Developer: Kheops Studio
Release Date: September 23, 2008
If Nostradamus had been alive today, he'd probably be featured in late-night infomercials complete with his own toll-free number to tell you who to fall in love with, when fortune might strike, and where to be when the world ends. In reality, he was a practicing physician during the 16th century who led a life filled with service to ordinary folks (and the royal family), someone who was trained in science and would probably be the last person you'd expect to begin spouting predictions of the future. The reputed seer has been subject to the whims of history and fiction ever since his words have been interpreted in predicting the death of kings and the starts of wars. Whether or not you believe that Nostradamus had the gift of foresight, Microids' upcoming adventure Nostradamus: The Lost Prophecy takes a few liberties with history to introduce his world to players who are eager for a little puzzle-solving.
Nostradamus takes place in 1566 as Nostradamus' health is worsening when Catherine de Medici, the Queen Mother to King Charles IX of France, unexpectedly visits his home during a royal tour of the country. Concerned that one of his prophecies may be coming true and wishing to change its outcome, she requests his help. Unable to attend to the challenge himself, Nostradamus promises to send his son, Cesar, in his stead. What Catherine doesn't know, however, is that Cesar is away on a trip so the seer instead turns to his daughter, Madeleine, whose keen mind is a match for his own.
The player views the detailed world of Nostradamus from a first-person perspective but can only move through it from one point to the next instead of freely walking around in each scene. As Madeleine makes her way through the mystery, you'll see Renaissance-inspired visuals filled with details such as wooden shelves covered in rare tomes, tapestries depicting historical tales, castle hallways lit by dusty shafts of sunlight, and costumed NPCs. Decent voice acting delivers many of the lines in the game, although it would have been nice to be able to skip through some of the more repetitive ones with the mouse instead of the spacebar, something that I hope will be an option when the game is released in September. Music accompanies many of the scenes with understated tones so as not to interfere with the player's thought process during the various puzzles.
The inventory interface is easily accessed with the right mouse button and acts as part notebook and part tool kit, recording all of your dialogue for easy reference. The notebook is split up into several tabs that become useful over the course of the game. It'll list those who have died from the curse, provide detailed sketches and notes from documents that you might discover, and even contain a puzzle or two, such as determining the astrological chart for Catherine as a test of Madeleine's acumen. A point system is included to measure how well you handle certain situations, thereby lending some incentive in exploring everything and playing either part well. Doing something that could be perceived as clumsy will also penalize your score, although it might not keep you from completing the game.
Fortunately, you won't have to know too much about astrology or history to work your way through many of the puzzles, as long as you make use of what you find and the clues that you've managed to garner through careful observation. Nostradamus tests your abilities both as an adventure gamer and a private investigator as you explore each area, gather clues, and pick up most everything that isn't nailed down. Even the inventory won't leave you to simply pick up and drop things into it, stacking them together and leaving it to the player to organize items on his own. Combining items and consulting your notes via the inventory screen will only take you so far into the game, especially with challenges that seem far more inclined to test your gray matter.
As you progress through Nostradamus, you're presented with a variety of puzzles. It doesn't give you much slack when it comes to sharing information, thus leaving you to figure out just where Madeleine should start. Talking to Nostradamus wasn't much help, so I was left to pixel-hunt in order to collect the items and manipulate them to create the perfect disguise. Unlike several adventure titles that give the player some help, Nostradamus clings to the old-school concepts of careful observation and sweeping your mouse over everything in order to not miss important items. Veterans might not worry too much about this, but newcomers might miss that article of clothing to complete their disguise or the portrait of Cesar that could point them in the right direction. Madeleine won't talk to herself as a means of sorting out what she might need next, either.
Nostradamus also makes creative use out of the tools at your disposal, and Madeleine is given a kit that has several instruments that turn her into Sherlock Holmes, albeit several centuries early. For example, a magnifying glass allows you to take a closer look at scenes or inventory items, perhaps allowing you to make use of them in other ways. At one point, dialogue also becomes important as you pay attention to what certain people expect from you/Cesar. After puzzling through some voice training with Nostradamus to complete your disguise, you should be ready to confront the Queen Mother and make a good impression. Before I knew it, I was busy mixing together hypnotic potions, remedies against the plague, investigating corpses, and playing the part of both Madeleine and Cesar when prying the truth from those I met.
Offering a fascinating take on the history of one of the world's most mysterious figures, Nostradamus: The Last Prophecy is set to keep the flame of adventure titles lit when it hits store shelves on September 23rd. Adventure fans new and old should give it a shot.
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