of the Sphinx II: The Omega Stone
Review by Mike Phillips
"Embark on an epic adventure that will take you to the ends
of the earth ... Immerse yourself in an unforgettable journey as
you search for lost cities and ancient civilizations. Decipher clues
left by the ancients on a cryptic scroll linking the world's most
mysterious locations to a forgotten past and a hidden code foretelling
the end of time. Untangle the myths surrounding the riddle in your
quest to discover the secretThe Omega Stone."
If you happen to be of the adventure gaming persuasion, undoubtedly
you have a feeling of deja vu upon reading that encapsulated promotion
of The Omega Stone. For good reasonit is a blatantly
derivative game, a cliché of a cliché if you will.
So what's the lowdown on this perplexing puzzler? Is it more akin
to a favorite pair of comfortable old shoes or a bottle of Sominex
disguised as a game? A little of both, unfortunately.
Love it or hate it, those familiar with Riddle
of the Sphinx will collectively admit the graphics
in that game were ... a bit dated ... to be polite. Certainly that
was a result of it being the brainchild of a mere duo, a wife/husband
team, Karen and Jeff Tobler. This go-round, their alias, Omni Adventures,
has added a few employees and has more capital to work with, and
with their virgin effort of game design now in hindsight, the results
are immediately evident. TOS has that certain professional,
polished feel not experienced in garage games. By no means am I
insinuating this game is wart-free; it has several that could be
considered show-stoppers by many.
A caveat to anyone who feels critiquing a game created by an upstart,
shoestring development house or holding it to the same standards
as established, corporate-driven conglomerates is blasphemy, read
no further. Purchase the game now and enjoy it. Once such a developer
places a price tag on its efforts, it plunges it into the same pond,
lurking with the big fishes.
Now let's pop the hood and see what makes this dog hunt.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your Engines
A full install of the game is an available option to avoid swapping
the four discs, which will happen far too often if you balk on it.
The footprint for said install is 2.7 GB, a paltry amount of
real estate by today's standards. However, if you happen to be a
bit impoverished drive-wise, factor in some space for a swap file,
248 KB for each saved game (of which there will be many) and
240 KB for each screenshot (of which there will more than there
are pending lawsuits against AOL).
Like many aspects of this game, one step forward, two steps back.
Once a disc has been copied to your hard drive, it auto-ejects.
This was a poor idea when first introduced; ten years later, it
is inexcusable. Audio and visual cues are enough to understand that
a disc has finished loading. Rendering the unwittingly exposed CD
tray FUBAR with a whack from a knee isn't a great way to get off
on the right foot with a gameI know this from personal experience.
If you opt for the full install, put the discs back in the box;
they won't be used again. Every game should offer this choicebravo
to Omni for adding this feature.
Another available option is for either hardware or software rendering.
The difference between the two occurs when panning (360 degrees
on the horizontal axis, and 180 degrees on the vertical)there
is little degradation of textures when using your video card to
do the grunt work. Also, there are two methods of panning, either
via moving the cursor to the edge of a screen or revolving the screen
around a fixed cursor, and a speed control for each. A welcome addition
for those who believe the Anti-Christ (aka Quicktime VR-mode) was
the death-knell of ROTS.
A distant nightmare are those wretched-looking rectangular Quicktime
4 videos pasted on 2D backdrops. The FMV now blends into the environments
almost seamlessly, and Mr. Tobler gives a fairly convincing stint
(albeit short) as Sir Gil Blythe Geoffreys in this iteration. Also
gone are the 640×480 muddy graphics, replaced by 640×480
gauzy graphics. In all sincerity, it is a huge leap forward, but
still far from state-of-the-art.
In thirty words or less, the musical score and sound effects can
be described as, simply, adequate. They are neither stellar nor
irritatingvanilla is an appropriate depiction.
Saved games are unlimited, but there is a slight kink involved.
When using the "Save As" option, you are prompted to name
the file; however, the "Save" option overwrites your most
recent save without warning.
Inventory and screenshots are accessed via a simple right-click
of the mouse. Ingenious as it sounds, this is where the game begins
to get mired in a pit of quicksand. Inventory items are displayed
in a side-scrolling toolbar at the bottom of the screen, showing
five items at a time. By the end of the game, one has an abundance
of excess baggage, and scrolling through it becomes a chore. A semitransparent
grid system would have worked much better for inventory-juggling,
as would simply wiping out the unneeded inventory items once the
related puzzle has been solved.
Screenshots via an in-game camera are displayed in the same fashion,
five at a time, then it too is a scrolling nightmare. There are
a staggering number of etchings, glyphs, and scrolls that you need
to take pictures of in order to solve puzzles. The problem is, the
camera cannot capture the entire screen. You'll need four shots
in order to see the entire screen, so the equation goes: Four multiplied
by a gigantic amount of etchings, glyphs, and scrolls, raised to
the power of a horrid scrolling scheme, equals one near disaster.
The only way around this fiasco is to take pen to paper and draw
the clues (for we "artistically challenged" types, this
is not an option) or to create a shortcut for the executable and
set the properties to run minimized. That enables one to Alt-Tab
out of the game if using a third-party screen capture application;
then again you'll be staring at your desktop at a grotesquely huge
One last note concerning the mechanics of the game: be sure to
grab the patch
to avoid aggravation.
Walk Like An Egyptian ... or an Atlantean ... or a Mayan ...
or a ...
