Sentinel: Descendants in Time Review

Sentinel: Descendants in Time is another in a series of offerings from Detalion, and follows closely on the heels of -- and in the style of -- its predecessors, Reah, Schizm: Mysterious Journey and Mysterious Journey II. Having thoroughly enjoyed the previous games, I approached Sentinel with eager anticipation -- nor was I to be disappointed.

As with its predecessors, Sentinel takes place in the indeterminate future. Many changes have taken place on the planet, and civilizations have come and gone. One of the last -- the Tastan civilization -- left, as their legacy, a series of caverns, believed by some to hold dark secrets, and by others, treasure. Regardless, there are those who seek to explore the caverns simply for the thrill. One of those is Beni, who quickly has his agenda set for him when his sister is abducted, and held for ransom. Beni's instructions are to explore deeply into Tomb 35 -- one of the least explored of the caverns -- and bring back a relic for his sister's captors.

Throughout your explorations -- playing as Beni -- you continue to encounter a "sentinel", apparently one of the guards posted over the tomb. But this sentinel isn't flesh and blood -- instead, she is an advanced holographic image whose artificial intelligence allows her to be, at the same time, a help and companion to Beni, as well as a potential threat. As you play the game, you uncover more and more of the story of the ancient Tastan civilization -- and about yourself, as well.

For those who have played any of the earlier games by Detalion, you will not be disappointed to learn that Sentinel is created in the same style -- rich, lush graphics, a reasonably complete story, and puzzles that, -- for the most part, lean towards the analytic. (More on the puzzles in a moment.)

The game, while using some of the latest software technology, still can be played on most reasonably-configured systems. (See the sidebar for hardware and software requirements.) Installation was simple, as the only option is the location of the installation files. The installation process copies all files from the 2 CD-ROMs to the hard disk, making the game completely playable without the discs. Even then, it only requires just a bit over 1GB of disk space (although the game save files can get fairly large -- by the time I finished the game, I had managed to accumulate over 400MB of game save files).

Sentinel opens with an excellent "fly-through" of Tomb 35, which will be the focal point for the entire game. Immediately after that is a cut-scene showing the abduction of Beni's sister, and the challenge to him regarding her release. There is little time lost "getting into" the game -- you're immediately "there".

Movement through the many environments that Beni encounters is entirely seamless. At virtually an infinite number of points, you can pause and have full 360-degree panorama capabilities. All movement is accomplished through a combination of keyboard keys (using the familiar "W-A-S-D" keys for lateral movement) and the mouse (for panning within a scene, or interacting with objects and locations). If the two-handed approach becomes too cumbersome, there is also a "short-cut" for movement, using the right mouse button. However, this is limited only to forward movement. I found, though, that I could accomplish about 90% of what I needed using only the mouse.

While traversing Tomb 35, the atmosphere is fairly dark and foreboding -- as would be expected. However, in the genre of the Myst-like games, Beni's task can only be accomplished by traveling to other "worlds", each of which is significantly different than the others. One world is totally snow-bound; another is constructed along the lines of a wild Western ghost town; still another is completely underwater. There are 7 worlds in all that Beni must visit on his quest. And each one brings him closer to understanding his "sentinel"-- and himself.

Each of the worlds is created with extensively detailed scenery. Bright colors predominate, and the flora, fauna, and intricate machinery and other man-made structures are crafted by some obviously creative minds.

But what I loved most was the puzzles. As anyone knows, who has read my game reviews, I am an analytic. I much prefer the mind-challenging puzzles over more intuitive, or inventory-based puzzles. And speaking of inventory -- there really is none. In the entire game, Beni really only carries one thing, and it's not technically in an inventory. (Saying anything more would spoil an important part of the game.) Everything he does -- every puzzle he solves -- involves solving something "in situ". There is a wondrous multitude of machines, lights, ropes, buttons, gears, and so on -- all of which challenge the player to a) figure out what the goal of the puzzle is, b) figure out how to make use of whatever makes up the various parts of the puzzle, and c) solve the puzzle. For a few of the puzzles, the first two are more obvious -- although that does not mean that makes the third (solving the puzzle) any easier! And in many cases, the first two are the more difficult to decipher.

