Name of the game: Tedium
I had a slight misgiving when I bought the game. This was the same Polish developer Detalion, who had created Schizm and Mysterious Journey II. These games had absolutely stunning graphics, a lot of cerebral puzzles, not-so-attractive characters and mediocre stories (Mysterious Journey II was downright silly). A kind of mixed bag.
But I was a sucker for those strange and beautiful worlds and I wanted to see more. Instead, what I found in Sentinel: Descendants in Time was one big yawn.
You call that a story?
The story is supposedly based on the work by an Australian sci-fi / horror / fantasy writer (same as in the first two games). Well, I am sorry to say but either he is a lousy writer or the developer totally mangled it.
Since I don't usually bother to read the manual beforehand, all I know at the start of the game is that I am going to be Bennie, a tomb robber whose sister Carrie has been abducted by Doba and the gang. They demand some kind of ransom, a treasure from the tomb. A guy named Ramirez is the only one who came back alive to talk about the tomb. There's a brief mention of "Tastan", but this Bennie guy speaks so fast and I can't catch everything he says.
The elevator goes down to the ground level. As I (Bennie) walk across the causeway, a cutscene comes in abruptly. I hear Bennie shouting into dusk excitedly, "Dormoose!" WAIT A MINUTE, am I supposed to know whoever that is? What did I miss?
So I stop the game and read the manual grudgingly. In the game I am Beni, and I'm in the caverns of one of the legendary Tastan tombs. The Tastan civilization, one of the most advanced in the history of the world, vanished more than 500 years ago and all that's left are these tombs guarded by the defense A.I. program called the Dormeuse (now I know the correct spelling). Tomb 35, which is where I am as Beni, has a series of chambers with teleporters that allow the sampling of the domains - different worlds that the tomb's owner once cherished.
Well that's a lot to know from the beginning, and if I am supposed to know that from Beni's blurting in the opening scene that's asking a bit too much.
And what am I supposed to do? What is this game about? Is it about finding some great treasure? Or is it about learning about the Tastan civilization and its demise? Or... what? Halfway through the game, I am still scratching my head: this is a story of what?
As I move from one world to another, I do gain some knowledge: there were a million Tastans, who left only 85 tombs, etc. But that knowledge comes only from the cutscene dialogues. I am simply told. By visiting the different domains, I don't get any new insights into "the most advanced civilization". Stations floating over snow-capped mountains, then a fishing village, then a rustic western town on a prairie - they remind me of Disneyland theme parks, but not an advanced civilization.
You could say the game has a nice twist at the end, but the astute adventure game fans would have figured it out long before the end. Besides it was so minor and anti-climactic it actually made me mad.
Not helped by lousy voice acting and script
A good game tells its story through a variety of means: cutscenes, interactive dialogs, design of characters and environment, visual and sound effects, puzzles that reveal new information or new location, and even battling with monsters. However, this game relies solely on cutscene dialogs for storytelling, and it does a dismal job at it with poor voice acting and crappy script.
Over the years adventure gamers have learned to expect little from voice acting, but this one hits near the bottom. On starting the game, I was immediately put off by the obnoxious speech manner of Beni, who was supposed to be my character in the game. I thought, "I don't want to be this bumbling idiot..."
Both Beni and Dormeuse, whose real name was Tamara (what an exotic name), speak in a loud, almost antagonistic voice which sounds out of place. So loud, in fact, you don't need to turn on the subtitles. They speak the same way no matter what the topic is.
Beni comes across as a stupid, ignorant teenager for whom tomb-robbery is some kind of rite of passage. Oh why, oh why am I playing this game? You later learn that he is over 70 years old, as the average life-span in this disappointing future is over 500 years. If living longer means being stupid longer, I don't want to live that long.
Abrupt and irrelevant bursts from Beni, exclaiming he will win or he will save his sister, or he can't think, or whatever, were actually the only surprise element in this game. They literally startled me.
Dormeuse is portrayed as strong, intelligent, and sexy young woman, but she is not served well by the lousy script either. When she told Beni that she may be asking more from him (or something to that extent), as she lay on her stomach on a papasan bed looking up and showing her cleavage, I had to laugh.
The result of relying on this poor acting and script for storytelling is alienation. The game totally fails to engage. I simply didn't care whatever happened to the civilization or their worlds. I didn't care about Beni or Dormeuse. Soon, I didn't care to look around to see the scenery. I couldn't care less.
Puzzles may be logical but so what?
Puzzles are similar to what you experience in the developer's first 2 games, without much cerebral challenge. They fall into three categories: manipulating mechanical device to get a desired height (rotation, orientation, etc.); color-matching, and sound-matching. Dormeuse ever so often remarks that these domains are just rough sketches of the real things. Well that sounds like one big excuse to me for having created repetitive and unrewarding puzzles.
Take the volcanic islands for example. You are supposed to rotate the bridges to get to a volcano pump. You have about 9 bridges to figure out, and each one has a symbol attached to it. You go up the tower and rotate the bridges by selecting the corresponding symbol from the pyramid-shape device that has 40 or so buttons with different symbols. And you have to repeat this 4 times for 4 sets of bridges. All that effort to get just one crystal.
