Treasure Island

Posted by Mervyn Graham.
First posted on 09 January 2010. Last updated on 17 July 2010.
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Treasure Island
The map shows where the treasure is buried.
Treasure Island
The Hispaniola sets sail on the high sea.
Treasure Island
Jim must act quick to save Antoinette who has fallen overboard.
Treasure Island
Land ahoy!
Treasure Island
A rusty cannon may yet to of some use.

Treasure Island was a fictional novel written and first published as a book in 1883 by Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson. What started out as a holiday retreat with his family in Scotland in 1881, Stevenson was intrigued by a map of an island which his stepson drew during the trip and the ideas for an adventure story soon developed around it. By the end of the holiday, Stevenson had drafted some 15 chapters already for a novel based on the story. After traveling some months later to Switzerland, Stevenson wrote a chapter a day until he finally completed the novel in the same year.

Since then, what young lad had not read Treasure Island and imagined himself in a fantasy adventure as Jim Hawkins or Long John Silver? My own father read the book to me every night in bed before going to sleep when I was a child. I was in awe over the story, which had certainly led to more than a few vivid dreams and even nightmares during my childhood. Over the years, the novel had been translated to many languages and had been adapted to both film and television, inspiring generations of children (including me) worldwide who had come to love the story and its characters.

Radon Labs, a game developer based in Berlin, Germany, hired German novelist Falko Löffler to adopt the story of Treasure Island into an adventure game. The goal was to meticulously recreate all the familiar characters from the original novel—Jim Hawkins, Long John Silver, Black Dog, Dr. Livesey, Squire Trelawney, Billy Bones, Blind Pew, Israel Hands, Captain Smollett, Ben Gunn, among others.

With few exceptions, Löffler's story in the game is a faithful retelling of the original tale. In Löffler's adaptation, Jim's mother has already died, whereas in Stevenson's novel she is the owner of the Admiral Benbow Inn and thus still living. Löffler has also introduced 2 new characters: Antoinette Trelawney (Squire's daughter) and Allesandro della Rocca (a Spanish seaman who joins the crew after being caught cheating for gambling with loaded dice).

Treasure Island (not to be confused with Destination: Treasure Island released by Kheops Studio in 2007) is a classic third-person, point-and-click adventure game. The game plays out in chapters (though not the same chapters from the original novel) and follows a story that unfolds in Barren Bay, in Bristol, onboard the Hispaniola, and finally on Treasure Island.

The game begins at a cemetery in Barren Bay on the English coast, where Jim is mourning over the grave of his recently deceased mother. He talks to Dr. Livesey, who gives him some advice about life but also warns him about Billy, an unwelcomed guest staying at the Admiral Benbow Inn which Jim is now the owner. Being only 17 years old, Jim feels overwhelmed by the responsibilities of an adult's life suddenly shouldered upon him.

On returning back to the inn, Jim finds Billy getting drunker by the minute and demanding more rum, even though all the wine barrels at the inn are now empty. While in the cellar, Jim overhears Pew, a blind man, coming in the inn to summon Billy with the black spot. Billy soon collapses with a heart attack and dies. Jim finds a key from Billy's body and uses it to open a chest which Billy has been hiding in his room at the inn. To Jim's amazement, he discovers a treasure map inside.

After learning of the origin of the treasure map, Squire agrees to help Jim and fund a trip in search of the treasure left by Captain Flint as revealed by the map. They leave together for Bristol to search for a crew to sail the high seas. Playing as Jim, you must find your new crew before embarking on the Hispaniola to Treasure Island. You must also learn to be resourceful, quick thinking, and resilient on both land and sea.

The retail version of the game does not include a printed manual. The game installs easily without any glitches. From the Main Menu, you can select Options to access the system settings for the game. There is a Quality option to choose between Low, High, or Best as well as a Resolution option to choose between 800x600, 1024x768, or 1280x1024 pixels. There are also sliding volume controls for Music, Sounds, and Speech. Finally, there is an option to enable Hotspots. By choosing this option, you can press the space bar during play to reveal a glowing light that will point you to where you need to be looking. You can access the Main Menu from within the game by pressing Esc.

