Historical games are usually extremely fascinating or incredibly boring. Riddle of the Sphinx: An Egyptian Adventure falls in the first class but only after getting past the initial few puzzles. Playing off the infamous and mysterious curses so prevalent in Egyptian lore, the game, in fact, does not involve any mummies but rather a series of ancient tombs and interesting locales. With an interface similar to The Forgotten: It Begins and Morpheus, execution is easy and gameplay offers much in the way of environmental interaction.
You begin in a camp next to the Sphinx where you find plenty of reading and listening to do prior to beginning your journey. The amount of activity in the first locale is impressive but not overly obvious, as you light matches, candles and the gas stove, listen to several tapes using the cassette recorder and read several notes and books regarding the Sphinx. Unlike some games, such as The New Adventures of the Time Machine, objects don't blatantly stand out in the environment. Rather than making the game more difficult, the subtle graphics actually enhance gameplay due to the more realistic treatment.
A key to sticking with the game is to solve the initial puzzles quickly, otherwise boredom can be a factor. You must find two very important numbers, a combination and a password. Using all of the items and objects available in this first setting (sorry, no spoilers given here), you must determine the proper numbers and letters to gain access to the first big piece of the riddle. While not intuitively apparent, all the pieces are there and it's simply a matter of logical thinking and using what's available with one step leading to the next.
Getting inside the Giza Pyramid is the second big challenge and, once again, simply pushing it open by hand won't work. You gain entrance by manipulating a robot through a small corridor, while utilizing high tech equipment found on a desk -- not only is it fun but it's much like playing a video game inside the video game. Don't forget the doctor's access code, though, or you still won't gain entry. Once you've figured out the code and entered the password, the rest of the game is unlocked with a single keystroke.
Amazing statues and artifacts await you in hidden rooms throughout the pyramid as well as discovery of a secret area never before seen, accessed via a water route and underground. Deciphering puzzles is required nearly everywhere you go, some of which are incredibly difficult to solve because of the subtlety of clues. For example, one room has a large boat and six pillars covered with faces which can be turned, revealing different eye colors. Trying to figure out which color to assign to each pillar can be much harder than simply stumbling on the right combination. In fact, the solution to this puzzle requires backtracking to several areas of the King's Chamber where you can discover the correct pattern but it's not obvious and can easily be overlooked.
Unfortunately, the difficulty of the initial puzzles may deter some gamers before the real fun begins. Going back and forth between the tent and pyramid to figure out the combination and password can be boring and frustrating and some will find it too taxing for enjoyment with the puzzles not getting much easier as the game advances. However, those in need of a challenge who are mystified by Egyptian culture will love it.
The entire journey is a riddle and the scenery of the newly discovered locales is nicely drawn, giving you a feeling of being in a simulation of real locations. The storyline is well developed, starting from a meager mystery and developing into discoveries of epic proportions. Both the riddles and story are very deep and become incredibly complex.
Since the background isn't entirely factual or fictional, the game has an air of excitement to the new discoveries. In the beginning, you're in familiar territory with the actual Sphinx and pyramids as they would look today but eventually your imagination soars as you discover huge golden statues and brilliant architecture with deadly snakes and golden pyramids. Most games are so deeply fictional they lose their shock value but Riddle of the Sphinx has a perfect marriage of fact and fiction -- who knows what mysteries could still be locked away in Egyptian culture.
Control is entirely mouse-driven and some items can be stored in your inventory (backpack) easily by use of a hotkey. Since many of the puzzles involve utilizing items in areas far from where they're discovered, it's important to store items early in the game. While patience is a much needed virtue for enjoying the game, most people, gamers or not, will be intrigued by the mystery presented by this riddle.
Graphics: The realistic perspective makes you feel like you're actually at the Sphinx. Rooms you discover throughout the adventure contain wonderful displays of Egyptian art and statues and, while they may be fictional, they look real.
Sound: Other than the doctor's tapes, you won't hear voices in the game. Some subtle music plays in the background with appropriate enhancements added at strategic spots.
Enjoyment: Although the beginning is slow, it's fun once past the initial puzzles. Getting stuck on the puzzles (and you will) can lead to frustration but you always have interesting things in the environment to view.
Replay Value: Solving the ultimate riddle takes a lot of hard work and perseverance so replaying it immediately isn't likely. It's not a game in which to hone reflex skills and knowing the puzzle answers and riddles diminishes the challenge.
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