Cleopatra: Riddle of the Tomb
First posted on 11 July 2008. Last updated on 07 September 2009.
Originally released in 2007 under the title Cleopatra: A Queen's Destiny, Cleopatra: Riddle of the Tomb is proof that a game does not need to have a revolutionary idea or a grandiose story to be enjoyable. In fact, despite having a rather weak storyline and an anemic cast of characters, the game delivers an overall coherent and decent gaming experience. It earns merit by avoiding stereotypes about Egypt that other adventure games have conveniently taken to exploit, choosing instead to accurately portray the everyday life of a young astrologer who lives with all the beliefs and cultures of an ancient world.
The game is set in 48 B.C. in Alexandria, where a civil war has broken out between Cleopatra and her brother (and spouse) Ptolemy for the throne of Egypt. The Queen has demanded a prophecy from Akkad, the master astrologer, to learn if a political alliance with Julius Caesar will benefit her. Unfortunately, Akkad and his daughter Iris have been kidnapped by Ptolemy's men. You play Thomas, Akkad's young apprentice and Iris's boyfriend. After discovering the aftermath of their kidnapping, you are charged by Cleopatra to find them and succeed in the prophecy by securing the divination that Cleopatra seeks.
When you first start the game, you will be struck by the attractive game menu that is hidden inside Cleopatra's beautiful palace. Every part of the palace is cleverly made to serve a different function. From there, you can adjust system settings, begin a new game, load a saved game, save the current game, or quit. There are no misplaced buttons to push or modern instruments to operate to change the options. Instead, every ornament decorating the palace is used to alter a particular setting: a lute for changing the volume, a globe for adjusting the mouse speed, and a statue of the Egyptian Gods for retrieving your profile. You can create a maximum of 5 profiles for the game. This allows you to choose between different settings that can affect how the game is played.
At the start, you are asked to pick 1 of the 12 astrological signs of the modern zodiac. Probably the only element that is out of context, the zodiac is used to deliver blows of good luck or bad luck during the game according to the sign you pick. Aside from reflecting how much astrology is part of the life of the Egyptians, this twist adds a bit of variety to the gameplay. Symbolically, it means that Thomas' quest will be made more or less difficult by the Gods. In actuality, it means that in a bad scenario you will be required to take a few extra moves to reach the goal. For example, a vital object may break, which you will then need to repair or find a substitute. These extra steps, however, are rarely difficult and the detour you take will not ultimately affect how the story develops. Still, this is a novel idea that I encourage the developer to explore further in future games.
Among what makes this game so immersing is its vivid and realistic graphics. The beautifully rendered vegetations, buildings, paintings, and instruments of ancient Egypt are truly remarkable to see. From to the smallest decorations to the largest decors, every detail is realistic and visually appealing. All the locations have been recreated with great historical attention. The photorealistic graphics readily immerse the player into the ancient world. The insides of the buildings are lit by torches and candles, and the suffused light casted on the surroundings make the environment even more suggestive.
On the other hand, little praise can be said to the sounds, especially the voice acting, in this game. In fact, the voice acting is just a bit shy of awful. The voices are flat, and the lack of any emotion in their speech is off-putting. However, the repetitive dialogs, laden with inappropriately modern slangs, are also to blame.
Cleopatra: Riddle of the Tomb is not a classical point-and-click adventure. The game is played from a first-person perspective. You move from screen to screen through fixed nodes, so that you cannot explore freely the paths in between but only the objects within your reach. To enhance the immersion, there is minimal use of indicators on screen during play. The pointer or cursor is fixed at the center of the screen. When it is moved over a live object or character, it changes to indicate a possible action. Moving the mouse tilts your view up and down or rotate it all around in a 360° panorama.
The inventory is accessed by right clicking the mouse button. There is a lot of room to store the different objects you will find along the way. When several objects can be combined together, an equation like message appears at the bottom of the storage area: objects are separated by a "+" symbol, and if an object is needed to assemble a new object, a "?" symbol is shown to suggest that another object is still missing. All the documents needed for the game can be opened within the inventory. This includes a map, which allows you to move easily between different locations. There are not many locations to explore in the game, but the few that exist are beautifully recreated and detailed. The characters, despite of what is claimed by the developer, are anything but interesting. It is true that you will meet a host of oddball characters, including a hunchbacked slave named Kordax and even a giant crocodile named Souchous. These characters are flat, however, and your interaction with them is reduced to a limited set of questions and answers. When you add to the terrible voice acting, you are left with a distinct feeling that the game lacks depth and misses much of its full potential.
The puzzles, though varied and coherent with the game's settings (such as the use of Greek letters), are far too simple. They are straightforward and require very little effort and thinking to solve. Every tool needed to complete a puzzle is easily available and is put right in front of you. There are a few inventory based puzzles, but the majority of the puzzles require you to manipulate simple machines or mechanisms. The puzzles are logical and require no unnecessary trials and errors. Moreover, they are made with the same level of details as the rest of the environment.
Overall, Cleopatra: Riddle of the Tomb, is a decent game. It seems, however, that the developer has concentrated its effort on the game's visual impact, even at the expense of gameplay and storytelling. Contrary to what the game title may suggest, Cleopatra makes only limited appearances in the game and her role is clearly secondary. The game is also a bit on the short side, lasting only 8-10 hours of play. Nonetheless, if you are looking for an undemanding alternative, the richly historical settings and the visually appealing graphics are worthy reasons alone to give this game a try.