To paraphrase Frank Zappa, FMV isn't dead, it just smells funny.
When Greek developer anima-ppd published Conspiracies back in 2003, full motion video was already becoming a rarity in the adventure genre. With a dubious history of many bad live-action games and only a handful of good ones, there wasn't much appreciation for the film-based technique left from many players. As it turns out, Conspiracies had a compelling sci-fi story and some very challenging puzzles that made it a solid game, but the over-the-top acting, blocky graphics and long load times prevented it from being more memorable. Anima listened to those criticisms, however, and kept believing in the advantages of FMV, and has been busy working on a sequel ever since. After many long years, now it’s finally arrived, but while Conspiracies II: Lethal Networks certainly shows improvements in some areas, it suffers from a number of both technical and design issues that hamper its enjoyment, and even the first post-release patch can't solve them all.
Conspiracies followed the futuristic adventures of Nick Delios, a private detective who was out of luck and out of money. To clear his debts, he took on a case for the brother of his ex-fiancée Annita, which eventually snowballed into an intergalactic conspiracy of treacherous aliens. The game ended with a big cliffhanger, and now we finally learn what happens next, as Lethal Networks takes place a few months later. It is 2064, and Nick is part of the secret governmental investigation team researching the villainous aliens in order to learn their plans for the planet. Earth has been accepted as an equal member of the Peripheral Galactic Alliance, which should mean a better outlook from an economic and technological point of view, as mankind can only benefit from cooperation with other civilizations. But Nick isn't certain that all alien species mean well, and sure enough, he soon finds himself setting off on a whole new mission to save the world from impending doom, unravelling conspiracies and uncovering secrets across the galaxy. He even gets framed for an attempted murder he didn't have anything to do with, so he’ll have to prove his innocence as well.
It is not really necessary to have played Conspiracies to understand the sequel, as it largely stands on its own with only the occasional reference to Nick's “previous case”. The plot of Lethal Networks itself is quite long and full of twists, but it’s not very original. It revolves around trust and betrayal and finding out the true intentions of an intergalactic corporation, but it never goes into new territory and we've seen it all before. Nick gets to visit distant and fascinating planets, but you get hardly any information about their history or culture, which is a pity, as I'd have liked to know more about those places.
As with the last game, the environments here are three-dimensional and you freely steer Nick in first-person view with the arrow keys while looking around with the mouse. You can run by holding down the Shift key, though this isn’t much faster than the default walk speed. You can also occasionally climb ladders or rocks, and even crouch, which is used to get into small spaces or avoid being seen and shot by a guard. That's right, you can die in Lethal Networks, and it is not always clear when you are in a dangerous situation. If you die you will need to load a saved game manually, so it is important to hit the F4 button on a regular basis (there is no save option in the menu). Although load times have greatly decreased since the first game, restoring old saves is still a bit of a tedious process. Why not simply take players back to the point just before they made the wrong decision?
To interact with the environment, you simply click on anything you see once you're close enough. Originally there was no way to tell what items were interactive, but the recently-issued patch makes finding objects a bit easier by adding a hotspot highlight toggle that places big red arrows above them. This system still isn't flawless, however, as it projects arrows through walls and ceilings or places them above objects you no longer need. It often comes in handy, however, as it’s not always clear what you should be looking for. Many objects don't get used until hours later, but you can’t leave the area until you’ve found everything anyway, leaving you to search for things you don’t know you need for no logical reason.
Items that are too big to be picked up can sometimes be grabbed and dragged short distances, but objects you can collect end up in your inventory. There you can right-click them either for a description or to split them into other usable parts. You can also physically turn objects around to inspect them, and combine some on occasion. Fortunately, gone are the inventory limitations of the first game, so you can now carry an endless number of items. This is a great improvement, as you no longer have to plan what to bring on each 'trip'. The inventory is easily accessed with the Space bar, but once open there can be a huge difference between simply left-clicking to use an item and right-clicking it to view it first. If you try to use an object and are too far away from the intended target, Nick will simply throw it on the ground. For certain items, however, right-clicking them in inventory before trying to use them allows them to function across greater distances. This principle is applied very early on when you try to gain access to a mansion, and though it’s mentioned in the manual, the game itself gives you no hints as to why you aren't getting results by using the correct object with left-clicks only.
This isn’t the only time there’s a lack of adequate feedback. You don’t always get an explanation of Nick's actions and circumstances, leaving you in the dark about what is happening, what you’re supposed to do next or what you need to find to progress. One scene suddenly has Nick floating near the ceiling after using the same kind of room-to-room elevator he’s used several times before, yet it elicits only a very general comment from him. He doesn't seem aware that he is incapable of moving and won't even acknowledge that anything is amiss. A few objects are nearby but just out of reach, and Nick isn’t bothered by this either. Since you cannot even access the game's menu at this point, the whole scenario appears to be a glitch. If only Nick had said something even mildly relevant in context, it would have been obvious this was actually a puzzle. There are other instances of insufficient clues as well, and a large part of the game is spent walking around previously visited locations, scrounging for any items you may have missed and combining them at random until you finally find the one thing that solves the puzzle or triggers the next scene.Continued on the next page...