Publisher: The Adventure Company
Release Date: November 2, 2003
Last year, the sequel to a very good adventure game was announced, Cypher - Traitors Gate II. By production time, Cypher had been dropped, along with most of what had made the first game great. Traitors Gate reinvigorated adventure gamers who enjoy puzzle solving games in the style of Myst and had a lot going for it. Right off the top, it was also a much, much better game than the previous title by Daydream Software called Safecracker. The puzzles where not overly complex and actually made sense most of the time, the story was compelling and somewhat gripping, and you were actually given bits of history as you completed goals in the game. For Traitors Gate II, the publisher has stayed the same, but the developer has changed from Daydream Software to 258 Productions.
You start off Traitors Gate II with a mediocre video giving some information to the story and an identity. You take up the same identity of the first game, codename Raven, an operative on a quest to find and destroy a malicious computer virus that will cripple every computer-based system in the world. That sounds like a fair enough goal for a proven operative. You are dropped in ancient Babylon where the alleged terrorists are hiding. At first you feel as though you're looking over the shoulder of Laura Croft. Was the story bent in this direction to allow designers to use a similar setting of other games like Tomb Raider? Once you start navigating around the maps, you quickly realize that this is where the comparison ends. Navigation is sometimes a little clunky and frustrating, and there will be times where you will try to position yourself in front of objects that should trigger much easier. Worse yet, if you try a first time and miss, you may assume that the object isn't a trigger and wander off to look for something else that might work.
You start off with a few items in your inventory and a journal that has more pages than you would possibly want to read through. Not one for using hints if possible, I went about trying to start my quest. Much like the last game, you start off in a locked room, and you must use your wits in order to get out of. In my opinion, it's a little frustrating to start off a game confined in a room when you're still getting used to controls and keyboard options. Looking at the murals on the walls, I attempt in vain to push them with my 'Enter' key which will be your action key, which is not programmable to any other key on your keyboard. More about that later. None of the items in the room are accessible, and nothing seemed to give way. The room has some artifacts in it, but they are cordoned off by a rope and therefore inaccessible. No biggie, I'll just jump over the rope, snatch them and figure out what's next, except ... there is no jump key. I checked the default options in my setup to see if I had missed a jump key or some other important activation button. Nope, nothing there except keys for action, inventory, and walk, and of course, the non-programmable arrow keys for movement. It seems very odd that a PC game, with a myriad of options for keyboard customization to suit individual tastes, would leave out this capability. Using the arrow keys as the only means of moving meant sliding my keyboard over far enough so I could comfortably use it with my left hand while using the mouse to look around with my right hand. Another bout of frustration sets in. So here I am, locked in a room where none of the artifacts in the room are accessible, and the murals on the wall seem to be just that, murals on the wall.
With nothing in my inventory that seemed useful to get me out of this situation, I had to resort to the manual for some hope of a written tutorial or help. The manual is very thin, but it does include a walkthrough of the first few actions in the game. The walkthrough in the manual says, "walk around the room and look at the murals on the walls.... It appears that there is nothing to do in this room, but wait! ... In the note book, there was a reference to the dragon mural." If you are the kind of person who likes reading the 20+ pages in the journal, you could possibly figure that out. I had skimmed through the mural and did recall seeing the words "dragon" and "mural" and had even gone as far as trying to push on said mural with my action key. The problem was that it didn't look much like a dragon, more like a brachiosaurus. I tried pushing again, and nothing happened. At this frustrating point, I checked the manual again and noticed the walkthrough said to position yourself in front of the 'head' of the dragon. So I walk up again and tried positioning myself directly in front of the head of the dragon. Finally, when I pressed the action key, an in-game video was launched, showing Raven opening up a secret door.
If reading this experience was painful, imagine actually having to do it. Needless to say, this did not get the game off to a good start. The manual continues through a few more actions or triggers that allow you to continue progress, but after that, you are on your own. I found that with a little looking around and some patience, some of the puzzles were okay to get through without too much frustration. All too often though, you will find yourself pushing buttons and raising levers and staring at murals, wishing one of these options would let you out. Sometimes you may have to circle an area several times or compare items with other items in boring repetition, wishing that something would work. At other moments, you would wish the game would give you a little more feedback on how close you were getting to the cheese at the end of the maze.
Compared to its first iteration, this game lacks a compelling story that gives you the desire to go on. The puzzles also feel meaningless in many parts of the game and are not fun to solve. The puzzles in Traitors Gate I were actually fun to figure out at times because you never felt like you couldn't eventually get through it. You actually wanted to figure out the puzzles because they fed into the enjoyable storyline. This should be the backbone of any game, but Traitors Gate II gets very boring because there isn't always a payoff for solving the mind-numbing puzzles. Sometimes you just move on, unlike good adventure games where your reward is some morsel of an intriguing story. Worse yet, Raven's inability to jump or climb adds to the misery of already mediocre game play. Since you cannot jump, the camera will spin around if you get stuck in a tight spot, and you may even fall off a ledge because you couldn't see it.
Graphically speaking, the game looks pretty good. I felt like some of the levels were fairly interesting and designed with thought in mind. Some of the artwork and coloring in the game looks good enough to make you want to stop and enjoy it for a second. Without knowing the engine used to create the game, I would say it looks very similar to a modified Quake 3 engine such as Wolfenstien.
Sounds are placeholders with nothing special emerging. The ambient sounds were well done in parts and seemed to add to the feel the designers were trying to portray. The voice acting is sub-par and really gives the game a more amateur feel. Music does arise in various parts and is mostly ambient placeholders with nothing really imaginative coming through.
Traitors Gate II has a few good ideas and some graphics in areas that are somewhat imaginative. This cannot make up for the boring game play and downright buggy control system. Even with all of that, if the story were more compelling, you could find a way to wade through the endless hallways and tedious puzzles. Unfortunately, there really isn't anything compelling enough to want the adventure to continue. Instead of enjoying the game, you may spend most of the game just staring over the shoulder of Raven and wondering if it's really worth it to keep on playing.
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