Publisher: The Adventure Company
Developer: Kheops Studio
Release Date: March 31, 2008
I'm not much of a historian. At some point in school, I learned all about Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, and her various misadventures during her reign. However, that knowledge has long since been replaced by something I use everyday. When a game like Cleopatra: Riddle of the Tomb comes along, I'm immediately at a disadvantage. The story is rooted in history, and it assumes you have at least a basic knowledge of ancient Egypt around the time of Cleopatra. I don't really have that, so the title had to win me over with its gameplay and presentation, which it did, for the most part. Cleopatra is a fun point-and-click adventure that will keep you engaged for hours, even after the credits roll.
Cleopatra puts you in the sandals of Thomas the Chaldean, apprentice to Akkad, the royal astrologer. As Thomas, you are planning to marry Akkad's daughter, Iris. Life is going well, until you return to Akkad's observatory to find that Akkad and Iris are missing. Blood is also on the ground, so you expect the worst. After visiting the queen, you learn that Akkad was getting ready to issue a prophecy that would shape the country of Egypt and its role in history. She then gives you the task of finding them, so that the prophecy can be given.
The story is easily the weakest part of the title, and that's because it really seems shallow. There aren't a lot of twists or surprises in the narrative, and the characters seem flat and one-dimensional. There's never enough here to really grip you; the game wants you to care about the characters and the world in which they live, but it never gives you enough material to make that happen. You basically solve puzzle after puzzle to progress, without really caring what happens to Thomas or Iris. This might have been different if I could tell you all about a civil war that broke out between Cleopatra and her brother, but I can't, and I think the game and story may have suffered because I've forgotten these elementary school basics.
Thankfully, we have some great adventure gameplay, which saves the day. Cleopatra is played from a first-person perspective, allowing you full a 360-degree view of the environment. It's a system that works pretty well and lets you move through the game without any trouble.
Another thing that the developers got right was skipping the traditional pixel-hunting that most adventure titles are guilty of using. All of the interactive objects stand out from the rest of the environment, and when you see an item, you just know that you can pick it up or examine it. Once again, the system works well and leads to an enjoyable experience.
Most of the puzzles in Cleopatra are item-based, with a few logic-based stumpers thrown in for good measure. I'm not going to say that all of the puzzles are easy or obvious because they aren't, but they do make sense, and after you've figured them out, you wonder why you hadn't thought of that solution earlier. There are some exceptions to this, but for the most part, the puzzles are very, very enjoyable.
The title looks great, too. All of the 3-D environments are rendered beautifully, complete with terrific lighting and water effects. The developers also did a great job of capturing the grandeur of the places you visit. For example, when you're on the top of an observatory and look off into the distance, you can see Cleopatra's massive palace, and it is awe-inspiring. Later on, you visit the Library of Alexandria and are shown a humongous structure that you can actually believe holds all of the modern knowledge of the time. If I had any complaint at all, it's that there aren't enough sights to see; gameplay takes place in only three or four different locations, which you will revisit through the entire game. The visuals are satisfying enough that you wish you could have seen a lot more of Cleopatra's Egypt.
For the most part, Cleopatra sounds pretty good. After the story, this is the second weakest part of the experience. There isn't really any music to speak of, other than an occasional dramatic song that plays when something bad occurs. There is plenty of ambient sound throughout the areas, and that certainly helps to break the silence. All of the dialogue in the game is voiced, but depending on the character, that can range from incredible to mediocre. Luckily, no voices venture into the "laughably bad" category. Thomas' voice is the one you'll hear the most often, and the actor who delivers those lines does an excellent job.
Cleopatra is also quite lengthy, which is good for an adventure title. Gameplay can take an average of 10 to 12 hours, depending on how quickly you can solve the puzzles. If the puzzle solutions are obvious to you right away, you could probably wrap up the game in seven hours, but why rush through it?
Where Cleopatra shines and sets itself apart from other adventure titles is in replayability. Normally, they have nothing more to offer after the ending credits roll. Oh sure, you could run through it again, but at that point, the puzzles no longer pose a challenge anymore. At the beginning of Cleopatra, you're asked to select an astrological sign, which will determine whether or not the gods favor you at any given point in the game. If they do favor you, the puzzle will be easier, and if they don't favor you, the puzzles will be a bit tougher. Now, we're not talking about a major difference, but there are little things you might have to do differently, depending on what kind of day your astrological sign dictates.
On top of this, when you complete the game, you're given two new astrological signs that allow you to play through the game with all bad days or all good days. It may not seem like a lot, but in a genre that traditionally has no replay value, even the smallest change is welcome.
Cleopatra: Riddle of the Tomb is an easy game to recommend. While the story is certainly on the light side and the sound is kind of weak, the gameplay and the puzzles more than make up for it. Add a little bit of replay value — a refreshing addition to a genre that normally has none — and you have a title that will keep any adventure fan busy for hours.