Riddle of the Sphinx Review

From the very outset, it is clear that Riddle of the Sphinx is not just "another adventure game" but is truly in a class with some of the most respected adventure games. Deploying stunning graphics, a solid story line, incredibly non-linear gameplay, and fascinating puzzles, ROTS (as even its developers refer to it) is a "Rivenesque" game that takes place in the present but deals heavily with the past.

Celebrated archeologist Sir Gil Blythe Geoffreys has uncovered a secret chamber within the Sphinx of Egypt. However, in so doing, he has unleashed a curse thousands of years old, which could mean certain death for Gil, unless he can solve the Riddle of the Sphinx. He has enlisted you, his friend, to help him in this endeavor.

Beginning with some notes left behind by Gil, you must follow a trail that spans tens of thousands of years and includes the sites of the Sphinx and the Great Pyramid of Cheops. Using all your wits and cunning -- and a bit of luck, as well -- you must solve countless puzzles, decipher scrolls of various kinds, and collect valuable clues that will help solve the Riddle of the Sphinx, entombed for centuries by ancient Egyptians.

The first thing one notices when playing ROTS are the superb graphics. The 3-D rendered scenes are so stunning that it is easy to get distracted from the gameplay itself and simply traverse the game for the sake of the visual pleasure.

All animation is done with QuickTime, and with few exceptions, there are no tedious cut scenes. In fact, it is quite amazing to play this game and realize how much has been stored on 3 CD-ROMs. Movement from scene to scene is done using "transitions" between still shots, although 360-degree panning is available at frequent intervals throughout the game. To a great extent, panning and scene transitions are heavily dependent on CPU speed, so the designers have made these factors totally customizable by the user, through a "Preferences" screen.

The background music is done quite well and provides an added ambiance to the gameplay. Interestingly enough, the game has been designed and developed almost exclusively by a husband-and-wife team, who were responsible for the majority of the graphics design, the animations, the sound, the production, and virtually every other facet of the creation of ROTS.

The ROTS user interface is quite intuitive. Even though a multi-page manual accompanies the 3 CD-ROMs that make up the game, it is quite easy to play without referring to the manual. Navigation is done entirely with the mouse, inventory items are picked up and used in a traditional manner, and all other interaction is designed for simplicity. Although there are an incredible number of scenes to traverse in the course of the game, "warps" provide the ability to move quickly from one place to another, once the locations have been visited.

Despite the name of the game, ROTS takes place almost entirely within the Great Pyramid of Cheops. The game includes a tremendous mixture of ancient and modern information, involving everything from astronomy to literature to electronics to physics.

The puzzles contained within the game are all readily solvable, although not necessarily simple. There are enough puzzles to hold the player's interest, and all fit well within the context of the game. None are gratuitous, nor do they interrupt the flow of the game. And once solved, there are none that leave the users scratching their heads, wondering what that puzzle was all about. The puzzles are typically "local" -- that is, with minor exceptions, everything needed to solve most puzzles will be found in the immediate area and not require extensive navigation through the game. (There are, of course, some puzzles on a grander scheme -- such as the ultimate riddle of the Sphinx itself -- which require traversing much more of the game before a solution is possible.) And at one point in the game, there is one of the best mazes I've ever played -- a circular maze that is almost impossible to map, and which requires persistence, intuition, and a little bit of luck to navigate.

The exploring and puzzle-solving in ROTS are primarily user driven. The developers didn't add unnecessary cut scenes or poorly acted dialogue to try to enhance the game. This means there are no characters to talk to or interact with, but it also means that gameplay moves along at exactly the pace the user chooses.

While ROTS is distributed on 3 CD-ROMs, the installation process allows the user to move virtually all required files from Disc 1 to the user's hard drive. The result is that the entire game can then be played using only Discs 2 and 3, reducing disc swapping to an absolute minimum.

The words that most come to mind when thinking about ROTS are "anticipation" and "satisfaction". Anticipation, in that every time I went back to the game to continue playing, I knew that there would be something new, and totally enjoyable, to hold my interest; and satisfaction, because in every case, my anticipation was met. At no time did I feel disappointed in the gameplay, nor did I feel that I would have changed anything, had I the opportunity.

Another nice "perk" to the user who has enjoyed playing ROTS can be found in the end game, where a final cut scene hints strongly at a sequel. And I, for one, will be anxiously awaiting any such sequel. All in all, this is easily one of the best adventure games I have ever played.

-- Frank Nicodem