The Mystery of the Druids

2001 House of Tales
Designed by Tobias Schachte, Martin Ganteföhr
Reviewed 2001 October 23

Rating +0 Linearity straight
Reasonability sporadic Connectivity moderate
Difficulty challenging Relevance strong
Interface 3rd paned simple Real-time minor

There has been a series of murders in London. The victims have had all their flesh removed, leaving only their bones. Scotland Yard put a man in jail for the murders, but they continue after he dies in prison, showing that they got the wrong guy. As low man on the Scotland Yard totem pole, Brent Halligan gets the case. He enlists some help from an Oxford professor, Melanie Turner. Playing both, although mostly Brent, the investigation leads you to a connection with the defunct -- or not so defunct -- druids.

The game has a good flow, the case develops nicely. The challenges and triggers give a good, steady pace to the plot. The story itself seemed to fall flat for me. It's a standard save the world from evil guys setup, intricate enough to hang a good adventure on. However, it dwells on mundane aspects of the investigation, forcing you to spend your time thinking about things that should be automatic, rather than exploring the elements of the case itself, the psychology of the perpetrators, and the metaphysical aspects involved. There's a lot of potential for horror, for intrigue, for philosophy, but it's squandered on mundanity. It gets better in the last third, but that leaves a lot wasted.

There's a lot to do in this game. There are several devious challenges, requiring insight into the story and a creative conception of how to overcome the obstacles.

Unfortunately, many of the challenges scoff at reason. A few are outright nonsensical, which really isn't too bad given how many there are. Since the game is exceptionally linear, there is a narrow scope of action at each challenge, so it's easy enough to fumble your way past the major silliness.

The real problem is that a great many of the challenges have a poor conception as obstacles to the player. The game also insists on only one solution to too many problems that clearly have many ready solutions. For example, at one point you need to use a pair of scissors. One obvious pair is kept away from you by an uncooperative co-worker, which is reasonable enough. However, this is Scotland Yard, a large office building: there are surely many scissors there, and somebody would let you use some pair. Additionally, you have acquaintances outside who would reasonably have scissors. To add insult to injury, you don't even need the scissors to accomplish the task. But the game insists that you must use those particular scissors. The result of many such situations is that you are no longer the character in the game, but a player trying to figure out what invisible hoop the designers want you to jump through.

I had several problems with feedback. For example, I would try to do something, and nothing would happen. The game wouldn't tell me why my action failed. Sometimes, it expected me to divine why. Some objects could be picked up, but not examined first; i.e., if you try to examine them, nothing happens, leading you to think the object is not active.

The game is presented as runtime rendered 3D mannikins walking over pre-drawn 2D backgrounds. The backgrounds are great, the mannikins are a bit crude, but serviceable. Overall, the presentation is pleasant.

I had a problem with the characters always appearing in front of all the backgrounds, even when they should be behind things. Choosing the software rendering option would fix it, but then the mouse became annoyingly unresponsive. Otherwise, I had no problems with the interface.

There are a lot of nits to pick, so the comments sound bad, but there's an underlying quality all around that sustains the game. There might be a lot of silliness in the some of the challenges, but there are a lot of challenges, many very good. There's a lot of game to play, and not just make-work. The story may not be deep, but it's not small, either. There are several hiccups in the presentation, but overall the quality is high. It falls short of its ambitions, but it has high ambitions. So while it can't be called a great game, it is a very entertaining one.

Beware! Here are some spoiler-ridden notes on the game. They're only recommended for people who have played the game and want to see some of my rationale for my evaluations.
David Tanguay's Game Reviews
Here's a description of all the gobbledygook in these reviews. It's also a bit of an essay on the nature of adventure games.