Riddle of the Sphinx: An Egyptian Adventure

Review by Enigma
February 2002

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 weaknesses—you'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 act—but the awesome graphics, constantly changing, elaborate environments and intriguing puzzles easily overcome those frustrations. The word I kept hearing myself saying was "amazing."

The Story

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 chamber—and these are no mean tasks—you'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, too.

Gameplay

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 game.

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 backtracking.

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 did shines.

Bugs

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.

My Verdict

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! The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Omni Creative
Publisher: Dreamcatcher
Release Date: December 2000

Available for: Macintosh Windows

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System Requirements

PC:
Windows 95/98/ME
Pentium 166 MHz
32 MB available RAM
8X CD-ROM drive

Macintosh:
80 MHz Power PC
System 7.5 or greater
32 MB available RAM
8X CD-ROM drive

 
   
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