Interestingly, I found several puzzles that reminded me quite closely of some of my favorite puzzles from other games. And only after thinking carefully about where I'd seen those kinds of puzzles before, did I realize that it was in previous Detalion games, such as Schizm, or Mysterious Journey II. Yet what was so ingenius is that there is not an overt similarity. It's only after one begins to cipher through the process of solving the puzzle, that the flow of logic becomes familiar. The developers at Detalion have done an outstanding job once again of crafting some of the most challenging puzzles, yet designed them in such a way so that none of them are "show-stoppers", but can always be solved, eventually. (And after solving even the most difficult ones, my response was typically "Oh, for goodness sake! That makes all the sense in the world! The answer was staring me in the face.")

Occasionally, the first two steps of a puzzle are solved (i.e., the goal, and the items to use), and even the final step is understood... yet completing that final step entails a tedious process of doing something over and over, simply because of the puzzle design and/or layout. Some may find this tiring ("Hey, I already know how to solve this; why do I have to go through all this just to prove it!"), although I was never really bothered by it. (As a suggestion, when involved with a puzzle that requires a lot of repetetive, back-and-forth work, take time to look around and enjoy the detailed scenery. It's quite a treat.)

I should mention that there were a couple of audio puzzles in Sentinel -- that is, puzzles whose solutions require that the player be able to -- hear and remember -- certain sounds. Often, these sounds were not -- clearly distinguishable, and even mixed with other background sounds that lent confusion to the sound in question, thus artificially making the puzzle more difficult. (At times, I even put on headphones, hoping that would help. It didn't.) Yet even if sound-based puzzles are not your forte, never fear...

For those who feel that the puzzles might be too challenging, or who are unable to decipher the sound puzzles, Detalion has included yet another feature that increases the range of audience for the game -- built-in hints. While I only recommend the hints for someone who is truly in a bind (as solving the puzzles with no help at all is really a "rush"), the player can choose to enable this option at any point during game play. When hints are turned on, and the cursor comes across any of the puzzles, a few simple lines of text are inserted onto the screen, giving a gentle hint as to the goal of the puzzle (i.e., the first of the three puzzle-solving steps mentioned above). However, a word of caution: at times, the hints can provide too much information, too quickly -- resulting in a feeling of "Oh, no -- I didn't want to know that much yet! That just gave it away." This is why I suggest that they be used sparingly, and only when the player is unable to continue.

The game begins in a very non-linear mode. Beni has several choices he can make, several worlds he can visit. And when he does, he can move back and forth between those worlds and Tomb 35, even before all of the puzzles in those worlds have been solved. However, as the game progresses, the linearity increases, until by about the last quarter of the game, Beni must visit worlds in a specific order, and solve the last few puzzles in a fairly pre-determined order, to finish the game. That did not detract from my enjoyment of the game, however, despite the fact that I prefer the most non-linear exploration and navigation possible. It was mostly due to the story development, and all made perfect sense, when taken in that light.

Another option in the game is the inclusion of subtitles, although I never turned them on, and never felt the need to. I have played many games where the dialogue was so poor that subtitles were a requirement. Not so in Sentinel. For the majority of the game, there is really only one character with whom Beni can interact -- the "sentinel". And all of their conversation is quite clear and distinct. The same can be said of the many times when Beni makes comments to himself -- comments that contribute either to the story, or to a puzzle currently being worked on.

There is a lot of "game" to Sentinel. The very fact of having to explore eight different worlds, with puzzles in every one, illustrates how the level to which the developers went in designing the game.. I was a bit disapointed, though, in the game ending. After building the story, layer upon layer, the ending was rather abrupt, and somewhat confusing. I never really understood exactly what happened in the final cut-scene of the game.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed Sentinel. The game should easily provide 20 hours of game play (when not using the built-in hints), and perhaps more -- depending on the player's aptitude for the more analytic puzzles. For anyone who has played -- and enjoyed -- any of the earlier Detalion games, I highly recommend Sentinel, and believe you will enjoy it. For those who have not, playing the previous games is not a pre-requisite. Sentinel is not a "sequel", in the sense that there is no relation to any of the earlier games. But if you enjoy a good adventure game, with fantastic graphics and wonderfully-crafted, mind-bending puzzles, you should enjoy Sentinel.

-- Frank D. Nicodem, Jr.