The Sydney Mystery
Review by Old
"Wow, It's Great to Be Home!" Niece/Narrator
If the Sydney Tourist Board decided to include an adventure game
in their promotional/welcoming package, this local, independently
produced effort would be the obvious choice. Brendan Reville and
his Twilight Software team have presented a game, three years in
the making, that is obviously a labor of lovenot only for
the starving adventure genre, but also for the wonderful community
in which they have the pleasure of residing. We'll come back to
this thought a bit later.
The Sydney Mystery presents a kidnapping, of uncle Fred,
in a contemporary setting. The faithful niece, and narrator, sets
off to find what happened, gathering up clues, discussing her uncle
with neighbors and acquaintances, and using acquired inventory items
to move her way through a 24-hour period, in four acts. There are
240 scenes, 17 different locations, and 11 characters with whom
In terms of gameplay mechanics, SM includes only a CD in
the delivered package, running directly from that CD (no hard drive
space needed, except for saves), and with minimal instructions included
by way of a mini-tutorial within the game. It's a point-and-click,
first-person adventure, with you playing the niece/narrator, which
couldn't be simpler to navigate. Indeed, the cursor (left-mouse-button
controlled) is rather absurdly large (see accompanying pics), both
as to directional arrow and actions that can be performed (open,
examine, pick up, chat). Acquired inventory is displayed through
a right-click, each item being brought to the screen individually,
this being something of a problem, since scrolling through the entire
inventory is often necessary. Selected items can be "used"
on the desired target by simply placing them on that object or person.
Full-motion video is employed liberally throughout the game, primarily
to give scenic overviews of a new area and also to enhance conversations.
Each of the eleven interviewees responds to your questions through
the medium of FMV. Static pictures of scenes (240) are used both
outside and inside, with movement being very unidirectional and
little opportunity for exploration. Indeed, there is no mouse rotation
or room examination possible except that which becomes obvious with
a highlight from the over-large cursor. Stunning aerial views are
employed in a map of the city, which has sections and highlights
places to which you can instantly travel. New locations (17 total)
become available as you progress through the game, being "locked"
until certain preliminary objectives are completed. Loading time
is instantaneous, enabling speedy movement from place to place,
with a couple of little tricks helping this along. There are 10
save-anywhere slots, though you shouldn't need more than several.
You can't die, and there isn't a nasty "Game-Over" screen!
Finally, the game never crashed or even "hiccuped" once,
something of a rarity these days.
"I Can See He Has a Lot More Secrets than I Thought."
One of the trends I really appreciate in current adventure titles
is to have puzzles to solve within the context of a mystery to unravel.
Indeed, in a recent
interview, Mr. Reville said he had a goal of creating "story-oriented,
intuitive puzzles, not contrived, that fit into the game environment."
His idea is that the resolution of a puzzle "totally makes
sense." In this respect, I think he largely has succeeded.
Mostly, your head-scratching will come from wondering which item(s)
of your inventory to apply, with the typical reaction afterwards
being: "Well, yes, that's obviously it!"
As with most adventure games, pick up everything! Of course, our
niece must have a very large backpack, given some of the stuff she
is lugging around, but we'll forgive that small lapse of realism,
one that is common with inventory-based games.
"I'm Here; Now What Am I Looking For?" Niece
As indicated, navigation within the game is extremely easyperhaps
too easy. You virtually are drawn to the giant hotspots. Again,
side exploration isn't encouragedalthough there are some brief
forays possibleso you can't really get "lost." In
this sense, the game seems quite linear. Even the occasional difficult
puzzle typically can be resolved through exploration of the specific
area in which it is found. The one at the very end of the game (identity
spoiler-protected) comes to mind, with a good deal of hair-pulling
on my part (only three are left now), until I simply started wandering
the area and found the solution. A new area apparently is not opened
(unlocked) for you unless and until you either have what you need
from previous locations or can find it at the current location.
"What do you think of the bombings," is a query voiced
by the niece during most of her interviews. It's clear her uncle
was involved in something rather large and unpleasant, and here
she thought he was enjoying a quiet semi-retirement! She's encouraged
that she can move more efficiently on her uncle's disappearance
than can the police, and she certainly does get around Sydney very
Musical themes accompany most of the game, which are fitting in
terms of selection but often overly loud, particularly in contrast
to the soft-spoken niece/narrator. Unfortunately, there is no option
to reduce the music or elevate the spoken word. In that regard,
there is also no option for written text, much to the detriment
of our hearing-impaired friends. One can manage lip-reading with
those being questioned, but we are completely dependent, literally,
on hearing what the niece has to say.
Voice acting generally is very good, and better than I had expected,
particularly given Mr. Reville's indication of the amateur status
of his cast. Indeed, one of the most appealing is his own 92-year-old
Nana, who is a ringer for my English mother-in-law, almost bringing
tears to my wife's eyes. For a production that used relatives and
friends, I'm quite impressed by the level of natural thespian talent
evident in Australia!
