|Riddle of the
Sphinx: An Egyptian Adventure
Review by Enigma
What is the eternal allure of those mysterious, beautiful, decaying
objects, hidden chambers in crumbling tombs, hieroglyphics, statues,
and mummies of ancient Egypt? Whatever it is, you'll feel it as
you make your way through the Great Pyramid of Cheops in this
highly intriguing game. Riddle of the Sphinx plunges you
into all of it and pushes it to the max. Yes, yes, I know. Adventure
games use ancient Egypt as a setting far too often.
In Riddle of the Sphinx you'll remember why.
It's real adventure, and it's great stuff. And to think that
the whole thing was made almost entirely by only two people, Jeff
and Karen Tobler, a husband and wife team! The game does have
some weaknessesyou'll be taking too many notes and screenshots,
you can't drop unnecessary items from the inventory, you'll notice
that Jeff Tobler can't actbut the awesome graphics, constantly
changing, elaborate environments and intriguing puzzles easily
overcome those frustrations. The word I kept hearing myself saying
You are a friend of the prominent Egyptologist Sir Gil Blythe
Geoffreys, and he's summoned you to his archeological dig at Giza.
During the 1990s, the Sphinx and the Great Pyramid have been plagued
with violent sandstorms and are essentially deserted. Gil himself
has disappeared, but he has left tapes with cryptic clues for
you in the hope that you'll be able to decipher them where Gil's
rivals cannot. You'll easily find a tunnel into the Sphinx, but
it's blocked by a solid iron door. The riddle lies in what's behind
that door, but you can't get past it. So, you'll turn your attention
to the Great Pyramid of Cheops, and there you'll search for the
items that will get you into the Sphinx. Once you solve the usual
"get in and turn on the lights" puzzles and find your
first secret chamberand these are no mean tasksyou'll
be faced with a long series of fascinating places to explore and
things to do. The game gets more interesting all the time. Eventually,
after long and immersive gameplay, you'll solve that pesky riddle,
You'll find abundant, exquisite, fascinating areas to explore
within the Great Pyramid and beyond it, and the gameplay doesn't
have to be entirely linear.
Although you'll need to solve puzzles to open new areas or to
find objects for use in later puzzles, some puzzles can be done
in any order. Once you've been somewhere, you're free to wander
back there at will. Despite the fantastic premise of the game,
everything works to promote an air of realism. You'll explore
in first-person point and click, opening doors and boxes and picking
up strange objects as you go.
Yet even with the wonderful areas to explore, my favorite aspect
of Riddle of the Sphinx has to be the interesting puzzles.
As you explore, you'll find ancient papyrus scrolls. On these
scrolls are clues, real clues, to almost all of the puzzles. If
you keep your eyes open you'll find more clues scattered about.
Many of the puzzles are multilayered and pretty tough, but with
those clues they're also mostly logical and fair to the player,
although that won't prevent you from getting stuck from time to
time. Even when I resorted to a walkthrough just to get past a
tough spot, I didn't often find myself wondering how I was supposed
to read the Toblers' minds. Instead, I said, "Well, of course.
Why didn't I see that?"
However, there are quite a few red herrings in the game. Taking
notes is essential, as is some reading, although most of that
is confined to the first part of the game. Yet I found that I
didn't need about 90 percent of the notes and screenshots
I took, and I really didn't need to read the books I found in
Sir Gil's tent. Puzzles range from inventory-based to mechanical
and some are quite complex, so be sure to explore everywhere and
watch for those clues.
The cursor changes over hot spots, so the essential stuff isn't
hard to find. In fact, the cursor changes so much, it'll take
you a little while to get used to it. You move from node to node,
but often you'll change into "VR Mode," which allows
you to scan an entire area, often just out of interest but sometimes
to find hot spots. There's also a nifty zoom cursor, as in the
Myst games, that allows you to cover ground you've already
traveled, and that comes in handy especially toward the end of
The inventory system works quickly, although you can't drop anything
you don't need once you've got it. That limitation got in my way
when I grabbed about 20 arrows from the arrow-dispensing jar,
not knowing why I might need them. As it turned out I only needed
a few but was stuck with the rest forever. Another time I found
interesting stars that I knew I'd need, but only after I'd picked
up plenty did I realize that they weren't all the same, and I
only needed one kind. Fortunately I'd just saved my game, or I
would have been stuck with all those stars too.
You can die in Riddle of the Sphinx, but you'll see warning
clues for those few areas. Always you can revert to a saved game,
and you can save as many games as you like. You don't have to
do it constantly, but I found that a save after solving a major
puzzle or breaking into a new area kept me from any unnecessary
Lights, Camera, Action
When you find the first secret chamber and gaze upon all that
gold, you might wonder what can top it. Yet you'll forget it as
you find ever more chambers positively littered with even more
objects, and more and more. It had me gasping all the way through
the game. What work went into these graphics! All of it looks
authentic, too, and while it's constantly Egyptian, it's varied
enough to hold your interest. The number of rooms and passages
and pools and rivers seems never-ending. Whenever I thought I
must be reaching the end of the game, I'd break into yet another
new environment with something new to do.
Throughout you'll find flaming torches to light your way. While
I wondered if they'd been burning for millennia, I sure liked
looking at them. I was surprised to encounter a bit of underwater
swimming with unusual graphic effects that made it seem real.
You can see some beautifully rendered submerged stones in the
Nile, with lovely lighting effects that shimmer off the river.
Inside, light gleams off gold and polished marble floors, while
other areas are covered with rubble and the dust of ages. In and
near outdoor areas sand has drifted into crevices and corners,
lending realism to the storyline.
If Jeff Tobler, as he does the voice of Sir Gil, has no idea
what an English accent sounds like, and if his tapes go on far
too long, I forgive him. Everything else he and his wife Karen
None encountered, with the exception of a tiny breakup in the
sound during the very last scene. Otherwise the game ran perfectly
on my 500 MHz iMac. It comes on three discs, but the first is
just for loading. Gameplay takes place entirely on CDs two and
three, with minimal disc swapping required.
If you like ancient Egypt, challenging puzzles with actual clues,
and first-person exploration of fascinating environments, Riddle
of the Sphinx is for you. Although I experienced some major
stucknesses during the game, once I'd broken free of those I was
rewarded with ever more immersive gameplay. It's a thinking person's
game, and everything you do leads you toward your goal. You solve
puzzles that allow you to move ever deeper into the pyramid and
beyond, collecting objects all the way. Just as the first puzzle
in Gil's tent has many layers, the entire game peels off layer
upon layer until at last everything results in the objects and
clues you need to open that iron door in the Sphinx. Nothing is
wasted. Everything fits together.
That's adventure! In my humble opinion, that makes Riddle
of the Sphinx mega-supreme!
Release Date: December 2000
Four Fat Chicks Links
Pentium 166 MHz
32 MB available RAM
8X CD-ROM drive
80 MHz Power PC
System 7.5 or greater
32 MB available RAM
8X CD-ROM drive