Sentinel: Descendants in Time
Based on a short story (The Ichneumon and the Dormeuse) by Terry Dowling, Sentinel: Descendants in Time transports us a thousand years into Earth's future to a time when even the great Tastan Civilisation has vanished, leaving just 85 tombs ripe for the picking.
Your character is Beni, with a misspent youth of tomb treasure hunting, but never in the feared Tomb 35 - until now. Now is different because Doba has kidnapped Beni's sister and in return for her release he wants an artefact from Tomb 35.
Only the famed Ramirez has ever returned from that terrible tomb as the ancient Tastans have installed a defence system or 'intercept' in each tomb in the form of the tomb's occupant. Tamara of Tomb 35 is an awesome challenge. She is also known as Dormeuse, The Sleeping Woman, and she isn't sleeping, of course, as Beni sets foot into her domain. Tamara is there to greet him and taunt him, teach him, and haunt him. Who is she? Is she friend or foe? Is she a hologram, is she real ... is Beni real? What happened to her race? As she accompanies Beni on his journey through the 8 worlds or domains of her memory that comprise the tomb, she is both guide and tormentor.
Sentinel: Descendants in Time from Detalion was made with the same game engine as their last game Mysterious Journey II: Chameleon, so they have a lot in common. Sentinel is a first person perspective game with an amazing 3D world to explore. The game play consists of a series of more abstract type puzzles. In some respects there is a direct pathway through the journey as one puzzle can lead to another, although at times the puzzles intermingle, and at certain points there is access to more than one mini world and they can be tackled in any order.
The puzzles control your progress through the game, they relate to the story only in so far as they are presented as the 'traps' contrived to thwart your progress. The actual story is told in the dialogue between Beni and Tamara, and it's very well written and tempts you to speculate and come back for more. The voice acting for the two characters is very good, with Tamara having the edge here. She is a fascinating character, sometimes patronizing, sometimes friendly, sometimes imperious. I got to like her lot. Her demeanour and knowledge easily coalesced into a persona of power, although her idea of power-dressing took me by surprise. A good serving of flesh on display with spiky heeled shoes to complete the picture, all designed to taunt I presume!
The manual provides a 'walkthrough' for the first 5 minutes of game play and helps out with the first simple puzzle. Don't be deceived, it gets tougher than this. There is also some advice to keep pencil and paper ready to take notes, and this you will certainly be doing. I had pages of notes and little scribblings when I got to the end, most of which were invaluable, although I did a lot of careful notations for one puzzle when the obvious logic was staring me in the face. It pays to rethink your strategy occasionally.
So shapes and symbols are important for puzzle solving in Sentinel: Descendants in Time, so are colours and sequences and similarities. Sounds are important too, maybe a bit too much so. There are sound puzzles in at least three worlds, and in one the puzzles are all sound based and they do get a bit repetitive and exasperating after a while, especially with the background sounds competing to confuse the one sound you are particularly trying to keep in your head. Take note of this paragraph if you are deaf or hard of hearing ... this game definitely isn't for you.
There is quite a lot of running around to be done as you seek out clues, manipulate objects, and test what effect your last action might have caused, but this isn't too much of a problem as movement is smooth and slick. The puzzles range from simple to hard and then harder. However, it's not mathematical acrobats that are called for to work out complex problems, it's your powers of observation and interpretation. How might this shape (or colour or sound) relate to the problem you are currently working on? There are a few obvious clues to find in the game world, but mostly it's up to you to experiment or recognise relationships. If in doubt you can turn on the hint system which gives you a push in the right direction rather than an outright answer. On more than one occasion I used it and it left enough unsaid so as not to spoil the puzzle.
The graphics in Sentinel: Descendants in Time are gorgeous, and even better if you play at a high resolution, and all the worlds are a delight to explore with the 3D environment. You can wander almost everywhere, look at objects from different angles, and ascend to great heights in some areas and survey your tracks from a bird's eye view. Each 'world' is different with one nestled in the skies, another consisting of walkways over water, a blazing lava plain with active volcano, and another world with snaking underwater tunnels. The music is quite nice too, not intrusive, and I appreciated the gentle animations ... wheels turn, water undulates, and grass wavers in the wind. There are a number of 'rides' to take in elevators and in a cable car, and when you step onto a floating bridge the game world bobs up and down.
Navigation is via mouse or keyboard and your view pans with the cursor fixed in centre screen as you move the mouse. At first the world whirled precariously around me, but setting the mouse sensitivity to the lowest position solved this potential problem. Other settings allow you to toggle subtitles off and on, enable hints, and adjust the graphics and sound, etc. Extremely useful is an option to access a transcript of the dialogue. I used this option quite often as I tried to outguess Beni as to what was happening. There are limitless save game slots as far as I could tell, and the game also saves automatically each time you quit. Once installed it happily plays directly from your hard disk.
Sentinel: Descendants in Time is a most enjoyable and mostly satisfying game. Despite being a bit too generous with the sound puzzles, it's a lot of fun sorting out the problems and following the story. I would recommend it for anyone with a good ear, a sharp eye, and a love of exploring.
Copyright © Rosemary Young 2005.
All rights reserved.
Windows 98SE/ME/2000/XP, 1.0 GHz Pentium III or Higher (2.0 GHz recommended)128MB RAM (256 MB required for XP) 16x CD-ROM drive (24x CD-ROM Drive Recommended) 1.6 GB Hard Disk Space, 64 MB 3D Video Card (128 MB recommended) with latest DirectX compatible driver, DirectX 8.1, DirectX compatible sound card, Windows compatible Mouse and Keyboard, Speakers, SVGA Color Monitor