"Now I've Got a Sharp Knife; I'd Better Be Careful with
This utterance typifies a good deal of the often-simplistic script.
It also brings me to the more difficult part of my examination of
the game, and I will try to exercise care. In the aforementioned
interview, Mr. Reville says of The Sydney Mystery: "It's
a low-budget production, a true independent game; and so I hope
everyone manages their expectations accordingly." Well, now,
that perspective, which is valid, does make objective appraisal
difficult, particularly when a game enters the competitive marketplace
and has a price tag. Nevertheless, let's look at some of the concerns
I have about the title, "indie" or not.
The Sydney Mystery is short. If you've played the demo
(first of four acts), you've played at least one-third of the game.
The last two acts are very brief episodes. Referring to a walkthrough
only twice, I was finished within four hours.
Game packaging is rather primitive, with the CD in one of those
thinner cases, no manual (even on the CD), and the mailing envelope
being a generic padded 83¢ postage affair (from Seattle, not
The game is simple. As mentioned, SM is almost linear, pulling
you with its giant cursor and hotspot banners scene by scene. You
almost can't go wrong. Conversational trees, sometimes 12 questions
long, are often irrelevant until you get to the key, location-unlocking,
question and response.
Inventory management sometimes is burdensome, having to bring up
every item, rather than having a separate screen where a desired
item could be selected. Thank goodness, the last selected item does
disappear when moving away from the target area.
The music is too loud. This, accompanied by the soft, flat, rather
expressionless rendering from the narrator, becomes a real distraction.
A couple of the puzzles are a bit absurd, in spite of the "realism"
goal, but that's okay. What is a problem is that the story seems
to peter out, with an almost anticlimactic ending and a resolution
to the "who is doing the bombings" question that's not
completely satisfying. There's also no logic to some of the requirements
to have a conversation or open a new location. This is particularly
in evidence during an episode where you are told someone is at lunch
and have to perform a number of theoretically time-consuming tasks
before you can join him/her.
Production values have some jagged edges. Near the end, a boom
microphone is clearly in evidence during an interview. In another,
rather critical, ending scene, the actor appears to be glancing
down to read his/her lines. There is a windy cliffside scene where
the stiff breezes (background noise) clearly interfered with the
recording, the kind of thing I might do with my own video camera
I said this kind of dissection is hard, especially when it's not
being applied to the product of an abstract and large company, but
rather to the work of a nice group of folks who obviously are proud
of and care about their game and community. But we do owe it to
our readers to be honest and objective.
"Enjoy the New Day in this Wonderful City of Sydney!"
Last Line of the Game
Having said all that we said in the previous section, The Sydney
Mystery still gets a qualified Thumb Up rating from this reviewer.
It's not fair to compare it with Shadow
of Destiny, CSI,
Order, and other high-budget titles. If we compare with
other independently produced games, it certainly falls in the upper
tier. Specifically, in terms of my recent experience, it's much
better than Full
Moon in San Francisco but not at the level of Dark
Fall (few games are!).
The game engine is most commendable and, with a couple of modifications,
could well become the basis for any number of future games using
full-motion video. I'd like to see greater opportunity for visual
scene exploration (mouse rotation), as well as movement to nonessential
locationsparticularly when the action takes place somewhere
The settings, not only the standard Sydney tourist spots, but also
the homes and grounds, are lovely, and they brought my game-cynical
wife to the screen on several occasions. "Just look at those
gardens, or furniture!" Further, since there is no stated or
obvious violence (in spite of the bombing concern), I certainly
can envision children over the age of 10 joining with their parents
in solving the mystery of Sydney. Again, it's quite easy and, with
the large cursor and relative linearity, would be a good introduction
to adventure gaming for the uninitiated.
We earlier spoke of the Tourist Board including this game in their
promotional packet. I've never been to Sydney, but this game experience
certainly sparked an interest in a trip, especially with one of
my wife's relatives living in New Zealand (isn't that a suburb of
Australia?). The Sydney Mystery, in spite of some first-production
warts, is a charming reintroduction of FMV, accompanied by a decent
story, with a fine acting crew, and placed in a highly photogenic
setting. Although leaning toward simplicity and brevity, Brendan
Reville and his stalwart team have shown that they know how to make
a game. They have done more right than wrong, and I'm encouraged
that they are at work on their next titleThe Millennium
Release Date: April 11, 2003
Four Fat Chicks Links
Pentium (a high-end 486 may be feasible)
DirectX 6 or higher
Where to Find It
Software $24.95 (includes shipping)
Prices/links current as of 04/20/03
Links provided for informational purposes only.
FFC makes no warranty with regard to any transaction entered into
by any party(ies).