The Dagger of Amon Ra: A Laura Bow Mystery
First posted on 26 February 1999. Last updated on 08 August 2009.
The Dagger of Amon Ra: A Laura Bow Mystery is the second installment in the Laura Bow Mystery series. In this sequel, our intrepid reporter investigates the theft of an ancient artifact that subsequently leads to several murders inside a museum. To many Sierra On-Line fans, this game is among the last decent adventure titles produced by the company before its eventual demise as a developer of adventure games.
You are Laura Bow, a young ambitious women fresh out of college making her break in the busy New York cityscape. With the help of your father, you have landed a job as an intrepid newspaper reporter for the New York Daily Tribune. Your first assignment is to investigate the theft of an artifact known as the Dagger of Amon Ra which has been stolen from the famed Leyendecker Museum. Your job is at stake—one screw up and you are fired. Misfortunate soon turns on you when you suitcase is stolen along with all you money and wardrobe which you desperately need in order to investigate a fundraising event at the museum. Indeed, your initial investigation at the museum turns up a list of shady characters, conspiracies, and secrets. Everyone appears to have a hidden agenda, including the frivolous Yvette Delacroix. The disappearance of the dagger may even be linked to the infamous Rosetta Stone. Trapped inside the museum, one by one your suspects are murdered. The body count begins to stack up. It is up to you to find the dagger, the killer, and the mystery of Amon Ra.
Understandably, the production of this game appears dated when compared to the mind-blowing, high resolution graphics of today's games. It is shocking to be able to play this game even on an old 286! It is even shocking to see how much game designing technology has advanced since 1991 when this game is released. The writing and puzzle designs for this game are handled by Bruce Balfour. Roberta Williams, who is the creator of the Laura Bow series and designer of the first game, is only involved in this sequel with the initial concept design and character developments to ensure that the art, style, look, and feel of this game match with its predecessor. Whereas The Colonel's Bequest: A Laura Bow Mystery is based on the SCI0 (Sierra Creative Interpreter, version 0) engine, this sequel uses the more advanced SCI1 (Sierra Creative Interpreter, version 1) engine. SCI1 is an extension of the original SCI interpreter. It features a point and click interface, VGA graphics capable of 320x200x256 resolution, and digitized sound effect. It also utilizes a toolbar located at the top of the screen that allows limited selection of actions, system commands, and access to the inventory. The game is released in both Floppy Disk and CD-ROM versions. The CD-ROM version adds enhancements such as the voices of the characters, the sounds of the city, and the growl of the museum's resident dinosaur that are not available in the original version.
Gameplay is divided into 6 acts. Majority of the gameplay is carried out between Act 3 to Act 6 when Laura is trapped inside the museum. Interaction is through a mouse driven interface rather than a text parser. Personally, I prefer the use of an icon driven interface over the single cursor approach that is popularized in the recent Sierra On-Line games. It gives your more control of the action, forcing you to think with your mind rather than clicking away without repercussion. All the characters in the game are well flushed out. Laura meets all types of characters from different backgrounds and social statues. All have their own secrets and hidden agendas that provide many surprises throughout the game. As the suspects themselves are being murdered, the player cannot help but feel the tension of being trapped inside the museum with the murderer! Puzzles are of the typical and classic variety. You pick up an item, use it, or give it to the correct person, after which an action of importance happens to propel the story forward. While some puzzles make sense with the story, others do not. At the end of the game, you must present your evidence to the coroner to prove your accusation.
Among the breakthroughs in this game is the portrayal of a strong female lead in a computer game. Moreover, the lead is a female character who is both charming and intelligent. Perhaps Laura does not have breasts hanging out like Tomb Raider's Lara Croft; then again, Laura is not meant to be a sex object like Lara. Indeed, it is a shame that there are not more games like this. It is an insult to an intelligent gamer to be thought of as someone who can so easily be enticed by a pair of breasts.
There are many strong points and only few weak points in this game. The suspense of having the murderer inside the museum with Laura is well done and brings a real sense of tension and urgency to the game. The Egyptian link to the main plot is very interesting. Both the documentation and manual provided with the game are among the best I have ever seen. The ending is nicely done and ties up many loose ends. Strangely enough, almost no one in the museum seems to notice that people around them are being murdered and dead bodies are quickly stacking up. No one appears to worry over his or her safety and tries to escape. Some puzzles require objects which can only be picked up in an earlier part of the game. If one misses the opportunity, one must start over from an earlier saved game. This design is, however, typical of the Sierra On-Line gaming logic from the early era.
An interesting tidbit about this game is the origin of Laura's appearance. According to Williams, Laura is modeled after a receptionist working at Sierra On-Line at that time, "By the way, on the box cover, we asked our receptionist Lisa Crabtree to pose as Laura Bow. It was kind of cute how visitors would sometimes ask where they've seen her before."
Notwithstanding the dated graphics, The Dagger of Amon Ra: A Laura Bow Mystery is a nicely done adventure game that is suitable for all mystery lovers. Sierra On-Line should be congratulated for the portrayal of a strong female character in a computer game—a rare phenomenon among today's game titles.