Secret Files: Tunguska

Posted by Mary-Frances Dorward.
First posted on 15 April 2007. Last updated on 04 October 2012.
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Secret Files: Tunguska
Nina examines the chaos left behind in the office after her father vanishes.
Secret Files: Tunguska
Nina arrives at the museum in Berlin.
Secret Files: Tunguska
The sound of the running water echoes in the sewer.
Secret Files: Tunguska
Max stands outside the military hospital.
Secret Files: Tunguska
Nina talks to the ailing tribesman.

This game is part of the Adventure Collection: Volume One re-released in 2008 by The Adventure Company.

Adventure Collection: Volume One

The compilation includes 5 games previously released by The Adventure Company separately in 2004-2007:

Dead Reefs

Keepsake

NiBiRu: Age of Secrets

Return to Mysterious Island

Secret Files: Tunguska

Here are some trivia about the 5 games included in the compilation: (1) 3 games2,4,5 feature female protagonists, (2) 3 games2,3,5 involve danger to either the protagonists' relatives or close friends, (3) 2 games2,5 have built-in hint systems, (4) 2 games1,2 are developed in Canada, (5) 3 games3,4,5 are developed in Europe, (6) 4 games2,3,4,5 are not originally English language releases, (7) 5 games1,2,3,4,5 are developed by small- to mid-sized studios.

1Dead Reefs 2Keepsake 3NiBiRu: Age of Secrets 4Return to Mysterious Island 5Secret Files: Tunguska

Secret Files: Tunguska is a third-person point-and-click adventure game based on the real life, mysterious Tunguska phenomenon. In June of 1908, the Siberian region of Tunguska was engulfed in an inferno of flames after a catastrophic explosion that turned everything into debris and ashes. The seismic shock was felt hundreds of miles away and the sky over Europe to the West glowed for several days after the event. To this day, nobody knows the real cause of the disaster. Secret Files: Tunguska is a clever re-imagination of the Tunguska incident that allows gamers to experience the fictional mystery behind this historic event.

Vladimir Kalenkov, a Russian scientist involved in top-secret research into Tunguska back in 1958 and 1977, has now suddenly vanished. His daughter Nina suspects foul play and begins searching for him. Her travels take her away from the city of Berlin, through the wind turbines laden countryside, into the bowels of an old railway station, and finally on a train towards the outskirt of Russia. There, Nina finds herself an unwilling prisoner in a military hospital. After escaping, she continues her journey to Tunguska, and to Cuba, China, and even Antarctica. Along the way she meets Max Gruber, a young former colleague of her father. Together, they investigate the secrets behind the Tunguska phenomenon and Vladimir's disappearance.

A full install of the game is recommended. After installation, a boxed scene is presented where the player can choose between 'Play', 'Configure', 'Read me', 'Uninstall', 'Website', and 'Exit'. Clicking on 'Play' shows an opening scene of a meteorite falling to Earth, followed by a brief synopsis of the Tunguska incident. From the main menu, the player can choose between 'New Game', 'Load game', 'Options', 'Credits', and 'Quit'. Selecting 'New Game' shows the opening credits with a plethora of ethereal visuals and noble pulsating orchestral music playing in the background. As the game begins, a scene shows a scientist working in his laboratory. He stops work to investigate a sound in the corridor outside. A shadowy figure appears and the scientist collapses. Gameplay commences when the player takes control of the game's heroine Nina, who is just arriving on her motorcycle to visit her father at his place of work in the Museum of Natural History at Berlin. It is here where she learns of her father's kidnapping and starts her quest to solve the mystery behind his disappearance.

Gameplay in Secret Files: Tunguska consists of navigating through the screens and manipulating items from the inventory to solve puzzles. The puzzles range from the creative to the arcane. Some are sufficiently contrived that even the characters themselves comment on the ironic absurdity of their obstacles. For others, it may be necessary to try every item with every other item before finding the right combination. The process is admittedly tedious, but the joy is undeniable when the items finally click together and the player hears Nina saying, "I'm getting good at tying things together." Alternatively, it may be necessary to try every item in the inventory with every hotspot on screen. Again, the process is a trifle tedious but the satisfaction of hitting the right combination to move forward is overwhelming. In addition to inventory based puzzles, there are also puzzles that involve clever manipulations of buttons and levers, even wing nuts.

