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The Sacred Rings

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Adventure
Publisher: The Adventure Company
Developer: Streko-Graphics


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PC Preview - 'The Sacred Rings'

by Lee Berlik on Nov. 5, 2006 @ 12:54 a.m. PST

The Sacred Rings, sequel to Aura: Fate of the Ages, is an epic graphic adventure in a dark fantastical world of magic and intrigue. As part of The Keepers can you are tasked to track down artifacts of great power before a rival clan obtains them to gain evil powers.

Genre: Adventure
Publisher: The Adventure Company
Developer: Streko-Graphics
Release Date: Q1 2007

Myst fans rejoice! Many a developer has tried to lure you into purchasing its game by promising a Myst-like experience, but few have made good on their word. Early next year, however, Streko-Graphics and The Adventure Company will release Aura 2: The Sacred Rings, which appears on track to reward our involuntary patience with a gem of an adventure game that will do much to replenish the creativity void that no Myst imitator to date has been able to fill.

It's not that The Sacred Rings is a Myst clone; it isn't. Although the interface is of the familiar point-and-click variety, player movement has been upgraded to include fluid scene transformations and the ability to free-look, and the story is told with a series of spectacular cut scenes that add a sense of realism and purpose. What The Sacred Rings shares with its illustrious forebear are most of the game's strengths: the beautiful, serene environments; the haunting atmosphere; the treasure trove of mystical artifacts; and the superb artwork and design.

In the fanciful world of The Sacred Rings, architecture typically features round shapes and complex designs. Doors come in all shapes and sizes and are opened with a variety of odd contraptions. The indigenous people seem at once both primitive and technologically advanced, traveling through portals on a monorail while resorting to ropes and pulleys for other applications. The developers have really done an excellent job creating a magical setting for this puzzle-based adventure.

The story – which will take you some time to deduce, as you begin the game by waking up in a strange house with no explanation – goes something like this. An evil clan of bad guys is after a group of sacred rings which grant immortality to their owner when combined with various magical artifacts. A rival clan of "Keepers" has been charged with protecting the rings. You play the role of Umang, who has been sent by the Keepers to retrieve the artifacts and prevent them from falling into the wrong hands. I played an early preview build of the game that did not give me a lot of insight into the story, as most of the cut scenes have yet to be implemented. What I did see, however, looks very promising indeed.

Like Myst, much of the fun in playing The Sacred Rings lies in exploring your surroundings rather than in solving the puzzles per se – which is good, because some of the puzzles can be baffling. If you're destined to never figure out the secret to that mechanical contraption you're dealing with, at least you can enjoy some degree of consolatory comfort from the cool grinding noise those gears make when you activate them.

The puzzles are creative and varied. Most seem to involve colors, shapes, symbols, logic, and/or common sense. Sometimes, if you're lucky, you may solve a puzzle by accident, as I did on more than one occasion while pushing random buttons. Other times, unless you are blessed with virtuosic decoding skills, you will experience frustration and scour the Internet for a hint or walkthrough.

At least in its present state, the game does not always respond reasonably to unsuccessful attempts to solve puzzles. For instance, while examining an arrangement of stone wheels to try to figure out a way to rotate one without turning any of the others, I noticed a hole in one of the wheels. My character observed aloud that it appeared to him that it must be necessary to stick an object in the hole to prevent the wheel from turning. Fortunately (or so I thought), I was equipped with a crowbar and had been wondering what to do with it. When I tried inserting the crowbar into the hole, my character said, "Uh oh. Bad idea." I guess the puzzle requires an object other than a crowbar, but was it really a bad idea to try it?

The Sacred Rings progresses slowly, mostly because the puzzles are difficult and you're rarely (at least in the beginning) certain of what it is you're supposed to be doing. For me, this wasn't a drawback, as I found it permitted time to soak in the surroundings. The pace felt more realistic than most other adventure games in recent memory.

The preview build did not allow me to adjust my video resolution, so I was forced to play at the default setting of 1024 x 768. Even at that paltry resolution, however, the graphics were impressive. This is going to look stunning at the higher settings, assuming the final retail version permits video adjustment. While there is room for improvement, particularly in some of the bland background terrain, the realistic textures and shadows, the dramatic lighting, and the imaginative landscapes add up to an overall visual experience that is wonderful to behold.

The sound effects complement the visuals effectively. Sounds like dripping water, creaking wooden planks, and strong winds are clear, realistic, and really enhance the experience.

Gamers longing for a new adventure set in a strange world filled with gorgeous landscapes, eccentric characters, and intriguing puzzles shouldn't have to wait much longer than a few more months. The Sacred Rings seems poised to deliver all of this and more.

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