The Sydney Mystery

Developer/Publisher:  Twilight Software
Year Released:  2003

Review by Steve Ramsey (May, 2003)
I live in Canberra, the capital city of Australia, which is about 2½ hours drive from Sydney. I may be biased, but Sydney Harbour and its immediate surrounds has to be one of the most impressive panoramas anywhere. Those of you who haven't visited should do yourself a very big favour. It is not surprising that it has been used as the setting for this latest independent adventure game.

The story concerns your missing uncle, your determination to find him, and some mysterious and concerning bombings. It utilises a large number of still photos to create the game world, interspersed with (quite ambitiously I thought given its humble origins) full motion video (FMV) clips of the characters with whom you interact and your travel to the various locations. As it uses photos, the detail in the scenes is what you would expect, although the colour seemed a bit flat.

A small number of interactive cursors and hotspots will aid your efforts. The puzzles are almost all of the "ask the right questions" and "find and use the right item" variety. They are generally logically sound, if occasionally a bit odd. Only the code to a briefcase is different in nature.

The game is played via point and click, the inventory being managed by the right mouse button. Each click brings up a different item, which can then be used in the game world. It can be a lot of clicking, but it's all straightforward. The still scenes play full screen, and the FMV sequences occupy about one third of the screen. Questions to ask the characters appear below the FMV window. You won't hear yourself ask the question but you will hear the answer. You can also offer the characters inventory items through the FMV window.

Sun sand and surf
You travel between locations using a series of maps. As indicated, travel to the location will result in a short FMV sequence. Many well known locations can be visited: the Harbour Bridge, the Blue Mountains, Manly Beach, Hyde Park, the Opera House and Kings Cross amongst them. I confess it is the first time I have walked down the main street in Kings Cross and not been constantly harassed to enter one of the establishments for which it is known.

Like every city though, not everywhere is a picture postcard, and lesser ordinary places provide a nice juxtaposition.

Not all locations will be available from the start. Asking questions and uncovering information will open up new places and characters. It may also lead to new lines of questioning, so revisiting characters is a good ploy.

As well as renowned locations, iconically Australian objects have also been worked in where possible. A jar of Vegemite, a stubbie of VB beer, a boomerang and a koala all get a look in, some a little cheesily it has to be said. Some impressive views also feature.

Sound is a mixed bag. There is some ambient sound in the FMV sequences, but little elsewhere. A musical accompaniment will keep your ears occupied, and is generally suited to the particular situation. Some special effect type noises (which I could have done without) accompany some actions and movement. Occasionally in the FMV sequences, wind or other noise will make the character hard to hear, and there are no subtitles.

The voice acting never gets much above reasonable. The cast are clearly ordinary people, friends of the maker rather than actors, and it comes through in the presentation of the dialogue.

Short and sweetish
The Sydney Mystery took my youngest daughter and me about 5 hours to complete. For the most part it is nicely paced but the end does come with a bit of a rush. We had unravelled some of the connections, but were wondering whodunit right till the end. It is not a difficult game, but we did peek at a hint board once. It plays completely from the CD, you can't die, and saving games is unlimited.

All in all it was a middling experience, enjoyable in a low key way but reaching no great heights, and better for being a shared experience.

But consider the following comment of the maker:

"I made The Sydney Mystery because I love adventure games, and I now know that it's very rewarding and fun to create something from nothing.  I leave the game experience in the hands of those who play it, and give no direction except, perhaps: to not expect too much; it's a low budget production after all!  I do suspect, though, that after playing the game, you will have another world in your mind, which you can return to again and again in the years that follow.  I love my city of Sydney, and if I can share just a tiny piece of it with you, then the game is more than a success".

So if you spot a boom microphone in one shot, or you wish the characters would be a little more animated, or you think it odd to be backing out of every scene or that the ending is a bit too kitsch, perhaps its worth reflecting on the above comment and remembering that this is Sydney not Syberia. rating:  

Copyright © Steve Ramsey 2003. All rights reserved.

System Requirements: