The Messenger Review
The Messenger is a historical adventure game that spans almost 700 years. The game takes place on the site of the Louvre Museum in Paris, and it provides the player with an incredible insight into various periods of the Louvre and the historical settings that accompanied those periods.
Secret Service Agent Morgan Sinclair has been charged with infiltrating the world famous Louvre Museum in Paris. Her mission is to locate four enchanted artifacts, known as Satan's Keys, and destroy them before they end up in the wrong hands.
To achieve her purpose, Morgan must travel through an ancient time portal hidden deep in the Louvre, which takes her to different eras in the Louvre's past. She must use a combination of high-tech weapons and ancient tools and potions to solve the many challenging and devious puzzles contained within the game.
The graphics in The Messenger are excellent. Perhaps the highlights of the visual aspect of the game are the many 3D cut scenes and dialogues with other characters. The entire game is played in full panorama mode, where every scene can be rotated right and left, up and down.
Movement throughout the game is done through an interface that initially seems difficult to master. (The same interface was also used in Dracula: Resurrection and Dracula: The Last Sanctuary.) Rather than moving a cursor around a stationary scene, you rotate 360-degree panoramas around a stationary cursor. This takes a little getting used to (and can sometimes have dizzying effects) but can eventually be controlled with practice.
The ambient sounds also support the game well. Almost all sounds are positional or location-dependent -- that is, as you approach a sound, it not only gets louder but pans appropriately as you turn. There is not a lot of intrusive background music, but what there is lends a haunting air to the game. Door hinges squeak, fires crackle, crickets chirp, horses' hooves click on cobblestones, and background voices abound -- all contributing to an air of realism, of being part of the setting.
The puzzles in the game are frequently of the "match the object to the target" variety -- e.g., find the right key to unlock a locked cabinet or find the missing handle for a hand-cranked generator. Additionally, there are several "combination" puzzles that involve bringing together 2 or more objects and combining them to form another, as in the case of putting together the parts of a particular mechanism, or mixing several liquids together to form a necessary solution. In addition, since the game involves a high degree of interaction with other characters, many puzzles require bringing certain objects to certain characters in order to proceed.
Unfortunately, there were many times when the interaction of objects required was, to say the least, less than intuitive. Also, in many cases, the objects to be acted upon were not even "enabled" until later in the game. This resulted in a lot of "re-visiting" spots to check to see if an object that had formerly been inactive might now play an integral role in the game.
There is actually more "exploring" in the game than there is puzzle-solving. During each of 4 eras, the player must traverse much of the Louvre as it was during that period, searching through rooms, hunting for necessary objects, talking to dozens of characters, and so on.
One of the problems I encountered while talking with the other characters is that it was often difficult to understand them. I believe this was for several reasons. First, the game was originally developed in French and later translated to English, but the lip synching for all of the characters appears to follow the French. So even though the 3D animation for all of the characters is outstanding, it is actually confusing when trying to listen to what is being said. Secondly, the accents bestowed on the characters are incredibly phony and very difficult to listen to. There were many times when I played and replayed a particular conversation and still could not make out what was said. Unfortunately, these dialogues are very important in many cases, and that slowed down my progress in the game on many occasions.
Another problem I encountered had to do with the fact that it is possible to die in this game if you do the wrong thing at the wrong time. Normally this wasn't a problem. However, there were several spots in the game where it seemed that every single move that I made resulted in instant death. There were no warnings, and no indication of any danger. Since there is no automatic save in these situations, the only recourse is to retreat to a previously-saved game -- and hope that it wasn't too old!
And speaking of saved games, another limitation I found was that The Messenger can only handle a maximum of 8 saved games. And the games cannot be saved with any user-defined title or description. They are merely saved with a "snapshot" of the current scene and a date/time stamp. I found 8 saved games to be entirely too few -- especially when I began saving more frequenly, after "dying" unnecessarily too many times.
One disappointment was the fact that some of the dialogue in the game would not be classified as "suitable for all ages". Some of the conversations, while not actually containing foul language, were unnecessarily suggestive or tasteless.
The Messenger is distributed on 2 CD-ROM discs. However, one major inconvenience is that each time the game is started, it must be started from disc 1 -- even if the player will be restoring a saved game from disc 2. This causes some unnecessary disc swapping when beginning a game. However, after that there is almost no disk swapping at all. Since the game is somewhat linear, and divided into different eras, the only time that disc swapping is required is when moving to a new era.
Finally, the game has a fairly disappointing ending. In fact, it's almost a lack of ending, as a final cut scene takes the player from their last action straight through a series of scenes that, rather than providing a sense of accomplishment, portray confusion and indecision. Cut to the credits.
The Messenger provides a graphically excellent adventure, combined with an incredible amount of historical research into the Louvre. Some of the rather arcane puzzles, the often-confusing conversations, and the overdone tendency to "die" without warning prevent me from giving as high a review as this game could have achieved.
-- Frank Nicodem