Byzantine: The Betrayal

Developer:  Discovery Channel Multimedia
Publisher:  Stormfront Studios
Year Released:  1997

Review by Rosemary Young (July, 1998)
byz.jpgSet in Istanbul (nee Constantinople, nee Byzantium :-), Byzantine: The Betrayal tells a story of subterfuge and downright dishonesty centred around the smuggling of archaeological treasures out of Turkey. If you don't know much about this fascinating region then, as well as solving an intriguing mystery you can soak up some 'knowledge' along the way, as this game is an adventure with a distinct educational component.

Setting the scene
It is a first-person perspective adventure where you play yourself, a journalist, and speed to Istanbul to a meeting with your old friend, Emre Bahis, who has promised you your heart's desire ... a Pulitzer Prize winning story. Enclosed with his communication is a newspaper cutting about a priceless artefact from the time of Constantine that suddenly materialised as part of a deceased estate in the USA, then just as mysteriously disappeared. There's a story in it somewhere as it is forbidden to take artefacts out of Turkey, and on arrival you land in the midst of it. Emre has disappeared and he is wanted by the police for smuggling. You are implicated by association so it is in your interest to get to the bottom of it all.

Enough of the story, I don't want to spoil it. Your investigation will take you to a number of fascinating present-day locations in Istanbul including Aya Sofya, the Basilica Cistern and the Archaeological Museum, as well as to some more ancient locations courtesy of virtual reality simulations. Although the graphics could have had a little more clarity it's nevertheless amazing investigating these sites of modern-day Istanbul and anyone who has ever been lucky enough to visit Aya Sofya will surely feel a pull at the heart strings. The photo-realistic graphics do an awe-inspiring job of transporting you into another world making this game eminently playable. The virtual reality simulations are also fascinating and add to the experience.

Playing the game
Byzantine: The Betrayal consists of six CDs so it has a fair bit of full motion video with real-live actors for conversation and cut sequences. Much of the movement is 360 degree scrolling with upward and downward views to take in the full majesty of the monuments featured. There is also a sprinkling of single screens that don't allow movement, usually to highlight a work of art or to 'zoom' in on a significant area. Conversation, of course, is an important component of play and it is expedited by displaying a list of questions and responses for you to select what you want to say. As the people you converse with all have Turkish accents (at least I presume that's what they are) a big 'thank you' to the designers for allowing the option of on-screen text.

Whilst on the subject of options, there's also one that allows you to record all conversations in your note book so that you can re-read them if necessary. You can also replay cut sequences, re-size the video screen, activate a quick save feature, turn the ambient sounds and music off and on, and access game hints. The hints vary from subtle suggestions to outright answers to problems so it is unlikely that you will get stuck. Remember, you control the mouse so it's up to you how much assistance you get.

Interface and problem solving
As with most games these days Byzantine supports a cursor that automatically changes for various actions. For instance, it becomes a hand for taking and manipulating objects, lips for talking, etc., and it pulsates to indicate movement. Aside from these, there's a special cursor for learning more about the places and objects you encounter when a narrator has lots of interesting information to impart. Unfortunately these interludes are not subtitled.

As well as these educational interludes there's more to learn in Byzantine because the whole story is about ancient artefacts and ancient places. In particular there's a number of books to read that provide background information and some of them also hold answers to game puzzles. For instance, at one point you must piece together an ancient mechanical device ... now where was it that you read something on this subject?

In short, you can't totally indulge your passion for kleptomania and pick up every book or snippet of information you come across, so it's very useful to take note of the subject matter of reference material in various locations so you know where to find them if need be. However, despite this, there are still many objects to collect and you do have a small scrolling inventory that displays your hoard along with a magnifying glass icon. Inventory items can be inspected in detail by clicking them on this icon and, once used, defunct items will conveniently disappear.

Although there are some inventory-based puzzles a large part of the gameplay in Byzantine relies on your powers of deduction and interrogation. This means that you need to search diligently and talk to everyone to pick up clues. As you gather information and learn about new locations these locations then become accessible. A map makes travelling easy, all you have to do is select your intended destination after which a 'navigation video' will transport you from one place to another. Thankfully you can skip these sequences when you have seen them several times, you won't miss anything important.

Watch your step
Warning ... it is possible to die in Byzantine, you are, after all, dealing with some not-so-nice characters. Because of this I highly recommend that you enable the autosave option so you don't find yourself repeating huge chunks of play. These 'death defying' episodes take the form of sequences where you must perform various tasks within a particular time such as searching a room before you are discovered. Fun for some players, but I am not one of them because I dislike playing under pressure. The end play comprises one such sequence which you may have to repeat a number of times. For me it was a complete anti-climax.

All in all Byzantine is a worthwhile gaming experience. Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed visiting the magnificent sites and I also found the story and the educational aspects of the game fascinating but, as a whole, it didn't totally satisfy. Maybe it's just me, but when a title combines both educational aspects as well as story/gameplay I always get the feeling that one plays off against the other and both suffer to some extent. Consequently I finished the game wanting to know and see more, and I felt the gameplay could have been a little more intense and involving.

I can't believe that I just suggested that the educational components of Byzantine might have detracted from gameplay! It makes me cringe because I value learning equally as much as 'playing' and I read, for instance, both for pleasure and for the sake of learning (which is also pleasurable :-)). Maybe my problem is that I keep fiction and non-fiction in separate compartments, so don't necessarily take my word on this. Check it out for yourself. Because of the in-built hint system Byzantine is not a difficult game and, if you can resist the hints, then there's certainly some fun to be had. rating:  

Copyright © Rosemary Young 1998. All rights reserved.

System requirements:
Windows 95, Pentium 90 or higher, Quad speed CD-ROM drive, Hard Drive (up to 45MB), Windows 95 compatible sound card, Mouse, SVGA Display 16-bit color (thousands of colors), Local BUS (PCI or VL) Intel MMX Technology (not required)