The game is strictly linear in the sense that Nina will not be allowed to leave an area until all options have been exhausted. Otherwise, the player may hear Nina complaining, "I'm sure I still have things to do here." At certain points in the game the player can take control of either Nina or Max, switching at will. Doing so allows the player to tackle certain puzzles that can only be solved cooperatively by playing both characters. Nina also enlists help from other non-player characters throughout the game, often solving problems for them first in order to glean information to help herself later on.

The cursor in the game takes the shape of a miniature 2 button mouse, with the right button highlighted whenever there is an object is to be examined and the left button highlighted whenever there is action to be taken. Both buttons are highlighted whenever there is an object that can be used on the hotspot. The cursor snaps across the screen to the nearest hotpsot in response to a single mouse click. There is also a magnifying glass icon located at the bottom of the screen to activate 'Search Scene'. Clicking on this icon highlights all the hotspots on screen with a magnifying glass symbol at once, thus eliminating the need for pixel hunting.

In the game, the characters can only walk. There is no option to run. Since there are no vast distances to be traversed in the game world, the lack of a run mode is not really a hassle. In addition, double clicking at an exit point instantly moves the character to the next scene. Cut scenes can also be skipped by clicking on the right mouse button. There are no stressful timed sequences in the game. Once an enemy is neutralized, the player is left alone to complete the scene without fearing for another attack.

Throughout the game, Nina keeps a handy journal that automatically records key milestones reached inside the game. Hints can also be accessed from within this journal. The game can be saved as often as necessary, and loading is almost instantaneous. Thus, the player is free to replay a scene for the sheer fun of exploring other solutions, especially after cracking a particularly dastardly puzzle.

The music in Secret Files: Tunguska is restricted to background melodies played during cut scenes and scenes where music is actually being played within the game world (such as a record player). Sound effect is limited to environmental sounds—the garden has birdsongs, the sewer has running water, and the railway station has shunting trains. Rain drops spatter on the ground with a chiming tone. Leaves freely move on trees without stuttering. Thunder and lightening roll around on screen like an approaching storm in real life. When Nina talks to herself in the sewers, the player can hear her echoes ringing through the hollow underground.

The voice acting in Secret Files: Tunguska are somewhat uneven. Often, it feels as if Nina's voice should be better sounded in a softer lower pitch rather than the high pitched Yankee twang that she currently speaks. By contrast, Max's voice is perfectly sounded. The voices of other non-player characters are acceptable, except for the Irish barkeeper—his American accent is completely out of place.

Visually, the combination of 2D and 3D graphics in Secret Files: Tunguska are a delight. Over 110 detailed 2D backgrounds are pre-rendered for the game, and motion capturing is used to animate the 3D characters. Lighting and shadow effects are realistic, and the 3D engine allows for the addition of subtle environmental effects such as animated clouds, smoke, and fog. The colors are vivid and the screens are brightly drawn to see all the details of the scenes. Animations like a butterfly fluttering around the bushes in a garden are so well rendered that they look almost real. The characters are a bit stiff, not in the way they move on screen, but in the way they stand motionless when conversing. Lips move but there is no gesticulating with arms. Still, this is better than navigating the swinging nausea inducing camera angles and seeing close ups of poorly synchronized lips and badly drawn teeth. The characters also seem to spend an awful lot of time brushing imaginary dust off their sleeves. They lose their woodenness once they get up to move—the workman standing up by the manhole and the dancing nurse prancing at the sanatorium, for example, are all well rendered.

The game is released in both CD-ROM and DVD-ROM versions. The package includes a box cover with a heroic portrait of Nina on the front, a lavishly illustrated instruction manual full of concept art, and a bonus complimentary color poster of a map and more screenshots from the game. The manual gives not only gameplay instructions but also background information on the Tunguska phenomenon, including several popular theories postulated over the years about the cause of this event.

In an unusual decision, the developers have decided to release an update patch (version 1.02) that includes not only bug fixes but a new alternative ending to the game. This alternative ending provides a more satisfactory conclusion to the story and is not available in the original version. As the credits roll after the game finishes, a brief synopsis is also given on what all the characters are now doing. The synopsis is tongue in cheek in style and very amusing to watch.

In conclusion, Secret Files: Tunguska is a delightful adventure in all aspects. It is a game that will appeal to both novice fans and seasoned experts. The novice gamer will appreciate the straightforward controls and easy gameplay. The expert gamer will take pleasure in the faultless handling and imaginative storytelling. Even when all the puzzles have been cracked, the game can still be enjoyed repeatedly for its great visuals. With the developers already confirmed the early development of a sequel, Secret Files: Tunguska may well be the start of a long and rewarding series.

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