Saving the game is simple. The game supports unlimited number of saves. The end of each chapter also triggers an autosave wherein the game automatically saves your progress. You left click on the mouse to perform an action and right click to examine. You can also left double click to run instead of walk.

Dialog interaction is handled via a list of questions that appears on the left of the screen. When the reciprocating character replies, the dialog appears at the top of the screen. It is strongly advisable that you exhaust the entire dialog to avoid missing any important information.

The overall production of this game is excellent. The developer has taken great care to reproduce the period costumes of the characters and the English architecture of Bristol. All of the dresses look authentic to the period of the 1880s, from the soldier's uniforms to the taffy appearance of the upper class to the scruffy outfits of the pirates themselves. The detail of the Hispaniola as a schooner is simply amazing. Most characters are animated with reasonably realistic facial expressions, though lip synching to match to their speech is somewhat of a letdown.

The game features a large cast of main characters, alongside an even larger supporting cast of other minor characters. The voiceovers for all the characters are excellent (the game's credits list 18 voice actors providing the voices to 37 characters). The music is also superb, featuring soundtracks from string instrumental to full orchestral music.

The Nebula game engine used by this game is able to render many impressive real-time 3D special effects, including lighting, plants waving into the wind, birds flying, the rocking and swaying of the Hispaniola, fire and smoke from the burning fort, and storm waves lashing against the ship decks. These special effects are breathtaking to watch, to say the least.

The plot of the game naturally follows that of the original novel. The story flows logically from the Admiral Benbow Inn, to Bristol in search of a ship crew, to adventures sailing aboard the Hispaniola, and finally to landing on Treasure Island. Some of the game's puzzles are particularly well scripted to add a further dimension to the story, without detracting far from the original plot in any way.

The game is constructed over a total of 6 chapters: 1 chapter in Barren Bay, 1 chapter in Bristol, 1 chapter on the Hispaniola, and the remaining 3 chapters on Treasure Island itself. Cut scenes are used to tie parts of the chapters together.

Without a doubt, the weakest parts of the game are its puzzles. The game is particularly short, and the few puzzles that are in it are not very challenging. Most of the puzzles involve simply combining existing items from the inventory to make new items for immediate or later use. The game is also littered with faux puzzles. For example, while searching in Bristol for a new crew for your ship, you are asked to prove you are a pirate in a pirate test. To pass the test, however, you simply need to quote the words that are plainly written on the wanted posters littered all around the city. This eliminates any concept of a true puzzle. The only puzzles in the game that pedantically fit into being true puzzles involve obtaining the numbers to the safe in Captain Smollett's cabin and using the stick figures to navigate through the jungle on the island.

There are 54 items to find in the game to add to the inventory. Another 15 items are added to the inventory by combining several old items to make new items. The inventory makes clever use of the 3D models of these items. You can investigate any item more carefully by simply zooming onto it as well as rotating it to find clues on a hidden or back side of the item.

This is a very linear game. You are not allowed to progress onward until you have completed all immediate tasks. These include leaving the Admiral Benbow Inn to go to Bristol, leaving Bristol to boarding the Hispaniola, and so on.

In sum, despite a few shortcomings, Treasure Island is a fun adventure game. It features excellent graphics and music as well as engaging storytelling and gameplay. Younger gamers will undoubtedly enjoy playing the game, adventuring alongside with Jim and Antoinette who are themselves teenagers. Older gamers will also enjoy playing the game, seeking bits of nostalgia by dissecting over Löffler's adaptation of Stevenson's original novel. Treasure Island is a game that I can easily recommend without reservation, and as a budget game title, you cannot go wrong hunting down this treasure.

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