During the introduction, we're back at the Giza Plateau, barely
conscious, inside Sir Geoffrey's tent. He informs us that the world
is in grave danger, as he has learned from translating a major portion
of the mysterious second scroll. The story isn't exactly worthy
of an award; besides, the people who will play this game are puzzle
fanatics, i.e., no plot needed. Good thing as there isn't much of
one, an original one at least. It's 2014, and Stonehenge is about
to be turned into an amusement park (I'm not kidding); the ancients
deliberately misaligned the stone formations to signal the end of
the world in ... yep, you guessed it ... 2014. Your mission, should
you decide to accept it, is to save the world. Of course, the Ark
of the Covenant, Druids, and Templar Knights get thrown into the
mix, as does Atlantis. I'm amazed Dreamcatcher didn't rename this
game Atlantis XXXIV: The Final Chapter. One can hope, but
we all know in our hearts this dead horse will be beaten again ...
and again ... and again ...
As the game proper begins, we're inside the Sphinx. A small, self-contained,
somewhat challenging puzzle awaits, then it's time to trek outside.
Upon exiting the tunnels, the view is nothing short of amazing.
Vibrant colors abound, and looking up at the ominous figure gives
one a feeling of actually being there. Lens flare has been added
when looking in the direction of the sun, but it does look rather
cheesy and is overused. The other locales are just as stunninginitially,
they include Chichen Itza, the Devil's Triangle, Easter Island,
and Stonehenge. Deja vu all over again. Despite the feeling that
we've vacationed at these locales far too often, they are presented
with a great deal of accuracy that serves to heighten the mystery
involved with their enigmatic existence.
The story is unraveled slowly in numerous journals, books, and
letters left for you by Sir Geoffreys and his associates. Yet again
there is a problemthe aforementioned gauzy graphics. Deciphering
much of the text is an eye-straining task. If you happen to have
perfect vision, by the end of this game you won't.
But a puzzle game is all about the puzzles, so on to that aspect.
Glyphs and Mazes and Calendars ... Oh My!
The puzzle structure of TOS undoubtedly is its strong point,
as it should be. Instead of opting for endless, disjointed, twiddle-ware
puzzles, the designers crafted a nested approach. You'll be working
on subpuzzles in order to find a clue for a much larger, extravagant
variety of bewilderment. This aspect alone should get pupils of
puzzling all giddy with glee.
By no means are the solutions easyit takes an abundance of
thought and scouring for clues to solve them. They are, however,
very fair. All of the information you need is given, along with
some red herrings to increase the challenge factor. No existential
leaps away from grounded logic are needed, though.
The downside of using familiar locales proposes a vexing issue.
Upon arriving at Chichen Itza, one finds a book describing the Mayan
calendar and numerical system; this information is used extensively
when exploring the tunnels under the El Castillo pyramid. Any adventure
gamer worth his or her salt should be able to comprehend differential
equations using the Mayan system, as we've seen it so often.
There are also a few duds included, most notably a hedge maze that
has to be traversed twice. It is a fairly simplistic maze, especially
for a seasoned player who has been treated like a lab rat searching
for the elusive cheese far too often in adventure games.
As inventive as the puzzle design is, the implementation is a polar
opposite, perhaps the worst I've ever suffered through in any game
to date. Although quality assurance testers are listed in the manual,
I sincerely doubt the game was actually play-tested by an unbiased
team in order to submit feedback on the positive and negative aspects
After gathering clues for a particularly clever puzzle and pondering
the solution, naturally one is excited to see if the solution works.
Crash and burn timeto keep it spoiler-free, let's say basically
you have to follow a recipe. What snatches this puzzle from the
jaws of brilliance and vomits it into an abyss of mediocrity is
the execution. Over forty painfully mundane, tedious, repetitious
moves have to be performed to see if you have figured it out. One
slip of your mouse finger? Start it over and try again. On a scale
from one to ten, the enjoyment level is about a negative fifty.
I imagine working on an assembly line manufacturing those plastic
things that keep box lids from crushing a pizza has about the same
Turn out the Lights, the Party's Over
What really turns this game into an overpriced frisbee is the series
of puzzles in the tunnels under El Castillo. The tunnels are dark,
very dark. So dark that no way, no how, can you play this game until
vampires lurk. Pump up the gamma settings for your video card, and
you'll be staring at chalky, washed-looking graphics. It only goes
downhill from there, folksthe designers purposely made the
node-based movement a maze, and remember this all happens in the
How could one possibly make this scenario worse, you ask? How about
having to walk through these tunnels several times in search of
a clue that triggers the next event, all while pixel-hunting for
inventory items? Yes, it is that badgame design at an all-time
All of this brings up the million-dollar question, or perhaps the
thirty-dollar question: is this game for you? If you still haven't
decided, here's a subjective opinion. If you love solving puzzles,
story be damnedgo for it, as there isn't much out there of
late. If you're looking for interaction, character development,
and an involving plot, you're not going to find it here. Want an
edutainment game giving factual information concerning locales that
are still enigmas to this day? Give it a gothe accuracy of
the dig sites will grab you and won't let go. Want to play a fun
game? Run, Forrest, run ... run as fast as you can away from TOS!
Simply stated, TOS is a mediocre puzzle game at best. It
really is a shame because the designers came so close to crafting
a game that would forever reside on your shelf with the classics.
Due to a few incredibly inept flaws, and channeling of energies
into creating an accurate game in lieu of a fun one, TOS will
fade into obscurity in a few months, if it hasn't already.
Hopefully, Omni Adventures will continue refining its skills and
offer us a third game ... but please, give us something unique.
Build it, and they will come.
Release Date: March 2003
Four Fat Chicks Links
Pentium II 300 MHz or equivalent processor
64 MB RAM
12x CD-ROM drive
DirectX compatible video card
DirectX compatible sound card
Where to Find It
Prices/links current as of 11/16/02
Links provided for informational purposes only.
FFC makes no warranty with regard to any transaction entered into
by any party(ies).