The Egyptian Prophecy Review
The Egyptian Prophecy is another in a long line of adventure games focusing on the culture, the history, the mythology, and the mystique of ancient Egypt. The story takes place during the reign of Ramses II. Ramses has requested a longer life from Amun-Re, the Sun god, who will grant his wish on the condition that Ramses raise a massive obelisk in honor of Amun-Re. However, trouble is brewing, as a series of sinister incidents has occurred, threatening the project. Unless they are overcome quickly, Ramses II will die. Enter Maya, a young priestess, who is given the task of unearthing the cause of the various problems, and resolving them so that erecting of the giant obelisk can be completed within the time limit designated by Amun-Re.
Like many other recent adventure games, TEP requires a good chunk of hard disk space. Two installation options are offered: the "minimal" install requires 1.3GB (and the use of one of the CD-ROMs during play), while the "full" install requires 1.9GB, but can be played entirely from the hard disk.
TEP is developed by Kheops Studio, a French development team who released Crystal Key 2: The Far Realm only days before TEP. The similarity between the two games, however, is virtually non-existent. Having just finished playing CK2, I must admit that my expectations for TEP were not very high. So I was pleasantly surprised with what I found.
As I began playing TEP, I was impressed with the ease and intuitiveness of the interface. Most gameplay is done though a first-person interface (playing as Maya), although all videos are third-person. All movement is through a very simple point-and-click interface, with changes in the cursor indicating directions of movement. Scene changes occur in a "transition" mode (i.e., one scene fades out as the next fades in), with 360-degree panning at all locations. The only problem I had with the interface itself is that the right mouse button is designed to do different things in different situations. While that is not unusual, there are some places where the right mouse is needed to perform two separate functions, one after the other, making it confusing. For example, the inventory is brought up (and put away) using a right-click. Dialogue with other characters can be terminated using a right-click. But there are places where dialogue will be taking place, and Maya needs to access her inventory. Doing so at the wrong time can terminate the conversation -- losing valuable (and, in one particular instance, critical) information.
Maya's inventory consists of two basic groups of items -- simple objects she collects during her explorations, and magic spells she is given along the way (usually by one of the Egyptian gods, or a high priest). Most items are used in very intuitive ways, based on what they are. There are few -- if any -- surprises, in terms of how inventory objects are used.
I found gameplay to be quite enjoyable, with very little occasion for sitting in total bewilderment, wondering "What do I do next?" In fact, there were times, as I was exploring, that I would be moving Maya along and hear her voice say something like "This stick might be useful later", or "I must talk with so-and-so". While some more inveterate adventurers might scorn that kind of "assistance", it not only made playing TEP more enjoyable, but I could see the potential for a much wider range of adventurers -- young or old, amateur or veteran.
The artists -- both graphical and musical -- did an outstanding job with TEP. The scenes, while often fairly simple, are beautifully rendered, with attention given to the most minute detail. Movements are subtle; for example, palm trees wave in the wind, but almost imperceptibly. And nothing is more impressive, artistically, than the characters themselves. Facial features, textures and shading, and life-like animation are all done extremely well. Even background animations -- a bird guarding its nest, donkeys pawing uneasily on their tethers, temple artisans carving huge stone columns -- fit perfectly into the environment. Nothing is done gratuitously -- instead, it is all crafted in such a way as to portray a sense of realism.
And that realism is extended even further by the musical accompaniment. TEP has a wonderful sound track, particularly at points of high energy, intense struggle, or important developments. I found myself responding subconsciously to the tension created by the score. Sound bytes range from the very ordinary (footsteps, running water) to the whimsical (workers whistling idly as they go about their tasks). I found that this added to my own emotional involvement with the story. And the story, too, is well-written. While there is a certain amount of standard adventure-gaming "make-work" (i.e., before Maya can complete Task A, she needs to help another character accomplish Task B, so they will give her a necessary object, or send her to dialogue with another character), the primary story is developed quite well, and based on a tremendous amount of accurate Egyptian history and mythology. And even when I felt that I had a grasp of the total story, there were a couple of "curves" thrown in that really caught me off guard, and added new twists to the story. All of the elements of good story-telling are here: conflict, character development, local "color", a clearly-defined goal, and even unanticipated hurdles to achieving that goal.
In addition to being a good adventure game, TEP can truly be classified as an "edutainment" title, as well. Included in the game is a fairly good encyclopedia of Egyptian history, culture, magic, and -- most importantly -- the Egyptian gods and goddesses. Understanding these can be instrumental to the successful solving of many of the puzzles in the game.
The majority of the puzzles are inventory puzzles, of the "find/bring the correct object to the correct person/location" type. Some require combining multiple objects in the correct manner. Most are generally not too difficult. There are also a few logic puzzles (my personal preference). And they tended to be a bit more challenging. In fact, the end game consists of a logic puzzle so incredibly taxing that it almost seemed out of place alongside the other puzzles in the game. (Thankfully, my wife solved it for me -- or I might still be playing!)
One thing that I should note is that Maya can die in the game -- in several places. Most of the time, it is due to being in a timed sequence, and not completing a certain task within the time allotted. Not being a fan of "timed" puzzles in the first place, this was initially mildly annoying to me. However, the annoyance was almost completely offset by the fact that, when this happens, the game restarts at the point right before the infraction, giving the player an opportunity to "try again". And in some cases, it may (and will) be necessary to try again and again and again. Rarely, however, is this due to insufficient time to complete the task. More often than not, it is a result of not quite knowing, at first, what is needed to prevent Maya's demise, and having to do some exploring and/or experimenting during the "timed" period.
In addition to the "restart after dying" capability, I also liked the fact that TEP automatically saves the current game upon exiting. In this manner, I had only to choose "Resume Game" the next time I played, and I would be right back where I left off. Of course, games can also be saved manually. Saved games are stored in individual files, allowing an unlimited number of saves. Each is saved with a description of the location, a date/time stamp, and a thumbnail of the current scene, making it simple to locate and restore any saved game. One additional feature that TEP provides is the ability to play in one of five different "player slots" -- each with its own set of saved games, inventory items, and progress.
In summary, I found TEP to be far more enjoyable than I had anticipated going into the game. While somewhat on the short side (perhaps 10-15 hours of gameplay), the story line is enchanting, the graphics and animations are done quite well, and the sound track supports the gameplay throughout. With the exception of a couple of logic puzzles, few players should be "stumped" by the game. And those couple of puzzles should brighten the day of veteran puzzle-solvers. Finally, I learned a lot about Egyptian history, culture, and mythology; and I found that the information was woven well into the game and its story line. I believe that the game will appeal to a broad range of adventurers.
-- Frank D. Nicodem, Jr.