Ah, the blazing sands of Egypt and the crowded streets of Cairo, where the tangy smell of exotic spices mixes with sweat... the long rides on the backs of camels, the tantalizing mirage of an oasis... and the pyramids, the impenetrable tombs of the Pharaohs! What secrets lie hidden in their inner sanctums? What treasures did the ancients bury beneath the stone, behind countless traps and obstacles? Making such a discovery is the dream of every archaeologist, of every desperate adventurer in search of fame and fortune… including one Diamon Jones, an out-of-luck, pennyless treasure seeker who is swamped with debts and has miserably failed to find even the slightest amount of gold during his ill-fated adventures. That is, until one day he stumbles by total fluke upon a clue that may lead him to the greatest treasure of the world.
This, in a nutshell, is the basic premise of Diamon Jones: Amulet of the World. If it sounds familiar to you, it should, because this may well be the most hackneyed premise in the history of adventures. Even the name ‘Diamon Jones’ doesn’t qualify as remotely original. Does the name Indiana Jones ring a bell? The similarity is certainly no coincidence, but that alone isn’t enough to condemn the game, as even the most clichéd idea can be saved by an intelligent plot and engaging gameplay. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case here, as Diamon Jones turns out to be little more than an unimaginative, tedious and remarkably wearisome spoof, whose petty plot and gameplay shortcomings make for a frustrating and forgettable experience.
The game opens some time in the 1930s (naturally) when, after another fruitless day, Diamon Jones walks into his favorite tavern and finds an unusual patron sitting alone and drinking heavily. Being the thoughtful guy that he is, Diamon asks if everything is fine and suddenly the stranger starts blabbering about the Great Pharaoh’s Tomb, a capital discovery for the entire world and the source of an unimaginable treasure. Could this be the chance Diamon has been waiting for? It takes only a cheap bribe to convince the drunken archaeologist to spill the beans about the find, but it turns out Diamon’s ruthless creditor also hankers after the treasure and has every intention of thwarting Jones in his efforts to find it first. Our fearless hero will have to avoid some henchmen and quickly find a way out of the city, toward the secret temple and his long-awaited breakthrough. However, as the story progresses, retrieving the artifact proves to be easier than getting rid of it: the amulet is in fact the key to other dimensions, and once it is taken from its original place, otherwordly terrors and monsters begin threatening mankind and the fate of our world now hangs in the balance.
Diamon Jones’ globe-trotting adventure will take him inside a dangerous sanctuary, into an elegant London district, atop Tibet’s misty mountains and deep within a luxuriant, hazardous jungle. All these exotic locations have been reproduced in a nice cartoonish graphic style enriched by a vivid use of bright, saturated colors. Aside from the notably grainy-looking sky, the pre-rendered backgrounds manage to be visually appealing without being particularly eye-catching. Although the scenes are largely static, I was quite pleased by the number of little details – like the jewels, Persian carpets, cushions and drapes that cram the house of an Egyptian family, or the luscious vegetation of the Tibetan jungle – that enliven every screen. Similarly, the character models are effective and sport a stylized quality that is quite amusing: it is impossible not to laugh at Jones’ nemesis, the small and rotund Samuel Johnson, as well as his impossibly tall and thin henchman. Their facial expressions, displayed in animated portaits at the bottom of the screen during conversation, are equally humorous and quite well done. The rest of the animations, unfortunately, don’t live up to the same standard, with visual shortcuts taken for many actions, and characters seeming to hover above the ground instead of actually walking or running on it.
The same lack of care can be said for the story. The plot is little more than a thin excuse to visit the colorful locations, and the rather banal attempt to tell an adventurous tale is basically an uninspired rip-off of Indiana Jones, Romancing the Stone, The Golden Child and pretty much everything that pops into your mind at the words “Tibet”, “Egypt” and “Pharaoh.” On a gaming level, Diamon Jones bears more than a passing similarity to at least a dozen adventures both past and present, especially Frogwares’ 80 Days, to the point that the two protagonists are almost dressed with the same clothes, scarf included.
Unfortunately, things get even worse when it comes to the writing. Not only does the attempt at humor constantly fall flat, with every joke or pun feeling so out of place that I was more inclined to scowl than laugh, the characters are bland and ordinary, without the slightest sign of personality whatsoever. At best, they are a mismatched cast of stereotypes and mono-dimensional caricatures whose dialogues – clearly intended to be either satirically pompous or ironically understated – can’t help but feel strained and false. Even the hotspot descriptions are cheap, and the fact that multiple clicks often result in different comments by Jones is a wasted opportunity, since the commentary itself is insipid and self-explanatory. Worse still, the subtitles frequently differ from the speech and are full of spelling and grammatical errors due to a poor translation from its original Russian.
It doesn’t help matters that the voice acting is often quite dreadful. Though Jones, Johnson and the scantily-clad archaeologist Mary Ocean, who serves as a romantic interest for our hero, provide acceptable performances, the other supporting characters offer some really ugly accents, often coupled with an odd, drawling prosody. In particular, the voice of Ahmed the bartender is so screeching and pathetically overdone that I wondered what on earth the director was thinking whenever the actor delivered his lines. The music is an equally mixed bag: in their own right, the different tunes associated with the various locations are quite enjoyable, but their brevity and perpetual looping make them unbearable after fifteen minutes. The main theme, with its epic opening and fanfare notes, succeeds a little better, but all in all the music is pretty forgettable and the almost non-existent sound effects make the experience feel even more detached.
Even what should have been a very standard interface leaves something to be desired. Diamon Jones plays from a third-person perspective and everything is controlled with the mouse. The cursor changes accordingly for hotspots, showing the lone interaction available for each object. While quite traditional in nature, the problems start right at the very foundation: the neutral cursor and the animated “picking up” cursor are so similar that if you don’t pay close attention, you may not even notice the change, while the cursor for using an active inventory item is registered by a barely-visible icon brightening. Furthermore, many objects that seemingly can only be examined will suddenly become eligible for taking or using after clicking through all three different descriptions. What’s worse, certain objects become interactive only after a determined action has been accomplished, but without any possibility of knowing in advance.Continued on the next page...