Sacred Ground: Never Disturb the Spirits
Review by Al Giovetti, 02/14/97
Genre: full-motion-video adventure
Price: $25 - $30
Media: Two compact disks. Music:
Producer: Shannon Gilligan and Diana Mack
Developer: Activision
Publisher: Activision
Phone: 310-473-9200
Web site:
Platform: DOS, Windows 95, Macintosh
Requirements: 486 DX2, 66 MHz, Windows 95 or DOS, or Macintosh with 60840 or Power PC, 2X CD ROM, sound card, PCI video, 16-bit color, 8 MB RAM, 20 MB free hard disk space.

History: This is the second in the Santa Fe Mysteries series by Activision. In the prior Santa Fe Mystery there was a race against the clock in the murder of Anna Elk Moon. You played a Santa Fe homicide detective with his native American partner, John Night Sky.

Shannon Gilligan is known for her work on the Virtual Murder games (Who Killed Sam Rupert?, Who Killed Taylor French?, Who Killed Elspeth Haskard?, The Magic Death, and Comic Creator) and SFPD Homicide. Sam Eagan (Quincy) took time out to help create this game from his writer and producer duties on Northern Exposure (Trivia Quiz: How many Northern Exposure notables have also worked in or on computer games? - Ed.).

Company line: A wealthy developer's wife is kidnapped. Begin your investigation and search for clues. When a key suspect is found dead, you'll have only minutes to solve the case before the kidnapping victim meets the same fate.

Plot: This time Randa Tasker, the wife of a wealthy developer, has been kidnapped. Randa runs a leaather good's business and her husband Martin runs a ski resort that borders Indian land. Martin is a wealthy developer who's latest project involves the expansion of a ski resort on Indian land, which has significant opposition from the Indians and naturalists. Martin's daughter from a previous marriage could have killed him since she blames him for her mother's suicide. Martin's physician could have killed him since he is in love with Martin's wife Randa. Every blasted suspect has a motive and you have to guess correctly to solve the mystery.

Like the plot of a bad soap opera (aren't they all bad? - Ed.) or a romance novel, Randa Tasker's life, including her love life, is complicated enough to give a Cray Supercomputer headaches trying to unravel all the intrigue. For those who are fans of the romance and soap opera genre, and who like racy sex scenes with steamy between-the-sheets athletics, be advised, this game has a G rating. So on one hand we are lead to believe that there will be some rather entertaining racy scenes, but in the end we are left with just an empty expectation.

Game play: The game play is similar to the first game. Selecting certain actions uses up precious time. Ask a suspect or informant a question, read one article in the library, pick up one tidbit of gossip in the bar, have one test run in the forensic lab all take 15 minutes each. And again the mystery must be solved against the time clock of five days of eight hours per day. The game play is the best part of the game.

You cannot work overtime or burn the midnight oil, so that you are stuck with the manditory 8 hours per day or 40 hours. Not all 40 hours are allowed for your investigation since investigating the crime scene, being assigned to the case, arresting, obtaining the warrant, and talking with your boss also take time. There are 15 suspects and each one can be interrogated up to three times with about six questions each time. Add up the numbers and it becomes a game of selecting the right questions to ask more than just doing the correct detective work.

Spycraft was a game with teeth and it is the Spycraft game engine that is used to produce the Elk Moon Murder and Sacred Ground sequels. The personal digital assistant (PDA) is the only high-tech electronic device in the game and when compared to Spycraft's toy chest, Sacred Ground comes up a little short. The PDA is a wireless electronic mail box, a telephone where you can get messages from your boss, the chief, a video recorder which automatically records and optionally reviews interviews and case notes, a digital camera that takes pictures of and optionally reviews evidence, and a data base file that examines and organizes data. Using the PDA uses up precious time, so its use must be judicious and planned.

Time dependent plots are not the most enjoyable for many people, who simply do not like to play against the clock. Time dependent plots are a divisive and often unappreciated means of attempting to increase play time by causing the game player to fail over and over again. Failing repeatedly forces the game player to watch the same video scenes repeatedly. All this does is make the game repetitive and annoy the game player. A better way to extend the length of play time is to add more plot to the game.

Graphics: Items that are drawn, are rendered well with a high level of detail and the artistic influence of the south west.

Animation: The full motion video scenes and the ultra-realistic pictures, such as the overhead oblique map of the town of Santa Fe look good enough to be movies or snap shots. The video is smooth running without glitches or jerkiness, a real class act. The full motion video could substitute for a high quality television show or movie. But good FMV does not make a good game.

Voice actors: The actors in the game do an excellent job portraying their roles. Sacred Ground is a wonderful film from a technical point of view.

Music and sound effects: Movie quality music and sound effects. The music is not linked to the action.


Multi-player: This is a single player game.

Future: Sacred Ground was supposed to be produced on DVD, but this plan has lagged behind expectations. Unless Sacred Ground sells well at the stores, there may not be another in this Santa Fe series.


Hints:Check out our walkthrough on the game for more information.

Journalists: The prior game did not garner any great accolades from reviewers and this foray into mystery did no better. Julie suggests the game for mystery lovers.

Activision's Sacred Ground Web Site
Janet Blackburn, Computer Games, number 76, March, 1997, pg. 99, 10%.
Julie Gordon, Computer & Net Player, volume 3, number 10, March, 1997, pg. 65, 70%. Al Giovetti, Elk Moon Murder, The Computer Show,, 09/25/96