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Temüjin review

The Good:
  • Interesting story
  • A couple of clever puzzles
  • Seamless visual transition between cinematics and gameplay
  • Good acting
The Bad:
  • Tiny viewing area
  • Horrible navigation
  • Some illogical puzzles
  • Lack of item labels is problematic
Temüjin
Temüjin
The Good:
  • Interesting story
  • A couple of clever puzzles
  • Seamless visual transition between cinematics and gameplay
  • Good acting
The Bad:
  • Tiny viewing area
  • Horrible navigation
  • Some illogical puzzles
  • Lack of item labels is problematic
Our Verdict: Temüjin's supernatural mystery story is certainly compelling, but frustrating interface issues make it hard to fully recommend this game to anyone but patient and determined FMV fans.
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It will take you about 8 minutes to read this review.

While few people likely know the name Temüjin, he is actually one of the most renowned people in history. It’s the birth name of the boy who would later become known as Genghis Khan, and SouthPeak’s Temüjin is located in a small museum that hosts an exhibit based on the famous Mongol leader. There are interesting facts to be learned about Khan, though as the story is entirely fictional, this is not primarily an educational title. One of many FMV adventures of the mid- to late-‘90s, the technology behind Temüjin was highly touted at the time of release for its ability to present 360-degree panning of filmed locations. Unfortunately, its implementation isn’t nearly so impressive. In fact, a few clever puzzles and the supernatural mystery by author Lee Sheldon are about the only things that make this game worth playing, as its frustrating navigation issues and lack of direction often hinder progress and enjoyment.

During the thirteenth-century burial ritual for Kahn at the start of the game, a priestess prophesies that in the distant future, Genghis Kahn's body will be revived, and through him the evil deity Wah-Jin will rule the world. Khan’s concubine Mei tries to prevent the priestess from finishing the ritual, and Mei's soul is captured in an amulet on a richly-decorated goat head. This head is then buried, along with some other mystical objects, with Khan’s body. Centuries later, Temüjin's tomb is found and the objects are exhibited in the "Capricorn Collection" that travels the world. It is currently in the possession of the Stevenson Museum, which is where the entire game takes place. The President of the United States is about to visit the museum for a dinner, but something weird is going on. Exhibition items have disappeared, a body has been found, and you need to find out if there is any threat to the President's life before he arrives.

Another mystery you'll have to solve is who you, the player, actually are. Temüjin is played from a first-person perspective, and at the beginning of the game you find yourself in the lobby of the museum with no idea of how you got there or why. You aren’t even sure what is real and what is a hallucination. The people you meet in the museum (all of them employees, as there don't seem to be any visitors around) express their concern about your inability to respond, telling you how silly they feel talking to you when they don't even know how much you can understand, and how sorry they are for what you have become. All of them have secrets and motives of their own, and you never know who to trust and whose advice to follow. Gradually you discover tidbits about their various backgrounds and relationships, and eventually piece together the real story, which is well written and keeps you guessing throughout the game, right to the satisfying end.

Conversations are all done through full motion video sequences that are nice to look at, professionally made and well acted. While you cannot talk, exploration and interaction is possible to an extent, as you’re able to move, collect objects and press buttons. You can listen to voice mail messages on all the phones in the building, pick up paperclips and tapes, manipulate a catapult or pick locks to open drawers. Since most of the staff do not consider you a threat, they will continue their conversations and actions when you happen to walk in on them. Some even ask you to do them favours such as making tea. Certain items you find trigger 'memories' for other characters once you have located a journal to collect them in. Before you locate the journal, you get a “Soon, my friend” response from these items, which is quite frustrating since you have no idea what’s required to make ‘soon' become ‘now’. Each person has four memories, and once you've found all four, a cutscene is triggered that shows you more about that person, revealing lies, secret romances, a concealed crime or a disturbed past. A few times Mei's spirit appears to you in FMV cinematics, too, and she helps by leading you to items like a photo camera that allows you to collect pictures throughout the game, or by telling you where to go next.

Unfortunately, nothing is ever labelled in the game, and your character never comments on what you have found. This hinders your progress dramatically, because you won’t know which of the several more-or-less round blobs in your inventory might be the rubber ball you need or which container holds what amount of liquid, which is knowledge absolutely necessary for a particular puzzle. In North America, a separate Hint Guide was originally sold at the time of release, which includes a list of all the objects with their pictures printed next to them. Such a list is all but vital for Temüjin, and if you don't have it, you'll be very glad that online walkthroughs exist these days. Items you have used do not disappear from your inventory (unless combined with another item), so towards the end of the game you'll have collected dozens of them, cluttering up your inventory and making it even harder to figure out what you need.

