Reviewed by Mark Hasley
About fifty years ago I was a boy. Like most children of that era, I watched 'The Mickey Mouse Club' every day. And like most little boys of that era, I was madly in love with Annette Funicello. However the greatest impact that Disney show had for me was that it showed movies. I was enthralled with Captain Nemoís Nautilus, and was impressed with the exploits of Davy Crockett... but then I saw Robert Newton as Long John Silver, and for two years all I wanted to be was a pirate. Disneyís version of Treasure Island started me off on lifetime of reading adventure stories and eventually led to me playing adventure games. So when this game came on the market this year I simply had to have it. And I am again thankful to Disney (and Mickey Mouse) because they led me to what became a generally entertaining three weeks.
The story sticks very close to the classic seafaring tale by Robert Louis Stevenson. In this adaptation, young Jim Hawkins finds himself alone. Both of his parents are dead and he is now attempting to operate their dilapidated seaside Inn. He meets and becomes involved with evil dastardly pirates, while at the same time coming into possession of a secret treasure map that all of the other characters, bad and good, want for themselves. After a bit of evaluation and revelation, a local squire and Jimís friend, a doctor, decide to outfit a ship and go find the treasure for themselves. They hire one of literatureís more distinctive characters, Long John Silver, to organize the adventure. With this decision, both the tale and the game are on. The only real variation between the original story and the game is that for some reason the game developer decided to introduce a female character (the squireís daughter) into a perfectly sound cast of characters. Itís not that I dislike female characters; itís simply that this story has been well known and often read for at least a hundred years, but until this game, there were no women characters in it. The story and several film and cartoon adaptations were all quite successful without them. But at any rate, once the group sets out, the player must deal with outfitting a vessel while trying to keep secret what the people are doing, living life on a sailing ship and hunting for treasure on a deserted island, while fighting off brigands, regular pirates, and at least one crazy old man. All in all, it is a glorious adventure story that is rather well told.
This is a third person game with fairly simple controls, and a few irritating details. The gamer controls the character of Jim Hawkins. Jim is moved by directing the cursor and then left clicking, and he can usually (but not always) be made to run by double left clicking. There is also a clever little 'doorway' sign that appears if Jim can simply fade from one screen to another. This sign tends to eliminate a good deal of 'just walking' time. The game is divided into seven chapters, and is one of those 'non-linear yet linear games'... which means that the player, as Jim, can wander all over a certain chapter in any order he chooses, but everything in that part or location must, finally, be completed before he can move on to the next chapter of the game. One very helpful item, which appears at the bottom right of the game screen, is Jimís daily journal. Here the game automatically notes all of Jimís accomplishments and discoveries, as well as what he thinks he should do next. This too was a helpful and entertaining part of the game.
The cursor shows a conversation balloon if it is possible for Jim to talk to a particular character. These conversations can be skipped by tapping the space bar. The cursor also displays a hand if an item can be picked up and placed in the inventory. The inventory appears at the bottom of the page and is easily accessed by sliding the cursor to the bottom of the page.
However, there is a sneaky characteristic to the operation of this game. The cursor changes into an odd circle with a plus sign in it if an inventory item can be used in a particular spot. However, this only happens if the player is holding the object. In other words, if the gamer hasnít figured out that he needs to hit a particular nail with a particular iron bar, the game will not help him a bit unless heís already holding the iron bar. Note that there may be no reason to hold that bar, so the step can be easily missed and never found. This particular detail irritated me several times.
There was another irksome detail that I couldnít understand until about halfway through the game. As soon as the game begins, a pirate asks if the gamer wants help finding the hotspots, or if he wishes to find them on his own. I opted for help, but as I moved on I never got any assistance. It wasnít until I looked through a walkthrough, well into the game, that I learned that once a player asks for help finding the hotspots, all he needs to do is press down on the space bar and all the spots in that frame will glow for a few seconds. This knowledge helped me with the last sections of the game, but I would have liked to know it earlier. As any adventure gamer can clearly see there isnít much in the way of surprise here, but there was some irritation. That was due to the fact that there is no manual with the game, and there is no informative Readme file. The player has to discover all of the above-mentioned information with no help from the game. It took a bit of time to realize that a right click usually caused Jim to comment on, examine, or interact with an item, while a left click made him move. It also took a bit of time to figure out that left clicking on a direction arrow would make Jim move, but double left clicking an a doorway would make him leap to the next screen. As noted, it took half the game, and an accident, to realize that the space bar would display all the hotspots. Throughout the game I felt that I should have been given a bit more information than I got. Here again, a manual would have helped a great deal.
The menu is accessed by tapping the Escape key. Here the list of functions is fairly brief. The gamer can opt to Continue the game, Load a game, Save a game, or return to the Main Menu. Of course, the Main Menu offers only Start Game, Load & Save, Options, Credits, and Quit the game. The Options section allows a few rather minor adjustments for Audio and Video, but there were enough to make the sound slightly different and to allow Subtitles. Both the Menu and the Main Menu were detailed enough for the game, and lately I have begun to think that a good many games really have overcomplicated their setup routines. This was a nice basic approach to options. I used only about ten Saves, but there seemed to be infinite room for however many I desired. I also learned, as I proceeded, that the game has an Auto-Save feature that creates a Save at the start of every chapter. I would have liked this information earlier, but with no manual, I didnít learn it in time.
