Mr. Bill's Adventureland Review
Reviewed by Mark Hasley
If a person is an avid reader, there will come a time when he'll feel like dealing with a serious piece of work. This might motivate him to pick up Crime and Punishment, or if he's really in a pensive mood, Joyce's Ulysses. It is this same mindset that leads a gamer to replay Riven, or some equally challenging game. However there are times when even an avid reader really wants something light. This might lead him to a novel by Robert B. Parker or something by John D. MacDonald. He knows they will be well structured, effectively plotted and not very serious. And in that situation, a game player seeking those same characteristics would be well served to choose the simpler joys of The Cameron Files: Pharaoh's Curse.
In this well executed first person game, which takes place more or less in the 1930's, the gamer plays Alan Parker Cameron. Cameron is a stereotypical hard-nosed private detective from Chicago. He has been called to Egypt by his old friend Moira McFarley, whom he previously met in the first Cameron game, Secret at Loch Ness. She has asked him to help her examine some problems at an archeological dig. When he arrives, Moira has disappeared, he is confused... and the tale begins.
Cameron spends time in his hotel, in the Egyptian Museum, on a cruise ship plying the Amazon, at some secret archeological digs, and in some lovely Egyptian ruins. He battles the elements, deals with evil guys who look a lot like Nazis, solves some thoroughly entertaining puzzles, destroys a mummy bent on the destruction of the world, and, of course, saves Moira. So overall, the plot may seem trite. But it's easy to follow and always to the point.
The interface is of the point and click variety. It allows for 360 degrees of observation, but direction of movement is dictated by a blinking cursor. The cursor also changes to notify the player of potential inventory items, possible movement, or possible action. The ESC key allows the player to access the main menu, and a simple right click allows access to the inventory, which is Cameron's bag. All of the items that have been picked up are stored in it, plus two other books. All papers, letters, and other written materials are stored in the one labeled 'The Wallet', and the other one is a diary that keeps track of what has occurred, and it can be read and re-read at any time.
The game allows only sixteen saves, but they can be written over and I found sixteen to be plenty. It should be noted here that Cameron can get killed in this game, but even that situation is enjoyable. Cameron can be shot by a cartoonishly evil villain, zapped by a magic Egyptian artifact, destroyed by an evil mummy, or he can succumb to gas in a sightless maze... and they are all cleverly done. But when that happens, of course, the player has to revert to his last saved game, so it's wise to use the save feature often and carefully.
The game itself looks and sounds fine. There isn't a lot of music, but it changes with the setting and is always appropriate. However while it's true that there's not a lot of music, the game's creators do seem to really like background sounds. There are always the sounds of crickets, water rushing, creaks and groans and other sounds. But the sounds always fit the storyline and never detract from the plot. And the voice acting is a very pleasant and entertaining surprise. As befits a hero, Cameron's voice is true to the sardonic stoicism of all 1930's detectives, and every other character has an appropriately odd accent as well. They are all a bit overdone, but that too seem to fit perfectly with the mood and tone of the game. The voices are clear, clever, and effective.
The visual elements of the game are crisp and quite interesting. The graphics are not overly complex or detailed, but they are well done and match the mood and tone of the story. There are several cutscenes that occur, in logical places, and they are extremely well designed and run flawlessly. There is little of the awe-inspiring detail that is available in many of the newer games, but the visual elements never detract or distract. There are even a couple of clever uses of mirrors. This is noteworthy because it is very seldom, in a first person game, that the player gets to see what his character looks like. I never thought about this until Cameron walked in front of the mirror in a stateroom and I reacted. It's not a big deal, but unique details always impress me.
Of course, one of the most significant elements of any adventure game is its puzzles. Here Pharaoh's Curse shines. There are all kinds of puzzles. There are many and varied items to collect, sometimes combine, and use to solve practical puzzles. There are number and letter games to solve. There is even a maze, which is made more difficult by the fact that it must be solved in a smoke filled cave.
As Cameron, the player gets to read lots of printed matter (which he had better remember), combine various elements to create tools, avoid the evil bad guys and the deadly mummy, and make sense out of old, cryptic Egyptian writings and symbols. He even gets to shoot things (but not people, thank goodness!). Some of the puzzles are timed, and they are not too easily solved in the allotted time. The gamer will probably find it necessary to use one of the sixteen save slots for the timed problems. It's worth noting again that Cameron can die here, so careful saving is a good idea. All in all, the puzzles are varied, interesting, and solvable.
The final element of this game that should be noted, one that is sometimes lost in our quest for sophisticated gaming, is the simple fact that this game is FUN. A player will enjoy the characters, be impressed with (but not lost in) the graphics, have an easy time following the plot, and be entertained by the various puzzles and problems. And even though it's an older game, it ran flawlessly on my computer with Windows XP, which led to irritation-free game play. Since I've had some problems with the newer games recently, this factor in itself made it a pleasant experience.
There are a great many more complicated games on the market, but this one allows a gamer to simply relax and enjoy. Like a lightweight novel, there are times when that's exactly what I want. I'd recommend The Cameron Files: Pharaoh's Curse to anyone who simply wants an entertaining diversion. It's a truly nice game!
© March 2005 Mark Hasley
Developed (2002) by Galilea and published by The Adventure Company (now part of Nordic Games).
Rated: T for Teen 13+ (mild violence)
Minimum System Requirements:
PC: Pentium II 233 MHz Processor (Pentium III 500 MHz Recommended); Windows 95 / 98 / ME / XP; 64 MB RAM; 16X CD-ROM Drive; DirectX Compatible Video Card (16 MB DirectX Compatible 3D Accelerated Video Card Recommended); DirectX Compatible Sound Card; DirectX 7.0 or Higher; Mouse
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