by Al Giovetti
By Al Giovetti
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B Sokal Sinking Island A Psychological Thriller A Review by Al Giovetti
Summary * History * Company Line * Game Play * Plot * Graphics * Animation * Voice Actors * Music Score * Sound Effects * Utilities * Multi-player Features * Cheats, Hints, and Walkthrough * Journalists * References * Letters
Randy Sluginski told me that, “B. Sokal is the most respected game developer of this era, his Syberia games are considered among the two best games ever made and he has also developed Amerzone, Paradise and upcoming Nikopol. Benoit Sokal was born in Brussels in 1954. Benoit studied under Claude Renard at the Ecole Superieure des Art Saint Luc in Brussels, along with other contemporary Belgian comic artists.
In 1981, Benoit created the popular Inspector Canardo series for the comic publishing house A Suivre. Canardo featured a depressed anthropomorphic duck detective who smoked, drank alcohol, and spent his time with scantily clad women seducers. Sokal went on to create two more popular realistic comic series for A Suivre. In 1990, Sokol and renouned comic artist François Rivière created the police fiction 'Silence, on Tue!' at the publishing house Nathan.
In 1999, Benoit turned his attention to computer adventure games and released the first title Amerzone which was partially based upon the Canardo stories, especially the fifth series. Since that time Benoit has released Syberia (2002), Syberia II (2004), Paradise (2006), Sinking Island (2007), Nikopol (2008), Aquarica (2008), and the Last King of Africa (2008). The latter three titles will be released in America in due time starting with Nikopol which is promised within the next few months.
White Birds Productions (www.whitebirdsproductions.com) is the game production company started by Sokal. More information can be found at the official French language site for Benoit Sokal (www.benoitsoikal.com). There is a Benoit Sokal biography on Lambiek Comiclopedia (http://lambiek.net/artists/s/sokal_b.htm).
Sokal, his comics and his games have won many awards. Many people look forward with anticipation to the release of his games and comics. Sokol has produced eight games in nine years, keeping his fans busy working them out.
Sinking Island was originally released in France by Micro Application on October 4, 2007. In 2008, The game was released in the United States by Microids which as of March 2006 is a division of Ubisoft.
In summary, I found the game to be excellent. I enjoyed the game immensely. The game has a few flaws but what in life does not have flaws? I give the game a 9 out of 10 overall score. I look forward to seeing the next game to be released, Nikopol, in the next few months. Thank you Benoit Sokal, for a wonderful adventure game experience. I highly recommend this game to those who enjoy adventure games.
The game is built around an inventory system and a PPA (personal police assistant) found in the upper right hand corner of the screen. The PPA contains four game devices that helps Jack Norm solve the crime: a character or suspect database, clue database, a comparison device, and the progression screens. The PPA is essential to the investigation and makes it virtually impossible to find anyone else but the real killer.
The suspect database compiles information about the suspects as you find more and more about them. One of the most useful but illogical features of the suspect database is the current location of the suspect. The area of the game is very large and takes a while to get to know the lay of the land since there is no map in the game.
The clue database is where Jack compiles physical evidence, called material clues in the game, pictures Jack takes of evidence, documents located and confiscated, and testimony from the suspects and witnesses, which the game calls declarations.
Within the clue database is an area where mandates are solved. Mandates are questions that come up during the game. Examples of the thirteen mandates in the game are “Was Walter’s death accidental?’ and “What was the cause of Walter’s death?” Mandates are selected from the jigsaw puzzle progression screen of the PPA and they then appear in the clues database to be solved with the appropriate clues.
Each jigsaw puzzle piece in the progression screen represents a different mandate to solve. Selecting the appropriate mandate puzzle piece in the progression screen causes the selected mandate to appear in the clues database mandate solution screen. It would have been easier and less confusing to allow the game players to select mandates from within the clues database.
In the lower right hand corner of the clue database there is a compare icon. Clicking on the compare icon allows Jack to compare fingerprints, footprints, and other evidence to pictures taken from suspects or evidence to determine if they are the same. For example, a fingerprint on a murder weapon might mean that the person used that weapon to kill the victim Walter Jones. A part of a piece of broken jewelry or a ripped piece of fabric can place a suspect at the location of a crime when compared to the other piece of the item found at the suspect’s office, hotel room, or home.
Using the compare feature of the clues database section of the PPA is essential to solving the crime. Once compared a separate piece of evidence showing the matched evidence (that the two pieces of evidence match) is required in the mandate solution area of the clues database. Is that confusing enough? I guess you have to play the game to get the idea.
The whole PPA experience is very satisfying and enjoyable. Getting a match with two pieces of evidence and solving mandates can be most enjoyable to someone like me who has an obsessive compulsive nature. Obsessive compulsive people like to solve mysteries and organize evidence. Please watch the television series Monk for more information on this subject.
You can play the game in traditional adventure mode or against the clock in the “race against time” mode. In the race against time mode time passes quickly and the suspects get annoyed and tension is rising as time progresses. I was not able to see any perceptible differences between the two modes.
