The Legend of the Prophet and the Assassin Review
When DreamCatcher's release of this game arrived in my mailbox, I was surprised and delighted to find not one game but two inside. Part 1 is what Arxel Tribe released in October 2000 under the original name The Legend of the Prophet and the Assassin, and what DreamCatcher designated as The Prophet's Trail. For Part 2, originally released in 2001, Arxel and DreamCatcher agree on The Secrets of Alamut as the name.
Reviewing two games in one swipe doesn't seem quite fair to either, even if they are boxed together. This review, therefore, concentrates on Part 1 and will be followed by a separate review of Part 2.
As the game begins, you are introduced to the main character galloping on his white horse across the desert sands at full speed. Dressed in the traditional garb of the Crusades, his pale blue eyes show nothing but ruthlessness as the seemingly innocent fall under the wrath of his sword. As you watch the images of savagery and murder, you become aware that his battles have taken many years and that he is to be respected and feared.
At first glance, you would think he is Lawrence of Arabia as the music takes on a definite Arabian tone. Rather, you discover that Ay-Sayf, "the Scimitar," the name by which he is known, was born Tancrede de Nerac, the son of a French knight, thus explaining his blonde hair and European good looks. As a Crusader and a former Knight Templar, his associations eventually lead him to the path of crime and robbery as he and other mercenaries terrorized desert populations. But the years of battle have taken their toll, you learn, and he seeks peace and redemption for his troubled heart. Thus he finds himself at the gates of Jebus, a glorious city of love and equality, where he hopes to meet the prophet, Simon de Lancrois, and fill the emptiness that has consumed his soul.
You play through the eyes of Ay-Sayf the assassin in his search for Simon the prophet. He discovers that Jebus is not the beautiful, peaceful city he had envisioned. When he learns that Simon lied to the inhabitants, he becomes angry and spiteful, determined to seek vengeance and right the wrongs that have been done. His search for Simon leads him, and you, to exotic locales including the city of Jerusalem, a travelling desert caravan, an oasis, and the palace of a ruler. Using his sharp intelligence and finely tuned senses, Ay-Sayf must unravel mysteries shroud in superstition and legend. Many of the people he meets are reluctant to reveal what they know without a favor in return. Situation- and object-oriented puzzles must be solved along the way, some of which are hazardous and can result in his death.
The Legend of the Prophet and the Assassin is a true graphic adventure game. There are battles to be fought, but this is done through video clips, once the correct weapon has been selected.
I really like the basics of the interface, which is straightforward and easy to learn from the beginning. All movement is handled in the traditional point-and-click manner. The cursor changes when you encounter a character or an object for interaction. Right-clicking accesses the inventory, where items can be viewed, combined, and selected for use. A right-click of your mouse also gives you access to the main menu where games can be saved and loaded. There are limitless save game slots, lots of room to type in a description, as well as a picture of that location. If you're not sure what you just picked up, handy subtitles appear underneath the item once it resides in your inventory. The preferences menu allows you to adjust the volume and turn conversation subtitles on or off, a handy feature.
The environment is presented in 3D, meaning that you are allowed to look around freely in all directions. This gives you the feeling of actually "being there." I never felt my movement within an area restricted and never got dizzy, as I have in some other games. The graphics are very nicely rendered and realistic. The people Ay-Sayf meets are all unique and have distinct characteristics. Their lips move well with their speech, for the most part (some are better than others). Objects blend in so well with the background that it is hard to see at first, but this adds to the realism of the scene. I did become frustrated once or twice because I couldn't find something, but this usually occurred because I had not examined my surroundings thoroughly. I really didn't expect things to jump out and grab me -- that would be too easy. For the most part, you do not need to "pixel-hunt" but rather be more observant.
I enjoyed the music and was pleased that it did not overwhelm or outdo the voices. The soundtrack added to the overall atmosphere and blended well into the background. During the video cut-scenes, the music was orchestrated to fit the action, building in intensity and volume to add just the right excitement as I watched. The sound effects are good, too. Approaching a lit torch, for instance, you can hear the crackling of the fire. The characters' voices are well done, and they sound as if they were all spoken by different people, although I'm sure the actors were given several characters to portray. Worth mentioning is the rich, soft-spoken voice of the main character, Ay-Sayf. Not only is he a pleasure to look at, his speech embodies the "calm, cool, and collected" manner of a man in authority. The only criticism I have is that Ay-Sayf's words were a bit monotone and could have used a bit more inflection for realism.
The game is very linear in nature. You are locked into one area and cannot travel to another without solving all of the puzzles, most of the time without a clue as to what you are expected to do. Many times I felt absolutely claustrophobic, confined in a small area with nowhere to go and having exhausted all the conversations with the few characters I had met. Even with sub-titles on, the dialog text on-screen came and went far too fast for me to take notes. Therefore, many of the valuable dialog clues were lost to me because they could not be repeated. Allowing the player to ask the same questions again would have been a nice addition.
Solving the puzzles sometimes meant simply second-guessing the writers, and mind-reading is not my strong suit. Terminology was meant to embody 13th-century speech and incorporated some archaic words no longer used in today's English. I found myself constantly consulting my Webster's Dictionary to help me understand what I had just heard and read. Even then I had to dissect the meaning to fit the puzzle I was working on. Once I figured out what they were talking about, it became a little easier but I would have liked some reading material (a book, a manuscript, anything!) to add substance to what I was trying to do.
Adventurers will be pleased to know that there are no mazes and no sliding puzzles in LOPA. There are no sound or color puzzles either. The majority of your time is spent finding objects and figuring out "what to use where," intermingled with "who to talk to when" and "about what." There are a couple of puzzles that require you to assemble pieces in their proper order, and a sprinkling of puzzles involving simple elementary mathematics. Overall, the puzzles themselves could be considered easy, once you figure out what is expected of you.
Some gamers may be annoyed by a few timed sequences within the game. There are times when Ay-Sayf is surprised by a foe and must select his weapon from inventory and then click it in the proper spot very quickly. Since the success rate for the first attempt is nil, it takes several restores even if you know what weapon to use. Since item pre-selection is not possible, it becomes tiresome having to right-click (open inventory), left-click (select item), aim, and left-click again all within the short time you are given.
As I mentioned, I received two games from DreamCatcher. Each game is on 2 CDs. As separate games, they must be installed separately from each other. The installation of Part 1 did not go as smoothly as it could have, the routine hanging up in the middle of the procedure. This was solved by disabling my CD drive's auto-play and running setup.exe manually.
I had a few hang-ups during gameplay, too, sometimes causing me to reboot my system entirely. I fixed this problem by reducing my system's video acceleration as well as moving more slowly through some of the scenes. Also, each time I restored a saved game, my movement cursor got "stuck." Right-clicking once and then returning to the main screen freed up my movement again. This became a nuisance after many restores. These problems may not occur for other players who have newer video cards than I have on my aging Pentium II 400 system.
Part 1 ends rather abruptly leaving you thirsty for more, the words "To be continued ..." splashed on the screen. I am happy I do not need to go shopping in search of Part 2, The Secrets of Alamut. Thank you DreamCatcher! I can see why they are packaged together now.
-- Jeanne Muse