Nick Delios: Conspiracies
Review by Scout
It's a common human trait to emulate those whom we admire, I suppose.
Girls emulate their moms, boys their dads. Most writers, artists,
musicians and, for all I know, insurance salesmen, start their careers
aping the works of those they hold in high regard. When you are
in the trenches struggling to create a voice, a look, a sound, whatever,
it helps to be working on something you like, something you have
an affinity for. You'll be more motivated and you'll have more fun,
you'll make a better product.
The folks at Anima ppd-Interactive might have had this in mind
as they worked on their first adventure game, Nick Delios: Conspiracies.
Simply put, it's the next Tex Murphy game everyone has been
waiting for, except, of course, it's really not. It's not about
Tex Murphy, it's about Nick Delios, it's not set in San Francisco
in a dystopian future, it's set in Greece in a dystopian future.
The earth is now a single federation run by the Higher Federation
Government, the HFG, and each country is the equivalent of a city-state
helmed by an emperor-president with unparalled powers to administrate.
Life for the little guys and gals is gray and drab. The environment
is shot; overpopulation, crime and unemployment have rendered the
populace permanently depressed. In an attempt to rectify the situation
the HFG is trying to join the big leagues, the Regional Galaxy Alliance.
However, sinister forces with much to lose are working counter to
the HFG, doing everything possible to sabotage the merger. Central
to this battle is a new family of nonaddictive antidepressants that
would bolster mankind's flagging spirit. Bane or boon? Savior of
mankind or opiate of the masses? No one knows for sure, least of
all Nick Delios, private investigator.
Once a brilliant young up-and-comer in the field of medical software,
Nick has been betrayed by the head of his own research team, the
not-so-nice Dimitris Argyriou. Dimitris took Nick's groundbreaking
research, presented it as his own and got all the credit and glory,
not to mention profit margins. When Nick reacted angrily, he not
only lost his position on the research team but also the chance
to marry the love of his life, Anita Argyriou, Dimitris's sister.
No money, no honey, so what's a guy to do? Become a bitter, down-on-his-luck
detective, apparently. Almost broke, about to take up residence
beneath the nearest bridge or whatever serves for one in the future,
Nick's pal in the police department, Thanos Pekas, brings him in
to help solve a seemingly simple murder of a small-time hood. From
here on out it's your basic futuristic private eye caper, chasing
down leads, dodging bullets, getting hit over the head and zipping
into the past to track down mad scientists on the verge of earth-shattering
If you've ever played any of the later Tex Murphy games, you'll
be familiar with the interface. You use the mouse to steer and the
keyboard for movement forward, backward, right and left, though
sadly no up and down. As far as I'm concerned, this control system
is the only way to go, vastly superior to either point-and-click
only or keyboard only and hopefully the wave of the future. You
left-click to interact with objects and people, right-click to hear
descriptions. To bring up the inventory you hit the space bar. The
inventory screen scrolls up from the bottom of the screen, pretty
much covering the entire viewing area. Once in inventory, left-click
on objects to interact and use on the game world, right-click to
hear descriptions and occasionally manipulate the item via mouse
and the control key. You have a game map of course, in this case
a four-sided cube that you can rotate using the mouse. As you interview
NPCs and explore, more areas open up on the map. This is also the
sole means of travel between locations, and at times it felt pretty
restrictive. I wanted to get out a little more, walk the streets,
poke my head in doors, stumble down alleys. As it was, I was almost
always confined to interiors.
You glean information from the people you talk to using a dialogue
tree. Paths can vary as you talk to each person, and, as in the
Tex Murphy games, you navigate through the opening conversation
via attitude choices, i.e., serious, flippant, surly. Make the wrong
choice and the game can end abruptly. Cop the right attitude and
you are rewarded with a topic list that allows you to interrogate
the NPC. Nothing you haven't seen before, which isn't a bad thing,
but in this case there was an annoying bug (is there any other kind?)
where a few times I had to click on a topic line repeatedly to get
a response. Other times all of the interviewee's responses
played back unprompted, one after the other. And yet other times
I only got that last word or two of a reply and so had to click
on the line repeatedly to be sure I heard it all. It got confusing,
and often I wasn't sure whether I had heard all of the responses
as there isn't a conversation log to fall back on. Not such a good
start. Luckily I had no sound problems anywhere else in the game.
Another complaint (I have a lot of complaints about this game,
by the way) was the lack of a smart cursor. Now, I know, not having
the cursor change as you glide over a hotspot isn't always a bad
thing. Sometimes a smart cursor can make a game too easy, the puzzle
solutions too obvious. Conspiracies is not one of the those
games. Trust me. First of all, the graphics were so elementary,
so simply rendered, so lacking in depth that many times the object
I was looking for was literally nothing more than a couple of colored
pixels. Objects and items were so seamlessly embedded in the game
world as to be utterly indistinguishable from the background. This
meant a lot, and I mean a lot, of clicking. This is part of playing
an adventure game and not a design flaw per se, but a bit of cursor
response would have been nice considering the rudimentary graphics.
