Eye of the Kraken
Regular Quandary readers will no doubt be aware that I am a fan of humorous, third person perspective adventure games so when I loaded up Eye of the Kraken I was immediately in my element. I always find this sort of game so easy to get into with no fiddly interface to learn, no arcane combination of keyboard commands to memorise, and no holding down keys in order to move around. Just a simple point and click on screen and away you go, exploring your surroundings, picking up items, talking to characters, and smiling a lot.
It's easy to see that the aptly named Absurdus, the small development team from Montreal, Canada, are also fans of this style of adventure game in the way they have integrated the humour and puzzles in an almost nostalgic homage to the genre's illustrious past. Just five minutes into the game you'll get a sense of the gentle mocking of adventure games and adventurers and you'll feel quite at home.
The short, deliberately grainy black and white introduction with scratchy music sets the scene. In the dead of night a thief steals the mysterious object known as the 'Eye of the Kraken' and hops on board the sailing ship, Glutomax, headed for Hyade Island. This is serious business because it's suspected that the object may be used in some obscure ritual to awaken the mystical giant Kraken and thus take over the world. Luckily Abdullah, a minor official representing the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, is also on board the Glutomax. He receives a message about the theft and instructions to recover the Eye of the Kraken before it can be misused.
Can Abdullah succeed on his mission? That's up to you. As Abdullah you must investigate your fellow passengers and work out who is the thief. Could it be Ophelia, the Danish orphan from a Shakespearian tragedy; Ingrid, the opera singer; Fitzcarroldo, the Irish inventor; Rasputin, the mad monk; Villon, the French poet or Olaf, the Viking? Or perhaps it is one of the crew, or maybe even your African friend, Aboubakar. And who is the mysterious and unseen (until much later in the game) passenger in cabin 10? One thing for sure is that you must find the Eye of the Kraken before you reach Hyade Island in five days time, and the days are short here in the tropics.
Don't worry; you are not under pressure to rush at all. Each day is broken up into morning, afternoon and evening and time moves on only as you complete certain tasks. The Glutomax is not a very large ship and not all locations such as certain passenger cabins will be accessible immediately. Some you may need to visit when the occupants are absent. Though there are only a few locations you will need to visit them regularly as the passengers move around and new conversational threads appear as you investigate or work on a puzzle. The dialogue is not overly wordy and you can click through it fairly quickly if you initiate any repeats. (I smiled at the little in-game alert about conversational repeats).
I should also mention here that there are no voices in this game so all dialogue and Abdullah's descriptions and observations appear as on screen text. At least no one can complain about the voice acting. I must admit that the lack of voices seemed a little odd at first but I soon got used to it again as it was reminiscent of the early graphical adventures. There are still many appropriate and humorous sound effects to build up the atmosphere and a particularly quaint, period-setting, music track, though I must admit I turned it off early in the piece because the deliberately scratchy recordings set my teeth on edge.
The puzzles are wacky and inventive as you would expect in this sort of adventure, but they are generally not too difficult to solve. Talking to other characters may give you a clue about what you need to do and it pays to remember this if you find yourself stuck for any length of time. The game is very fair in that there are lots of clues if you pay attention to what characters tell you, even if it seems irrelevant at the time. As with all inventory based adventure games you will find yourself picking up lots of items but most have an obvious use or you will soon learn about their uses.
Abdullah also has a notebook where he automatically jots down thoughts and clues about his suspects though I thought this was not used to full potential as very little is noted about most of the characters.
Much of the humour arises out of the absurd nature of the tasks set before you and the sometimes unexpected consequences of your actions. Abdullah has the best of intentions but not everything goes according to plan as Aboubakar can testify. I particularly appreciated Abdullah's lucky talisman and it was fortunate that it was a bring-your-own-bed cruise rather than a bring-your-own-booze cruise or Abdullah might not have been there at all. As with most humorous adventures not everything will work for everyone. The presence of the Neo-Botchist 'stowaways' still has me a little bemused though I am sure that most people can relate to the pseudo-intellectual 'babble'. I did, however, find myself chuckling at some of the asides and situations. Only a couple had 'grown-up' overtones, most are just pure fun including Odysseus' fishy joke (you'll have to play the game to get this one), and the ring of truth where Abdullah forgets one of the lessons of history ("beware of Greeks bearing gifts").
The graphics are very good and colourful and the characters are fluid in their movements. Navigation, as I mentioned above, is simple and the whole interface is intuitive. The cursor arrow turns red when there is something to do and the pop-up menus give you action options and descriptions.
The game uses the AGAST engine similar to Passage: Path of Betrayal and comes on one CD with the manual on the disk and offers the choice of playing in French or English. The English dialogue and descriptions are generally quite good with only a few examples of awkward phrasing to reveal that the developers' first language is not English.
Rather than sounding odd this seemed to fit in with the story as, after all, Abdullah and many of the characters are not English. Saving and loading is easy and the nine save game slots are ample for the game. Playing in Windows 98 I encountered no bugs, lock ups or crashes.
Eye of the Kraken is an entertaining adventure game and though it may be a little short for experienced players there is still much to enjoy. There is an ending of sorts and the promise of the tale being continued, depending on the sales of this first instalment. For a game developed by a small independent team Eye of the Kraken has a lot of appeal. What it lacks in sophistication in some aspects is well and truly made up for by its charm. I've booked a berth to continue this adventure with Abdullah.
Copyright © Gordon Aplin 2002.
All rights reserved.
Pentium 350mhz, 64mb RAM, 200mb free on hard disk, Windows 95, 98, 2000, ME, XP, DirectX 8 and later