If you've been hankering for a good, long detective game with challenging gameplay, lots of places to explore, live actors to interact with, and an intriguing plot featuring time travel, corporate crime and a conspiracy of galactic proportions, then look no further. Anestis Kokkinidis and his team at Anima Ppd have delivered the goods with Conspiracies, their first adventure game. Rosemary and I have been playing this one together over the past two weeks and we've both thoroughly enjoyed visiting the world of Nick Delios.
Conspiracies is set in the future. Environmental degradation, overpopulation, unemployment and crime have created a dystopia where depression and nerve related illnesses are on the increase. Everyone has a handy supply of Kefalgon for treatment of headaches. The world is made up of city-states of which Greece is one, where politics, big business and organised crime are intertwined, and greed and power override the rule of law.
But this is merely the background, the story is not as depressing as the scenario suggests. Your character, Nick Delios, (a down on his luck Private Detective) is a likeable chap with a humorous side that will make you smile a lot, he's fun to tag along with. The game starts off with Nick going for broke in the casino. He forgets to quit while he's ahead and loses all the money he borrowed. Deeply in debt he is whisked off to see Dimitris Argiriou who makes him an offer he can't refuse. Nick and Dimitris go back a long way. Not only did Dimitris steal Nick's work at university and pass it off as his own, but he also prevented Nick from marrying his sister, Anita. As you might imagine Nick is not happy about working for Dimitris but a short time later he meets up with his Police Officer friend, Thanos Pekas, who wants him to go undercover and investigate the murder of a small-time crook named Mikes. The situation could easily get messy, almost as messy as Nick's apartment!
Conspiracies is a first person perspective 3D adventure with Full Motion Video cut scenes featuring live actors. It is reminiscent of the Tex Murphy games in many ways with its investigative scenario and humorous touches, although there are no distinctly different pathways leading to different endings. Being 3D you move around by pressing an arrow key but you steer and interact with the gameworld by using the mouse. This combination makes it easy to explore as you can pan in all directions and move to wherever you want by simply holding down the forward arrow. It is one of the best 3D interfaces I have used. Anima Ppd have thoughtfully applied 3D technology to the searching and exploring aspect of adventure games and made it rewarding, especially (hint) if you look under, behind and on top of everything.
Once you find your map and make a good cup of coffee you set off on your investigation by talking to people and learning of new locations that will appear on the map. Conversations are not overly long and you have a choice of three responses to indicate how your interrogation will proceed. Not all responses are successful but you can usually start again and try a different approach. Sometimes, however, your choice may lead to the dreaded 'Game Over' screen so it's advisable to save often. You can also die or fail in your task in other situations so remember this advice. Saving is very easy, simply press the F4 key. You can have unlimited saves if your hard drive is big enough.
The locations are many and there are lots of items to find and use, in fact many more than will fit in your inventory. You have twenty-seven inventory slots but these are soon filled so I resorted to dropping things off in Nick's apartment and only taking what I thought was crucial. And you will be surprised at what is crucial in this game. You can access your inventory by pressing the space bar or by using the middle mouse button if you have one. Right click on an inventory item and Nick will tell you something about it and you can also combine items by selecting one and using it on another.
Experimenting with inventory items is essential to the problem solving. Whilst the puzzles are sometimes straightforward and you make good progress, sometimes they are quite challenging and you really need to think about what you are trying to accomplish and what Nick tells you in his little asides. There were several instances where I was stuck for long periods because I wasn't paying due attention to Nick, although a couple of times some more feedback from the gameworld would have helped.
Also, I was held up on one or two occasions because a significant gameworld object didn't have a unique description. But this is a minor quibble because Nick is generally very attentive and will enlighten you on what he finds, which is an important touch sometimes missing in adventure games. On the whole the puzzles are fair though one or two are deliberately set up for humorous effect. There are also a couple of clever puzzles in the form of video cut scenes where Nick will take the correct action, but only if he is carrying the right items or has performed an action before hand, if not he will likely die or fail. The trick is to work out what he might need or what needs to be done before landing in trouble. Dodging the security robots near the end of the game was the puzzle I least enjoyed, but all you need is a careful strategy and a little patience. And I should also mention the hedge maze set in the novel location of an orbiting space station.
There are a dozen or more prominent characters to meet in Conspiracies and the acting is very well handled by all considering there are some friends and family involved. And the dubbing into English is very professional; you won't see mouths still moving long after the talking is over. Although I would have appreciated subtitles (an option that will be missed by deaf players). The 3D graphics, too, are well executed but the full motion video is at times a little fuzzy, signalling where the characters have been filmed against a blue screen. (Have a look at the credits for some humorous out-takes; it looks like they had a lot of fun making this game). This fuzziness didn't worry me in the least and nor did the characters appearing 2D from some perspectives, because the whole lot came together so nicely and painted a fascinating world of the future with flying vehicles hovering around towering edifices and shadowy, concrete streets. The music is also very good throughout and you'll be treated to a bluesy video clip of Blues Wire, Nick's favourite band.
Conspiracies is very easy to install and it provides the option for several players to have different games underway at the same time. Just be careful with the delete buttons as you can wipe out all your progress if you hit the wrong one by accident as I did when I went to delete a saved game and ended up wiping myself from the menu. An 'Are you sure you want to delete this?' prompt would have been useful.
All in all I must say that it is one of the best detective adventure games I have played in some time. It's a fun, challenging game with an affable main character, a good mystery to unravel, and with an ending that clearly suggests that there will be no rest for Nick Delios. I'm already in line for the sequel.
Anima Ppd is based in Greece and a Greek CD version of Conspiracies (Synomosies) is already available. The English version that I played is DVD only (I had to install a DVD drive just for this and I'm glad I did) and it is fully deserving of a wide distribution. It's a game not to be missed by detective fans.
See the metzomagic.com Conspiracies walkthrough.
Copyright © Gordon Aplin 2003.
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Pentium II 400 (PIII 1Ghz or AMD 1Ghz recommended) 64MB RAM (256MB recommended) DVD ROM, 4GB hard disk space, 16MB video card (64MB recommended)