China: Intrigue in the Forbidden City

Developer/Publisher:  Cryo Interactive Entertainment
Year Released:  1999

Review by Peter Smith (June, 2000)
china.jpgChina is an edutainment title from Cryo Interactive Entertainment similar to Versailles and Aztec (if you've played those games you've got the basic idea.) China gives you the chance to explore the famous Forbidden City in Beijing as it was in 1775. The Forbidden City was a city inside a city from which the Chinese emperor ruled. The developers have gone to some lengths to make this game historically correct.

If you wish you can just wander round this virtual 1775 Forbidden City, clicking on hot spots to learn about the palaces and the eunuchs and concubines and mandarins who inhabited them. (Language note: we get the word "mandarin" from the Chinese "man da ren" literally meaning Manchu big man. In 1775 China was ruled by the Qin dynasty - invaders from Manchuria.) The hundred odd hyper-linked reference pages with colour pictures can also be accessed from an index, or by subject. There is quite a bit of information here. However encyclopedias don't tend to be thrilling reading so we'll move on to the game.

The game
You play Superintendent Han Jing who gets assigned by the Emperor himself to investigate the murder of a eunuch. The investigation becomes more and more serious as you proceed. As adventure games go China is straightforward - as you find each new clue or corpse you will report back and learn what you have to do next. A map helps you move around quickly during the few hours of your investigation and during play you can consult a report of your progress so far.

There are a few slider puzzles, and some inventory puzzles, but a lot of the game consists of talking to the other characters. There is also one time-critical problem although you have plenty of time to do what you have to do. Even if you fail you get restored back to just before the problem so you can try something else out. The hardest part I found was one bit where you have to follow someone into the "Tiger Grotto". I had to use the walkthrough on Cryo's site to find my way there, and I still don't see how I was meant to know where to click to get into the grotto.

The Adventure game in China is a good introduction to what Adventure games are like but it is very simple and one-way, and won't test the metal of hardened adventure game players. Still it does give a good impression of courtly Chinese etiquette and ritual - also known as bureaucracy. As you play you keep needing mandates from the Emperor to go to new places to pursue your investigation, and the conversations are stilted and stylised as they would have been at the time.

Visuals and sounds
Most of the views are full-screen photo-realistic with 360 degree movement. The game does capture the look of the real life Forbidden City (it hasn't changed much in 200 years) but what doesn't come over is the size of the place. The real city makes you feel small, it is so vast and imperturbable. The quality of the graphics is reasonable though I would recommend dropping in to see the real thing if you're in Beijing.

The cut-scenes look better than the static views, though the characters move a little like puppets. There aren't that many cut-scenes, and most of them you can skip through if you've seen them before. The conversations you have are effectively cut-scenes as you don't have dialogue choices, they come in response to clicking on people or offering inventory items to them. During the conversations only the faces move which is odd at first, and not all the faces seemed what I would call Oriental looking.

There is authentic Chinese music playing in the background of many locations. The music changes as you move from court to court and it helps to set the mood without being overpowering. I half expected the reference material would cover Chinese instruments and how they sounded but it didn't seem to.

The spoken dialogue is delivered rather mechanically but the Forbidden City was, after all, a place of formal rigmarole. I thought some of the guards spoke with a Scottish accent which was disconcerting.

The options and installation
The recent DVD release of China supports multiple languages (English, French, German, Dutch, Italian, Spanish and Swedish.) Sub-titles can be enabled as can automatic game saving. Unfortunately subtitles don't seem to work for the introduction itself. You can turn the music on and off and adjust for your computer's speed, and if you save manually there are plenty of slots and you can name your saved games.

China: Intrigue in the Forbidden City needs DirectX level 5 which is supplied. The game dates from 1998 and is available on CD as well as a recent DVD release (the DVD release is the one reviewed here.)

Installation itself was straight forward, only taking up 32 MB on my hard drive. The speed was fine on a 400MHZ Pentium II though I needed the CD ROM read cache enabled in the Windows System options to avoid jerkiness during play. rating:  

Copyright © Peter Smith 2000. All rights reserved.

System requirements:
Win 95/98, Pentium 166 (PII 233 recommended), 32 Mb RAM, 8Mb hard disk space, SVGA 2Mb 6500 video card, Sound card, 8x CD-ROM