The discussions with suspects can go on for a very long time if you ask them all the questions that you can ask them. Questions are divided into asking the suspects to comment on a piece of evidence you have found, on a mandate that is currently being solved, or upon another suspect or the victim. Stories about the evidence and people change over time, since many of the suspects are lying or hiding something.
Like most adventure games, Jack must go everywhere, pick up everything that is not nailed down, solve a few physical puzzles, and talk to all the suspects multiple times about everything new that pops up. People are scattered all over the island at first but as the story progresses they tend to be easier to get to since access to parts of the game become more and more limited with time. Making people and items easier to get to by limiting the far ranging areas in the game is actually a good thing since it saves Jack a lot of walking.
The game installed and played clean and fast on Vista and played without glitches or bugs. There was no escape out of introductory animations which after you have seen them one time, seem just as annoying as walking everywhere. You can run, as in most other adventure games, and save some time by double clicking on your destination within each adventure screen.
Police work can be really boring. Jack has to say the same things over and over again and in the same way to ten different people. Luckily the answers from those ten people are vastly different and entertaining.
From time to time in the middle of the investigation Jack becomes hungry or tired or gets a phone call from his girlfriend and he drops everything and ends up in his room talking to his girlfriend or going to bed or we find Jack munching on a loaf or bread in the dining room. After Jack is abducted without the consent of the game player, Jack must find his way back to the suspect to continue the interrogation.
These interruptions seem to be scripted into the plot, and do not seem to serve any purpose other than to annoy the game player. Thankfully Jack is not annoyed. Why is it necessary to interject artificial reality into a game, when this reality is a distraction and an annoyance rather than furthering the plot of the game? On one level, these distractions work to increase the mounting tension as the game progresses to a conclusion.
There is no map in the game, and very little has been done to make getting around any easier. Many adventure games have a map that makes it easy to get around the game. Walking all the way across the island and up and down a 22 story tower which requires an elevator change and later in the game requires that Jack use the stairs since an elevator goes out becomes an annoying nuisance that a travel map could of avoided.
A travel map allows Jack to bring up a map and select where he wants to go on the map. The map magically transfers Jack from his present location to where Jack needs to go. This “magic map” does not really work like magic, it simply spares the game player the time wasting, annoying and boring task of walking everywhere. After walking someplace once or twice, I find walking there again unnecessary in a computer game.
The plot: A billionaire, Walter Jones, falls to his death from a cliff near his art deco tower on a mysterious storm cursed island. Jack Norm, a police detective is called in to investigate the mysterious death. There are ten people on the island at the time of Walter’s death who could have a motive to kill him. In classic detective story fiction fashion, you play Jack Norm who takes pictures, finger prints, collects clues and evidence, and eventually finds the truth and the killer and brings him to justice.
The game is fashioned around the immense and beautiful hotel tower, a series of violent tropical storms which never seem to stop during the three days of the investigation into the murder, and the family life of Walter Jones and his three grandchildren. Walter has invited the grandchildren to his tower on the pretense of re-inheriting them after dis-inheriting them over some family intrigue.
In point of fact the older Walter was courting a 20 year old island girl who is implicated in the murder. Walter possibly never intended to reinstate his grandchildren into the will. As time goes on the people on the island grow tenser as the tower itself is disintegrating due to the constant pounding of the tropical storms.
The plot seems open ended but in many ways it is linear. Certain evidence can only be taken on certain days during the three day period of investigation. If you miss the evidence there is no way to solve the crime.
The artwork, which we can assume Benoit Sokal had a hand in, is very beautiful. It is extremely enjoyable to see all the beautiful screens that make up the game. Some adventure games are rather limited in the number of screens. Sinking Island has a lot of area to explore in only three short days.
The game is loaded with moody landscapes, beautiful and heavily detailed architecture, well drawn and animated characters that have expressions, at least frown and smile.
When interrogating suspects, the suspects are rather animated with certain hand movements and expressions that over time begin to be repetitious. The characters have full voice acting with optional subtitles for those who are hearing impaired or simply find it helpful to see the text as well as hear the voice actors for clarity.
The voice acting in the English localized version was superb in my view. The diction and enunciation made the actors easy to understand. The tonal quality of the voices made them pleasant to listen to. Most of the story is told through the comments of the ten suspects that Jack interrogates.
The voice actor who portrayed Jack and the dialog written for Jack gives Jack a very easygoing manner. In many mysteries and detective stories, I find the detectives annoying and overbearing. I really liked Jack and enjoyed his even handed search for the truth without adding too much melodrama to the investigation. I got the impression that Jack was thorough and meticulous without any hint of preconception in his investigation. The words fair and likeable come to mind when I think of Jack.
The game also has whistling winds, crashing lightning bolts and flashes of light, and the building creaks and seems to move under Jack’s feet. The mood of the game is set by these effects. The mood was sufficient to make me feel cold and a little uneasy.
All the normal ultilities such as save, restore, pause, etc.
There are no multiplayer features.
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