Another annoyance cropped up when searching inside boxes, waste
cans and other containers with lids. Since the cursor didn't respond
to hot spots, I had to click on everything in the container. The
problem arose when I clicked on something I couldn't use, couldn't
pick up, in which case the lid would close. This meant I had to
reopen the lid, move the cursor over a few pixels to the next smudged,
unidentifiable blotch of color, click again, hit nothing, watch
the lid close, open the lid, move the cursor over again, click again
and over and over until I finally found an object. Or not.
I also hit a bug in one particular location where I could literally
walk through a building wall, out into midair, down the side of
the exterior and back in through the wall into a locked room I wasn't
supposed to be in yet. This bug was repeatable and present in a
large area of that location. Not very reassuring.
The puzzles in Conspiracies tended to be on the nonintuitive
side at times, especially when it came to opening locks. And there
were a lot of locks. So many that even Nick began to verbally despair
by the end of the game. Several times I was stopped dead by a door
lock and had to return to past locations to try to decide what,
if anything, was a clue. I think a lot of people are going to have
trouble with the lock solutionsthen again, maybe it's just
me. Some of the solutions bordered on obscure for obscurity's sake,
to put it mildly. Add to that the fact that several puzzles could
only be solved by placing Nick on an exact spot and then clicking
the cursor on another exact, non-hot spot and you have a recipe
for some frustrating gameplay. It's one thing to create clever,
infernally hard puzzles and quite another to make them awkward and
difficult to manipulate. Sometimes even the simplest action, like
climbing a ladder out of a sewer, turned into a needlessly agonizing
bout of trial and error. I did finally figure out what I was doing
wrong, but it shouldn't have been an issue at all. Simple actions
like moving the character from A to B should be transparent, instinctive,
especially in an adventure game.
It's not all bad news, though. In fact there was much to enjoy.
Conspiracies is a game where you will want (will have) to
take your time and look at everything and think about everything.
There are clues scattered about, especially when you right-click
to hear Nick's descriptions. He tells you things, asks pertinent
questions. He's no dummy. Pay attention to this guy. Also have a
pen and paper handy as you will get clues and passwords in conversations
that you will not get anywhere else or ever hear again. These are
clues that never go into inventory, clues that don't exist in material
form in a conversation log. Since there is no text option, or at
least none for the dubbed English version I played, and since Nick's
accents and diction, not to mention that of the other actors, can
be hard to catch at times, it's important to listen critically.
If you hear something that might be important, it probably is. If
you don't jot it down immediately, you'll more likely than not be
restoring a saved game later on.
You can die a lot in this game. I probably saw that subtly taunting
GAME OVER YOU LOST !!! screen 60 times in the course of the
game. After lingering on the Game Over screen much longer than necessary,
the game returns you to the save/load screen, and here again there
be dragons. When you start the game you create a player by typing
in a name. When you return to the game you click on Player, see
the Player Screen, and click on your chosen name, which brings up
the saved games in the form of screenshots. Click on the screenshot
you want and click on Load. The problem, again maybe just for me,
was that there were three different places on the Player Screen
where I saw my player's name listed. I had a hard time at first
figuring out which buttons to click on and in what sequence and
at one point ended up deleting my only saved game. Again, a small
thing, but again, something that should have been a no-brainer.
The inventory is limited to 27 slots. That may seem like a lot
but not so in Conspiracies. Several times my inventory was
full, and in order for Nick to acquire a new object, he had to drop
something on the ground to make room. This can lead to trouble further
along in the game as you suddenly find yourself lacking an inventory
item and don't remember where you dropped it. The wise gamer will
keep all extra items in one spot. I used Nick's apartment. A tip
here: drop something in the waste can in Nick's apartment and if
it's a red herring it will go into the can. You can also use your
lighter to burn the trash, either in the can or directly in inventory.
With this much inventory, this was a nice feature. Not so nice is
the fact that if you tried to use an inventory item on something
in the game world and the object is noninteractive, the inventory
item drops to the floor. This means you can't do anything here,
and since there is no smart cursor that's a good thing. But it's
also easy to walk away and forget and leave the item behind. Especially
if you are cycling through the inventory at a rapid clip. Another
annoyance is that if you drop something, half the time you can't
reach it from where you are standing and have to move a step away
to pick it up. Realistic, I guess, and once I got used to it didn't
really pose much of a problem. Now I like realism as much as the
next person but I also play games to escape the real world where
I have to do dishes, make the bed, do laundry. Menial chores in
my gameplay aren't high on my wish list.
I really can't comment on the original acting as I played the English
version, which was all dubbed voiceover from the original Greek.
