Mr. Bill's Adventureland Review
Reviewed by Mark Hasley
Several years ago, when owning a computer was a statement of status and 'cool' rather than a practical necessity, I purchased a low powered, fairly basic IBM. Somewhere in its bundle of programs was included a game called MYST. I played it, loved it, and have been hooked on adventure games ever since. Now that MYST V has been announced and that franchise will soon be at an end, I've wondered what game might take its place. After playing Sentinel: Descendants in Time, I think I've discovered the game that can do the job. This game is everything that an adventure game is supposed to be.
The story in Sentinel is based on the short story 'The Ichneumon and the Dormouse' by the award-winning Australian science-fiction writer Terry Dowling. It is a 1st person, fully 3D game where the player takes the role of Beni, a teenage adventurer who is forced to enter the Tombs of Tastan in order to find an artifact. Here he meets and talks with Dormeuse, a holographic entity who seems to be a defender of the tombs, but whose function changes and becomes clearer as the game progresses. As Beni, the gamer visits seven different worlds and deals with some extremely entertaining puzzles as he pursues his quest.
If you are an adventure gamer, you've heard all this before. I admit that there's not much originality in that basic approach. However the game itself, developed by the same people who produced Reah and Schizm, is far beyond average.
It's a nonlinear game, but a player can't get too confused because although he can deal with the first three worlds in any order, after that the game dictates the order of things. Other than the introduction and conclusion, the player really doesn't encounter any other character except Dormeuse, but the voice acting seems consistently fine throughout.
The interface is fairly traditional here. You move around with either the mouse or the keyboard. Either way, you are in 'point and click' mode. You get direction and action awareness from the changes in the cursor.
All the technical details seem to be here. You can adjust volume and tone, add or eliminate subtitles, and save as many games as you wish. There is also an 'AutoSave' feature that saves the game whenever you quit. You have full 360-degree vision in all directions. The only oddity I discovered was that I had to use the keyboard if I wished to back up. It was never a problem, but it was the only time I absolutely needed the keyboard. Note too that once the game was installed, it would run without inserting or shuffling disks. Over the three weeks that I played it the first time, and during several revisits to write this article, the game ran flawlessly.
The things I liked about the game were the characteristics that I consider to be most important in any game. The background music is only that, but as background music it's exciting, eerie, pretty or simply weird, whenever it needs to be. It matches the game perfectly. The graphics are so beautiful that they rival Syberia. They have scope, depth, detail, and each of the seven worlds is distinct from the others. I found myself wanting, and being able, to spend time just looking at all the views. It sounds silly to say the graphics are 'realistic' when discussing a sci-fi game, but they are. I've never been a fan of the stylized graphics that have been in vogue lately. The pictures in Sentinel don't simply suggest that they could exist. It appears that they do.
Of course, the real test of any adventure game is the puzzles, and this game has lots of them. The problems range from medium to extreme difficulty but, unlike Rhem or Riven, they can actually be solved in one lifetime. There is no inventory and a player is never forced to waste time in a pixel hunt. He observes, checks, takes notes, thinks and eventually solves all kinds of mechanical and logic problems.
There are no timed puzzles, which for me is another plus. Most of them are of the type where when they are finally solved, the gamer smacks himself on the forehead and says "Of course!" The only area that caused difficulty was the sixth world, which is full of sound puzzles. I had to turn up the volume and turn down the music in order to finish the game. But the reader should note that this could be more of a comment on my age and poor hearing than a negative in the game.
At any rate, I liked all the puzzles and finished most of them without seeking help. Most importantly, they were fun and I never once felt insulted when I finished one. They always made sense. There is also a rather cute element in the game that allows the player to turn on or off a clever collection of hints that appear automatically whenever a puzzle is approached.
So there, as they say, it is. Sentinel: Descendants in Time is a smooth, easy to operate game. It is well ordered, well acted, generally gorgeous and entertainingly puzzled. It's the most pleasant game I've played since Syberia came out. It even has a real conclusion. The story actually ends! And what is even more exciting is that there are enough unanswered questions, and enough unexplored tombs, that I expect a sequel. If the next game is as entertaining as the first one, I'll be first in line.
© January 2005 Mark Hasley
Visit the Official Sentinel: Descendants in Time Website to learn more about the story, view more beautiful screenshots and download the demo.
Developed (2004) by Detalion and published by The Adventure Company.
Rated: E for Everyone (mild violence)
Minimum System Requirements:
PC: Pentium III 800 MHz Processor (1.6 GHz Recommended); Windows 98 SE / 2000 / ME / XP; 128 MB RAM;  (256 MB Recommended for XP); 24X CD-ROM or DVD-ROM Drive; 64 MB 3D Video Card (128 MB Recommended); DirectX 8.1 Compatible Sound Card; 1.6 GB of Free Hard Drive Space; DirectX 8.1; Mouse and Keyboard
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