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Written by  :  Jeanne (76328)
Written on  :  Sep 15, 2008
Rating  :  2.67 Stars2.67 Stars2.67 Stars2.67 Stars2.67 Stars

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A decent game for detective murder mystery buffs

The Good

Sinking Island is the second adventure title by the French company White Birds Production. In this murder mystery game, you play a police detective named Jack Norm who arrives by helicopter on a remote tropical island in the middle of a nasty tropical storm. Jack was sent there to check out the accidental death of wealthy billionaire Walter Jones. The task at hand changes into a homicide investigation when Jack discovers evidence of foul play. Because passage off of the island is impossible, everyone currently staying in Mr. Jones' towering hotel, as well as natives living nearby, are suspect.

What we have here is another take on a story used many times before. Other games have had similar plots, the most recent being one or more Agatha Christie games, so you're probably asking "What makes this one different?" I hope to answer that question in this review.

When you start, you have no preconceived idea about Walter Jones other than he is a billionaire and died under questionable circumstances. You eventually learn the true nature of Mr. Jones. He was an obese, cynical miser who has no affection for his family. The 3 grandchildren, the architect, the lawyer, an island girl and her father, plus the 2 wives and a girlfriend are all suspects. It is your job to question everyone and get to the bottom of their possible reasons for disliking (and possibly murdering) Jones. Plus, of course, you must find clues and physical evidence to prove your theories.

The game as a whole is built around conversation, and there is a lot of it. Everyone who could have committed the crime is in close proximity and stuck in one location, so it would seem that you wouldn't have much ground to cover. Unfortunately that's really not the case since there are 11 floors in the tower with multiple rooms and several other locations outside the hotel to visit multiple times. Talk to people about themselves and then about each other, and then again when a new piece of evidence is found. You'll constantly be hunting each person down to find out what they know about one thing or another.

The most different feature of this game is the PPA (Personal Police Assistant). The PPA acts as your main tool for solving all of the different stages ("mandates" in the game) of the investigation. It collects all of the evidence you find in one spot, including the nitty-gritty of all important "declarations" from the suspects. Inside is a comparison tool that combines two pieces of evidence to prove the point. In this way, items are combined for use in solving the mandates and during conversations. I liked the PPA which made me feel like a real detective.

Otherwise, the game installed and ran well. There is really no learning curve, except in using the PPA. Icons are straightforward, and the interface is clean and simple. The Encore US release included a well written and informative manual.

The graphical environment is well-drawn and pleasing to the eye. The motion of the palm trees bent against the raging winds and the movement of the ocean are all very realistic. (Other graphics aren't as well done, as I will explain below.) Some have complained about "pixel hunting". Well, this all depends upon how observant you are. Scanning every section of the scene is important since objects blend very well into their surroundings.

The music during the introduction is great, but not much other music of that quality can be heard while playing the game. Not that I missed it very much. It is nice that it didn't interfere at all with the gameplay. There aren't very many sound effects, but those that I noticed are subdued and appropriate. The most obvious sound effects are of the storm outside (crashing waves, rushing water, howling wind).

Other little things were to my liking including: subtitles, titles for all objects, plenty of game-save slots, "double click" to run and "right click" to skip through conversations. The "profile" lets more than one person play their separate game on the same system with their own game saves and so forth. The choice of "Adventure" or "Race Against Time" offers an replay opportunity, although I only played "Adventure".

Adventure Gamers said that "Translation issues range from somewhat quirky to unforgivably awful." I didn't find that to be the case in my game. In my opinion, the English voice acting sounded perfectly fine in the US release. I thought the actors and actresses voiced their parts very well and sounded well-suited to their individual characters.

The story may be "ordinary", "clichéd", "predictable" and "forgettable", as other reviewers have said, but I liked it. The characters' personalities, motivations and life stories came to light slowly. The identity of the murderer is obscured until the very last. It does have a few surprises as it goes along.

The Bad

As I stated above, the overall look of the island and all of the locations is very good. In contrast, the character modelling is so horrible it makes me wonder what happened during development. I was expecting to find characters that look at least as good as in Paradise, but these are not even close. Although their "head shots" inside the PPA are very nice, what you see while interacting with them is utterly unattractive - jagged edges around their faces, hair and bodies. They had over-exaggerated and awkward movements as well. This made the game seem five years older.

Along those same lines, the designers didn't even try to include lip sync. In fact, the mouths don't move at all. (This didn't bother me much, though, since I tend to read the subtitles while listening.)

What's the point in having a DVD when the whole thing is installed onto your hard drive?

There is some mild "adult" language, so parents be aware.

The Bottom Line

I was utterly disappointed with White Birds' Paradise and didn't have high hopes for Sinking Island at the onset. But when I was asked to play and review this game by Encore, I didn't see any reason not to play it.

What I discovered was a fun game, but one that doesn't outshine any of the others in its class. In fact, it is a notch or two below others we compare to it, especially in the character graphics department. Gamers who love traditional point-and-click games thick with character interaction will like this one if they can overlook its shortcomings. Gameplay lasts about as long as the story itself (3 days), so it is a decent weekend jaunt that may satisfy your detective sweet tooth.