The voice acting covered the usual spectrum of terrible to good
you find in these kind of games, and since I have a high tolerance
for bad acting in adventure games, even to the point of finding
it kind of sweet and funny, it didn't bother me much. Some of the
translation seemed a little odd but nothing particularly game-stopping.
All of the third-person scenes are full-motion video, shot on blue
screen with the backgrounds added later. Much of the footage was
soft and blurry, and though it didn't impair gameplay, it was a
little tough on the eyes at times. Graphics aren't the number one
reason people play adventure games, right? Right? Right. But they
are becoming more important and I found myself occasionally pining
for a visual style with, say, a little more panache.
By now it may seem like I didn't care much for Conspiracies,
and I confess I was on the fence forever as to giving it a thumb
up or a stinky egg. Despite its difficulties, Conspiracies still
has a lot to recommend it. If you are persistent and keep some of
what I've told you in mind, you will find at the heart some pretty
entertaining hours ahead. There were long stretches where I thoroughly
enjoyed myself, where the puzzle design, the writing, and the forward
motion of the plot caught me up and kept me engaged.
For one thing, quite a bit of the game is nonlinear in that you
can solve most of the puzzles in any order, though there is a limit
to how far astray the game will let you go. This semi-open gameplay
kept me going long after I would have bogged down in a more linear
game. There is also an entire chapter where Nick travels to the
past on a seemingly random assignment, which helps to open the game
up. You also get to travel to an orbiting space station. Of course,
once you arrive you encounter a big old maze, but if you remember
the days of Zork and how to use inventory items to find your
way around you should have no trouble. It's a hedge maze set in
a huge dome and all you have to do is look up and out to reference
your position. I did have to take an hour to map it out on paper,
but once I did it turned out to be pretty simple. If there is such
a thing as a fun maze, Conspiracies has it.
The version I played was released on DVD, though I've read that
a CD version is in the works. As far as I'm concerned it's about
time computer games begin to come out on DVD. DVD players are now
as inexpensive as CD players and to hobble an entire segment of
game development for want of what is basically a $40 part seems
a little absurd to me. I applaud Anima for stepping up to the plate
on this. But then this is a big game and the load times are pretty
long. The game loads at startup, then when you load your saved game
you wait again through a second long load. Several times, the load
bar at the bottom of the screen hung and I had to click the mouse
to get it going again.
Those with older systems, pay heed. This is not your mother's adventure
game. Minimum requirements listed on the support page of Anima ppd
Interactive are for a Pentium II 400 or Celeron 433 MHz processor,
64 MB of RAM, a 1.5- to 3-gig hard drive and a 16 MB graphics card.
Recommended is a Pentium III or AMD Athlon 1 GHz processor, 256
MB of RAM, a 30-gig hard drive and a 64 MB graphic card. I played
Conspiracies on a Pentium III, 833 MHz processor, 512 MB
RAM, 20-gig HD, Nvidia G3 64 MB card, and other than the long load
times the game ran just dandy and I only experienced a single crash.
Still I found myself wishing I had a Pentium IV with at least a
gigahertz of processor speed just to move things along a bit.
As I mentioned above, I was really on the fence with this game
for most of the time I played it. There were days when I wanted
to sail the DVD out the window and days when I couldn't wait to
get back to Nick and Anita and the gang. This is a big game, with
lots of locations, many well thought out puzzles that will be certain
to please and enough likeable characters to keep you entertained.
The story isn't the strongest, and in fact in places it gets pretty
confusing, but so do all complex, plot-driven vehicles. The main
complaint I had with Conspiracies was an underlying lack
of balance, a predominant unevenness that ran throughout the game
right up to the admittedly rather flat ending. I finally gave Conspiracies
a half-hearted thumb up mainly because of the tremendous effort,
honest striving and plain old chutzpah the developers showed by
even attempting something of this scope.
There are a lot of gamers who will want to play this game and a
lot who will enjoy it more than I did. Others will come away immensely
frustrated. Still, Anestis Kokkindis, the driving force behind Conspiracies,
got a lot of things right. He obviously knows adventure games
and just as obviously was working with limited resources. If he
takes what he has done with Conspiracies, comes up with a
more original premise, works on making his puzzles more intuitive
and user-friendly and the interface a little more transparent, gets
the graphics into the Twenty-First Century, I think he is going
to make a great game someday. Conspiracies, unfortunately,
is not that game, but it's a pretty good start.
Release Date: October 2003
Four Fat Chicks Links
Pentium II 400 or Celeron 433 MHz (Pentium III or AMD Athlon 1
64 MB RAM (256 MB recommended)
1.5 to 3 GB free hard drive space (30 GB drive recommended)
16 MB graphics card (64 MB recommended)
Note: Game ships with both CD and DVD versions in the same box
Where to Find It
Prices/links current as of 08/23/03
Links provided for informational purposes only.
FFC makes no warranty with regard to any transaction entered into
by any party(ies).