The gameís visual and aural characteristics are generally quite outstanding. The graphics are really impressive and greatly varied. The Inn that Jim operates seems to be plunked out on a rather desolate cliff in the middle of nowhere. The bare trees and blowing winds give it an effectively desolate aura. The city scenes in Bristol are nicely detailed, and full of the clutter and mess that must surely have been present in a real eighteenth century harbor town. The deserted Treasure Island is lush and mysterious, and entertainingly filled with jungle, caves, and an old abandoned fort. Even the ship, the Hispaniola, is wonderfully detailed, and has all kinds of nautical stuff to serve as eye candy. In all of these scenes, there are animated elements that add to the enjoyment of the game. There are lots of water effects, and all are realistic. Trees move in the wind. Birds not only fly, but soar and dive. In the jungle there are lots of birds and butterflies, and these seem to appear in many colors. And throughout the game, there are well-placed cut scenes that are extremely well done, and fit perfectly into the story. The game is visually very well presented.
The music and other sounds are also fun and effective. The sailing ship has lots of the obligatory creaks and groans. The jungle hums with insects. The town of Bristol hums with adults and children doing whatever they should be doing. Over it all there is an effective musical score, which always adds to the game but never distracts from it. The game simply looks and sounds like it is supposed to, and any gamer will really enjoy the scenes in which he finds himself.
The voice acting, and the characterizations, runs the gamut from very good to not very good. The characters of Jim and his friend the doctor are quite well done. They both are presented with variety and depth. I suppose that Long John Silver is well done, but I cannot claim any objectivity here. Whenever I think of that pirate, I canít help but remember Robert Newton saying "Argh, Jim" in the Disney film. However, the Silver seen in the game has everything that he should have. Heís big and bluff, with a soft spot for Jim and a roguish intensity that is quite probably exactly what Stevenson had in mind when he wrote the book. The two problem characters here are Squire Trelawny and Antionette (the added female). The squire sounds, acts, and even stands around like an ignorant, arrogant twit. He doesnít seem to have enough 'stuff ' to be in charge of a major treasure-hunting quest. And Antoinette sounds and acts like a spoiled brat, whose only function seems to be her tendency to get in trouble simply so Jim can save her.
There are a great many other characters, with very minor roles, in the game. All of the men come off as they are supposed to. The pirates act like pirates, the townsfolk act like townsfolk, and there is a crazy old man who actually sounds crazy and old. These are all well done. However the few women in the game, including Antionette, seem to simply stand hipshot with their backs extremely arched while talking and acting like trollops. They, as characters, add little to the game. They are generally too off base to provide even comic relief. I know that the trend in the newer games is to insert female characters whenever possible, but the women in this game do nothing except whine, gripe, and offer themselves. The developer should have either developed his females or eliminated them, not just added them as decorative floozies.
The final, but most important, element of any adventure game must be the puzzles. In Treasure Island these are truly a mixed bag of variety and quality. The majority of the puzzles are inventory based. The gamer must either use items, or combine items and then use them. Many of these puzzles are rather simple to figure out (e.g. if there is a padlock, and Jim has a key in the inventory, the answer is pretty basic). However, there are a few problems that require the combining of several different items. These are not so easy. The game developers seem to assume the inventory puzzles were all rather intuitive, but I did not necessarily find them so. For me, a goodly number of these types of problems became the old 'try-everything-in-combination-with-everything-else-and-eventually-something-will-happen' answer. There were also a few lock combinations to find, and there was one trek that seems to be a maze, but I eventually discovered it wasnít. I simply had not paid careful attention. There is one very clever problem that I will call a 'timing' puzzle... at no time can Jim die, but if his timing is off, he can be dumped back to the start of the puzzle. Oddly, there is no 'treasure map puzzle' with which to deal. I was a bit disappointed by that, but that may well be a problem only for me. All in all, there are enough easy and obvious puzzles to keep a beginner happy, and enough fairly difficult problems to keep the interest of more experienced players.
During the last year, Iíve played a goodly number of new games. They generally turned out to be adequate, but little more. Treasure Island is in no way the disappointment that Still Life 2 was. But it was also nothing particularly special. It began with a fine and famous story, peopled with sparkling characters. It has beautiful scenery, good music, and reasonable acting. It contains a fair range of puzzles. There was certainly nothing very bad about it. Yet it seemed that all of these quality ingredients combined to create a game that was... adequate. It made for a pleasant, fairly entertaining three weeks, but that was all. Perhaps that should be enough.
© February 2010 Mark Hasley
Developed (2008) by Radon Labs. Published in Europe (2008) by HMH Interactive and in North America (2009) by The Adventure Company.
Rated: T for Teen 13+ (blood, mild suggestive themes, use of alcohol, violence)
Minimum System Requirements:
PC: Pentium IV 2 GHz Processor; Windows XP+SP2 / Vista; 512 MB RAM; 4X DVD-ROM Drive; ATI Radeon 9600 128 MB or Equivalent DirectX 9.0c Compatible Video Card; DirectX 9.0c Compatible Sound Card; 3.5 GB of Free Hard Drive Space; DirectX 9.0c; Mouse, Keyboard and Speakers
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