The sound puzzles may be very irritating to many people, and there are a lot of them. Not only it's often difficult to differentiate the sound, in one domain you can't even hear it unless you turn off the nonsensical background music. So I turned off the music, and I still couldn't hear well because of the incessant bird chirping noise in the background.
I didn't find any puzzles intellectually stimulating. I found them to be too predictable. You will never say "Why didn't I think of that?" in this game. They are no fun either. What joy is there, for example, in opening a door after boring door to hear how it creaks?
What's worse, the puzzles in this game have nothing to do with the story (however flimsy), nothing to do with the lost civilization or the domain in which they exist. They are there, just so you collect a crystal after you finish the puzzles.
Solving one puzzle doesn't even lead to an unexpected event or place. Suppose you have solved the flower-bud puzzle in Tregett and go up the elevator. What now? The next scene looks pretty much the same as the previous one - some kind of mechanical devices against the same background of strange flowers and plants.
Very quickly, solving the puzzles became a tedious chore. All I could think of was just solve them, collect crystals and reach the end. Ahhh the end puzzle. After collecting all these crystals, you would think some momentous secret is about to be revealed. Wrong again.
As you proceed with the game, you get this creeping suspicion that the developer created the game just to show off the graphics, and the story and the puzzles are totally incidental.
The only redeeming feature: beautiful worlds (but not characters)
The domains are indeed beautiful, but I didn't feel much jaw-dropping sense of wonder (like I did in their first game). Instead, I had a strange sense of deja vu. Tregett looks like it's been recycled from their previous game. The snow-covered Sanselard reminded me strongly of one of the worlds in Myst V without the charm (OK, Myst V did come after this game). Eska looks as if it was heavily inspired by the Channelwood Age in the original Myst. The last domain, Argannas, looks like a mock-up for a Hollywood western. The volcanic world of Corabanti has an unusual beauty, but that's about it.
(Speaking of deja vu, the opening cutscene is almost identical to a rooftop scene in the 2004 cult Russian gothic sci-fi horror movie titled "Night Watch", based on the novel by Sergei Lukyanenko. Check it out, although the game based on the movie falls flat.)
Perhaps the developer should have invested a bit more in creating better looking characters. Mercifully you don't get to see Beni, but you see Doba, Carrie, and Dormeuse. They all look very cartoonish, and they cut a sharp contrast to a realistically created environment.
Dormeuse moves awkwardly, and simply looks awful in her tight-fitting red see-through dress, long, purple gloves and black high-heels. (The styles are all wrong, the color combinations are all wrong!) When she blew a kiss at me (Beni) toward the end of the game, I cringed.
Where did my mouse pointer go?
The game uses a first-person perspective with a 360-degree view and freedom of movement. Game control is done either by the mouse or the keyboard. I used the mouse. However, the mouse was very sensitive and moved fast, even after I lowered both speed and sensitivity. I often ended up looking at a close-up of some stone wall.
The default mouse pointer is a miniscule white dot fixed at the center of the screen, which can easily get lost in the scenery (in white snow in Sanselard for example). Hint arrows in golden yellow are often annoying, as they still point to the puzzles already solved.
The game comes with the built-in hint system, but I didn't use it and so I cannot comment.
Realistic scenes come with a price. If you don't have a TnL (Transform and Lighting) capable video card on your computer, the game still runs but may become very unstable. The error message when the game loads gives the impression that either this video card or DirectX 8.1 is what you need, but you actually need both.
I initially installed this game on my 2-year-old notebook which didn't have this card. I managed to finish the second to last domain, but the last one simply refused to load. I ended up installing the game on the brand-new high-end desktop just to finish the game.
One good thing about setup: the game installs completely on the hard disk, and you don't need to have a CD-ROM disc on your machine to play the game.
Verdict: good graphics alone cannot make a good game
To me, this is the worst of the three games from this developer. The puzzles are too predictable and repetitive, the worlds may be beautiful but boring (as I was there just to solve boring puzzles), and the story is, what story? Not once I felt the tingling in my brain. Not once I felt like I was exploring an alien world. And not once I was made to care for Beni, Dormeuse, or the lost civilization.
You are there, just to see these worlds. Nothing you do affects these worlds or affects the outcome of the game. You can't pick up anything (other than crystals), you can't destroy anything and you can't fall off a cliff and die (I really wanted to do that and tried, about halfway through the game). That's hardly an adventure.
Avoid, unless you want to suffer logical but boring puzzles, unless you just want to see what other beautiful worlds this developer created this time (although you can simply check out screenshots on the net instead). Even then, only if you can get the game for free or borrow from your friend. If you are tone-deaf or colorblind, don't bother at all.
Perhaps the developer should think hard and long before they create the next game. Why do they want to create a game? What are their strengths and weaknesses? What do they want the customers (gamers) to experience? What is it that they want to create, to begin with? In other words, I think they should start asking the fundamental questions. Maybe they should ditch the writer and come up with their own story.
My score is 35 out of 100, with the sole point-getter being the graphical description of the worlds which are still beautiful despite the serious flaws in the game.