Publisher: Encore Software
Developer: White Birds
Release Date: August 12, 2008
Adventure guru Benoit Sokal of Syberia fame will tackle procedural mysteries with the upcoming effort, Sinking Island. The game tells the tale of Walter Jones, an eccentric billionaire hotel developer who kept all of his heirs at his mercy with the promise of great wealth. He has invited them to the new Jones Tower on Sagorah Island in the Maldives to discuss their inheritance, but he and his grandchildren never get to have that talk, as the elderly coot is found dead on the beach — although his wheelchair is located on the rocky cliffs above. You play Jack Norm, who's been sent to investigate Jones' death. Although you're told that it should be an open-and-shut case, you suspect that some foul play is afoot, so you set out to interview the other inhabitants of the island to uncover the truth.
Like Sokal's prior offerings, Sinking Island is a third-person point-and-click adventure. Double-clicking on a path will make Jack run instead of walk. A ring serves as the cursor, and it glows if you can follow a path, becomes a magnifying glass if you can take a closer look at something, a cog-like hand if you can pick up an item, and a wheel if you can use or interact with it. A talk bubble appears when you hover your mouse over an NPC, and you click to initiate the conversation.
Unlike Sokal's prior offerings, however, Sinking Island isn't a straight adventure title. Even the game packaging labels it as a "psychological thriller" and a "mystery adventure game." Sokal has essentially thrown his hat in the ring to challenge the procedural crime sub-genre created by CSI and Law & Order titles. In Sinking Island, you'll have environments to inspect, clues to collect and analyze, and people to interview. (Conveniently, Jones Tower isn't open to the public yet, so you'll only have to talk to 10 people.) The game is split into 13 mandates, which are vital case questions that you need to resolve on your way to identify the murderer.
The first question ("Was Walter Jones murdered?") serves as a tutorial to help you learn the ropes of gathering evidence, using the Personal Police Assistant (PPA), and building up a case. The PPA organizes your material clues, pictures, prints, documents, and declarations (interviews with suspects). It identifies the mandate that you're currently trying to answer, and although you must select the relevant evidence to build your case — you should do something, after all — the interface identifies what type of evidence that it's expecting (i.e., material clues, pictures, etc.). The PPA also has a comparison tool, dubbed the Comparator, which lets you compare two pieces of evidence. With it, you'll be able to discern if a footprint was left by a particular set of shoes, identify fingerprints that have been left at the crime scene, and determine if two items were originally part of the same object.
The PPA also serves as your notebook in Sinking Island. Its characters database component details everyone's links to the victim, any damning evidence against them, and any information that may serve as an alibi. It's also handy for locating the character in the game world, should you need to track down the person to pose a question or two. You've got quite the collection of personalities on the island, including brilliant-yet-spineless architect Lorenzo Battaglieri, who let Jones bully him into building a monstrous edifice that the island can't support (hence the sinking!); aspiring politician Marco Jones; crafty lawyer Hubert de Nolent; and Maldivian native Baina Jumhu, the object of every male's affection, despite having been rendered mute by a freak accident.
If you're an adventure fan who's familiar with Sokal's work, then you won't be surprised by the gorgeous pre-rendered backgrounds. Between the magnificent building exteriors, opulent hotel suites, lush tropical grounds, and palm trees swaying in the storm, it's easy to see why Sokal is unmatched in this area. No other adventure game competitors have even come close.
The dialogue in Sinking Island is well-written, and a variety of voice actors lend their accents and personalities to the roles. The background music is notably somber and pensive, and relevant sound effects are scattered throughout the game and sound extremely realistic, from the footsteps on the marble floors to pots that are bubbling over in the kitchen. When you're outside, the claps of thunder and the punishing sound of the rain pounding the terrain will make you want to brace for the next tropical storm.
As indicated by the title, the island is sinking under the weight of Jones Tower, and as the water level rises, certain areas will become inaccessible and items will stop functioning as they become waterlogged. I initially took issue with the level design, but as the game progressed, the reasoning behind the design became clear.
Since Sinking Island is a more of a procedural mystery, most of the puzzles are notably more logical than they would be in a standard adventure title. If you've ever watched an episode of "CSI" or "Law & Order," you'll know that you need to take fingerprints, examine footprints, and check for gunpowder residue. There will still be a few of the standard adventure brainteasers thrown in for good measure, but for the most part, puzzles will make a lot more sense.
The title also offers a Race Against Time mode, in which the island is sinking even faster. When you're interviewing suspects, exhausting all of the available questions will only upset them even more, and they may even refuse to answer you. Since time is of the essence, you should be prudent and only ask relevant questions.
Although he's the mastermind behind one of the best adventure titles to come out this decade, Sokal is spreading his wings with Sinking Island. The computerized PPA keeps your evidence organized, keeps a tab on the suspects, and even clues provides minor hints about what you need to answer the active mandate. The beautiful backdrops continue to impress, and the dialogue, sound effects, and background music make strong showings here. Adventure game and procedural drama fans should keep an eye out for Sinking Island when it comes out later this month.
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