Other puzzles involve building a very complicated machine, solving jigsaws and anagrams, making a copy of a key and cracking a Mastermind-like safe. These tasks range from easy to very difficult and illogical, partly because of the labelling issue and partly because some solutions are far-fetched. They are generally well-integrated in the story, however. The jigsaws, for instance, are mementoes in the gift shop that, once assembled, give you a clue about what has been stolen (or borrowed?) from an exhibit. One clever puzzle spans an entire chapter and has you directing people around by opening and closing doors for them from the security room. Only by guiding the correct people to the right rooms are you able to overcome certain obstacles that you are unable to handle yourself. There is one timed sequence at the end of the game that leads to a bad ending if you fail, but it lets you load a saved game to try again an infinite number of times. I had no trouble finishing it within the allotted time once I knew what I was supposed to do, which took two or three tries.

Apart from a few FMV sequences and puzzles, the action all takes place in a rather small section in the center of the screen. The rest is filled with your inventory (showing only six items at a time), and a few large icons representing the journal, photo album and a puzzle piece that stores snippets of information you find. Only a few of these are available from the start, since most have to be 'unlocked' by finding objects first. Within the play window, onscreen icons show you what actions are possible. Arrows pointing left or right (or sometimes up and down) will pan your view in that direction, while blinking arrows let you travel in that direction by clicking on them. Footage from the cinematic film sets were used to create the explorable environments, making the transition between cutscene and interactive gameplay almost seamless, though some objects were added later and stand out a bit. It’s disappointing that the items in your inventory are so blurry in comparison.

Sadly, the Video Reality engine SouthPeak used just doesn't work well beyond that. It succeeds in giving you the freedom to look 360-degrees around you everywhere in the museum, which was novel for an FMV game at the time, but the combination of panning and clicking makes movement a nightmare. Often you will overshoot your mark, ending up in a totally different area than you intended. Clicking triggers a sort of 'on-rails' movement that you have no control over, at times going around the very object you wanted to look at, all the way to some seemingly random point in the distance. There is a 'stop' button, but there is a delay in its response so it doesn't really help much. It is also unclear what the cursor is pointing at sometimes, and hotspots are uncomfortably close to each other, especially in museum rooms full of art. You think you are going to move towards a particular exhibit, but instead you're zoomed to something else somewhere behind it. Perhaps this was done on purpose to accentuate your character’s inability to influence your surroundings much, but all it does is frustrate the player, so much so that it might discourage some from playing through to the end.

The Stevenson Museum itself is quite small, consisting of three exhibition halls (two of which have short recordings about the paintings and items on display), a handful of staff offices, a restoration room, a garden and a shop. A map you receive early in the game may help you find your way around, but it does not allow fast travel between locations. That is a pity, as much of the game is spent walking around, visiting all the rooms over and over, looking for things to do until a new sequence is triggered and the story progresses. Within each of the game’s seven chapters, the game is fairly non-linear, as you usually have a couple of tasks to complete and they can be done in any order you like. Some puzzles and items are optional, however, which makes it unclear what you should be doing or where you should be going at any given time. There is a bit of help to be had from Mei's spirit if you click the crystal ball in your inventory, but you can't actively ask anyone any questions – not only because you can't talk, but because the museum is completely devoid of people apart from the predetermined FMV sequences.

The soundtrack consists of a haunting, moody score that fits the game well but isn't spectacular or memorable. There are no subtitles and movies can't be replayed, but the voices are of such good quality that understanding what they’re saying should not be a problem, though one character does have quite a heavy (Asian) accent. The game comes on six CD-ROMS but does not install anything on your computer apart from save games, instead playing directly from the discs. Thankfully, disc changes coincide with the chapter endings, so there is no unnecessary swapping.

With all the roaming around you’ll do, Temüjin is quite a lengthy game, taking dozens of hours to finish. For the most part, its immersive storyline makes it worth seeing through to the end, but it doesn't fully make up for its main flaw: the interface. The heavily-hyped Video Reality engine certainly shows its potential (which SouthPeak went on to put to much better use in Dark Side of the Moon), but you'll need to accept a fair bit of frustration along the way, with lots of backtracking to find triggers or simply trying to get where you want to go. For FMV fans who enjoy a good mystery, there’s an intriguing supernatural adventure to be found here, but you’ll often feel like you’re going around in circles before you’re finally able to discover who you are and what is going on in the Stevenson Museum.


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