The Mystery of the Mummy

Review by Skinny Minnie
January 2003

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are camping overnight in a secluded forest area. Watson, nestled snugly in his sleeping bag, stares up at the darkened sky and waxes poetic.

"Sherlock," he asks, "What are you thinking about as you gaze at the moon and stars? Are you naming off the ancient constellations? Are you thinking of all the men that have made their way by the same moon and stars throughout the ages?"

Sherlock pauses for a moment, then answers:

"I am actually thinking, Watson, that someone stole our tent."

Well, somebody apparently steals Watson, too, at least for the bulk of your journey through Frogwares' first excursion into PC gaming, the Sherlock Holmes adventure The Mystery of the Mummy. However, despite the fact that my review's introduction featured more of Watson than you will see during the whole game, Mummy still offers a good, old-fashioned, point and click, first-person adventure gaming time. (By the way, aren't you surprised that I would work some sort of camping theme into my adventure game review?)

It appears that Elisabeth Montcalfe, daughter of famed and wealthy archeologist Lord Montcalfe, is soon to marry Sherlock's cousin. She is also quite perturbed by local police, who have recently pronounced her missing father dead via self-immolation. Elisabeth, unconvinced by this announcement since Lord Montcalfe's remains have yet to be recovered, writes to Sherlock and implores him to search her father's mansion for proof that he still lives. As the opening cutscenes finish off, Sherlock alights from his horse and carriage, commenting about the ease of keeping this family matter private as Watson is away on vacation (perhaps Watson likes camping as much as I do or is even more prone to getting lost in forests).

From the moment you first enter Lord Montcalfe's mansion (which is, incidentally, where Mummy's demo deposits you as well), basic puzzles abound. Although starting out simply enough and mostly resulting in key collecting to get into other of the mansion's 35 explorable rooms, even the beginning puzzles tie in with the back story and the written clues left about. It appears that Lord Montcalfe, quite the Egyptian artifact collector, was getting paranoid and perhaps a tad senile before his disappearance. He also seems to have become inveigled by some rather unsavory characters belonging to an ancient cult, but you will encounter more about him as the story deepens and the puzzle difficulty ramps up toward game's end.

As the dozens of puzzles and escalating story cohesively and collectively progress, the lines between right and wrong begin to blur. However, one thing becomes certain: Sherlock is not alone in the mansion. I am a people person. I like character interaction in games. However, every stinking time I started to get lonely in Mummy, some dastardly character came along and made me live to regret it. On a side note, you can save your game anywhere, in any of the six save game slots. Consider yourself warned.

I haven't played a game with this many puzzles in it since Pandora's Box. The Mystery of the Mummy makes Post Mortem and Syberia seem like interactive movies by comparison, although Mummy doesn't match up to their graphical glory. However, with respect to basic conundrums around every corner, there are tons of locked secret cubbies, rooms and areas, all made admissible for entry through streamlined puzzle-solving. Finding hidden seals and installing them in coded order on doors and walls, using sometimes tiny (and hard to spot) but realistic household items in unusual ways to get behind pictures, woodworking and the like, and doing your fair share of outright breaking into things are but a few of the ways to gain admittance to new areas.

There have also been measures taken within the mansion to ensure that invaders will not gain access to hidden treasures or the real story of Lord Montcalfe's dealings. These take the form of water-and-bottle weight puzzles, a numeric tile coloring puzzle, clock, chess, and mechanical puzzles, tricks with mirrors, code breakers, anagrams, cryptograms, and a room that rotates every time you click in a direction to take a step!

Yes, there are some timed puzzles and two sliders as well, but save your game as you come upon new challenges and don't sweat it too much; enough time usually is allotted to finish, unless you're getting interrupted by real-world demands, in which case you can pause the game without penalty. You will also defuse traps and bombs and make your way back down through the mansion's five expansive levels after an explosion, avoiding dangerous assailants all the while.

Although Sherlock can die at various points, I am not the most coordinated gamer on the planet and he managed to stay alive throughout most of the game for me (and I'm a save freak anyway so it didn't matter). On the plus side, never shall you encounter a dreaded maze, if that makes you feel any better ...

Hey! You can come out from under your desk now! I'm done describing all of the deadly puzzles! Yoo-hoo!

There are also tons of clickable hotspots, most not there only for show; many give clues for puzzles later. Moreover, mummies and statues in this game have a way of moving with your clickable help or even without it! Remember where you see things that aren't clickable at first, as you may need and be granted access to them in a hurry later. You also will collect items for inventory puzzles, and items will disappear once used if they are no longer needed.

The inventory screen is very basic and easy to use, with all items showing at once. It is accessible from Sherlock's brown leather bag at the bottom left of the game screen. The green notebook beside the bag is for perusing Sherlock's previous comments plus written correspondences and clues collected throughout the game, and it houses load, save and exit game options as well.

Voiceovers, although not nearly as prolific in number as they would be in a more populated, conversation-oriented game, are excellent nonetheless. Burgeoning actor John Bell, who also voices end-of-story party crasher Dr. Watson as well as some other characters, pulls off Sherlock's proper British accent and occasional dry humor with enthusiastic aplomb. Even if you might want to yell, "For God's sake, Sherlock, enough with the calm facade; run from that freaking mummy already, will you?" at least you won't be mistaking Sherlock for Faust from Jazz and Faust.

Sound effects are quite sparse, but the elegantly layered, new-age musical orchestrations offer harps, horns, flutes, and pianos and vary with each of the five levels of the mansion. The music is quite relaxing overall, not that you'd need that in this adventure game, mind you.

Graphics can be blurry at times, although they are colorful and richly detailed nonetheless. Although not a game of cutting-edge visuals, it is apparent by the level of detail and amount of accessories in any given scene that much care went into the creation of every backdrop, and character models themselves look quite good.

Probably the worst aspect of this game is its Byzantine: The Betrayal-esque, 360-degree panning interface, which is as vertigo-inducing here as it ever was in Istanbul. Unfortunately, The Mystery of the Mummy's packaging, in its Wanadoo DVD-style case incarnation anyway, harbors little room for optional extras like Dramamine, so you will have to bear with the woozy up-down-whip-around motion unless you care to make a separate trip to the drugstore. In Mummy's defense, it does make better use of ceiling-to-floor sweeps than other recent 360-degree games like Zelehngorm and Post Mortem have, as far as placing clickable items goes, even if it is not nearly as gentle with its motion.

Despite being plunged once again into the dizzying swirl of an interface-whipping adventure game, I enjoyed my sometimes-perilous trip through Lord Montcalfe's mansion. Although the puzzles are organic to the storyline and not too farfetched for the most part, they are on the easy side for a seasoned adventurer. It is only the ending puzzles that present a greater challenge.

However, the story is stronger than in most first-person puzzle games and has brief cutscenes showing Sherlock at various stages during the game, both of which help to hold interest. This game also ran flawlessly under Windows XP, with very quick load times and smooth scene transitions.

I hereby award The Mystery of the Mummy a Thumb Up, even though the closest thing to a campfire in this story actually is the supposed self-immolation of Lord Montcalfe! The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Frogwares Ltd.
Publisher: Wanadoo
Release Date: December 2002

Available for: Windows

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System Requirements

Pentium or AMD 350 MHz
130 MB free hard disk space
CD-ROM drive
Sound card
8 MB video card

Where to Find It

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