treats players to spectacular explosions, breathtaking pursuits and well-planned coups de théâtre. The Original Sin, in fact, is just one piece of a larger conspiracy leading to a mysterious organization known as The White Rose, which appears to be connected with a once-noble family whose head is an old foe of Diabolik. When the symbol of a white rose is discovered on the train, the thief realizes that retrieving the painting won’t be enough. The only solution is for Diabolik to penetrate The White Rose’s secluded sanctuary, a medieval castle atop the misty village of Denvon. Somehow, though, his enemy seems to be always one step ahead of him, but even knowing what lies in front of him is nothing but a trap, Diabolik must confront it to save Eva.
The plot is tightly paced and as suspenseful as any recent Hollywood spy thriller, like the Jason Bourne series or the newer James Bond movies. It nicely blends together typical genre conventions with an effective noir atmosphere, mindful of old classics like Double Indemnity or Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, and it offers a compelling, exciting climax coupled with an extremely satisfactory ending. Unfortunately, the writing isn’t as good as the story it supports, thus hampering its impact, particularly during the early chapters. Although Diabolik’s thoughts, emotions and motivations are decently explored, the descriptions he gives upon examining his environments are quite dull and the dialogues more often than not sound dim-witted and flat. Fortunately, later on the quality seems to improve as the narrative becomes more poignant – when Diabolik begins to run out of time, his need to rush is nicely portrayed in his attitude. The more interesting, varied environments also help: the first two chapters take place exclusively on the train, and this is easily the least accomplished segment of the game, since all locations are similar to each other and the repetitiveness is reflected in the uninspired lines.
The quality of writing aside, Diabolik is surely a fascinating lead. With his ferocious sarcasm, bad-guy attitude and rough charm, he is an interesting change from the usual adventure protagonist: he doesn’t want to save the world, he has no higher purpose than becoming rich (and in this case, saving his equally greedy partner), and he won’t hesitate to kill anyone who tries to stop him. Moreover, he is more the “hit first, ask later” type of guy, so he prefers silence over talking with anyone on screen, another unusual departure from the more traditional adventure heroes. This doesn’t mean that he’s shallow, but if you expect a complex character, you won’t find it here. Like he appears in his comic books, Diabolik possesses a black-and-white personality. Unfortunately, the other characters don’t have even the slightest sign of personality: Eva loses all of her smart-ass irony from the books, and Helena – a mysterious young woman who briefly becomes a playable character as her story revolves around the many secrets of The White Rose – suffers from poorly written lines and a childish, quite annoying attitude.
The gameplay in Diabolik can be just as uneven. In the early phases, the adventure relies on the same challenge over and over again: finding a key to open a closed door, behind which the player has to find yet another key and so on. Thankfully, as soon as Diabolik leaves the train, the puzzles become much more engaging. They are mostly inventory-based, but they are quite clever and often well-integrated into the plot. In fact, Diabolik has access to a wide array of technological devices – like soporific bombs, laser pens, life-like masks and cutting-edge electronics – and operating each according to the situation at hand is an appealing task, though knowing what to use in which situation can require a good deal of thinking (or possibly guessing) from the player. But if they sometimes prove to be quite a challenge, the puzzles are always logical and never frustrating, at least on their own. The same can be said for the occasional logic puzzle, like cracking a computer password or deducing the flight path of a helicopter based on its fuel capacity and geographical land formation.Continued on the next page...