The Mystery of the Druids

Developer:  House of Tales
Publisher:  CDV
Year Released:  2001

Review by Gordon Aplin (September, 2001)
DruidsI do like point and click mystery adventure games so it was no surprise that I felt comfortable with the short demo of Mystery of the Druids I played some months ago. That little teaser was sufficient to whet my appetite for the completed game and largely it has lived up to expectations with just a few reservations.

The mystery unfolds
For the most part you control the actions of Brent Halligan, a young and inexperienced detective with Scotland Yard, though at times you will also play as Dr Melanie Turner, a noted anthropologist who saves your hide on more than one occasion. The story opens when your extremely harassed chief hands you the file of a murder investigation that you thought had been closed, after all the perpetrator was locked up. But now it seems another human skeleton, where the flesh had been cut from the bones like all the rest, has inconveniently turned up in Epping Forest. Your job is to catch the real murderer or murderers and close the case for good, maybe then the chief will relent and allow you access to police facilities that were revoked following your inappropriate use of them during an immature and tasteless joke on the Royal Family.

This indiscretion sets up many of the problems to be overcome during the first part of the game as you will need to commence your investigation without much help from your colleagues and without so much as a notebook, access to an outside phone line, or even the police data base. Still, a resourceful young chap like you shouldn't have too much trouble overcoming these little inconveniences. Without giving too much of the plot away it isn't long before your simple murder investigation turns into a deeper mystery involving a Druidic ritual that took place a thousand years ago. You do get some days like that.

The story is intriguing and the game is entertaining because it doesn't take itself too seriously. The problems to be overcome and their solutions, whilst not always obvious or necessarily 'realistic', are for the most part logical within the game context. In fact, for me it was the faintly ridiculous nature of some of the tasks that lightened the atmosphere and made the game fun to play.

Getting things done
DruidsMystery of the Druids is a traditional, third-person perspective adventure. The puzzles are inventory or conversation based and the game provides lots of things to do with an interesting array of tasks, though some are merely variations on an old theme such as getting a key from the other side of a locked door. There were areas where I thought more feedback from the game was necessary, particularly in the Monastery towards the end where a couple of puzzles are quite difficult. One requires a leap of logic as well as a leap of faith. The maze is especially challenging and I had to resort to a walkthrough to complete it. If there is a clue to its solution then I confess I missed it. If you have trouble with mazes the good news is that you only need to negotiate it once. After that the game will bypass it for you. I should also point out that there is one sequence involving Melanie where timing your movement is important though it is not really a timed sequence.

Navigation is really simple, just point to an item or area of the screen and click and Brent or Melanie will walk there unaided, double click and they will run. No tedious holding down keys to manoeuvre your character around non-interactive clutter and impenetrable barriers. You can just get on with the task of figuring out what to do next.

The cursor changes to show exits and items of interest and while the interface is generally intuitive it is also sometimes inconsistent. If you right click on a hotspot you will generally get a description of the item or some other comment from your character, however, if the item is something that you can pick up or use then no description is forthcoming. You can only find out about it once you have picked it up or if someone is preventing you from taking it. This can be misleading so you might like to remember it for late in the game when you are stuck with seemingly nothing to do. Your inventory will pop up when you move your cursor to the bottom of the screen and it is possible, even crucial, to combine items there.

Character interaction
DruidsConversation is also easy; the cursor changes to a talk bubble when you can speak to a character. A menu of conversational threads appears at the bottom of the screen. My only criticism here is that you frequently have to repeat opening pleasantries and some previously asked questions before you can explore all the threads, and it is important that you ask about everything to ensure you trigger new information or locations. Fortunately, you can skip through conversation by pressing the escape key, though this doesn't work with Brent or Melanie's spoken description of items. You can enable subtitles through the settings option in the main menu, but I noticed that not all cut sequences were accompanied by text. The voice acting and dialogue is quite good though the subtitles did not always match and in minor ways revealed a less than perfect translation from the original German.

Split personality
I liked the way you could play as both Brent and Melanie and though Melanie could have had more things to do it did remind me of Gabriel Knight and Grace or perhaps was closer to George and Nico in the Broken Sword games. It helped that Brent, despite evidence of his earlier immaturity, is quite likeable, as is Melanie. There are a couple of scenes that some may find disturbing, one involving the flesh being cut from the bones of a living character. The game does have a rating of 15 years and over because of this.

The detailed graphics, sound effects and music are all very good and really contribute to the atmosphere of the game. It comes on three CDs; the first is an installation disk, the other two are named 'the present' and 'the past' and are self-contained story areas so there is no constant disk swapping.

Despite the few criticisms detailed here, which I hope will be seen as constructive, I really enjoyed playing Mystery of the Druids. Maybe the beginning with a detective investigating a serious murder without access to essential equipment was stretching it a bit, but it did provide some humour and set up some good puzzles. It is a game where you have to think about what you are trying to achieve in the context of the story and consider how you may overcome the challenges set before you. I would certainly play a sequel should one be forthcoming. rating:  

Copyright © Gordon Aplin 2001. All rights reserved.

System Requirements:
Windows 95/98/98SE/ME/2000, P200 (PII 400 recommended) 32MB RAM, 2MB video card, 16bit sound card, 150MB hard drive space, supports most 3D hardware cards. Requires DirectX 8 (included on disk).