Omega Stone, The Download (2003 Adventure Game)

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The sequel to Riddle of the Sphinx, The Omega Stone casts you as aide to noted archeologist Sir Gil Blythe Geoffreys, as you attempt to unravel the mystery surrounding an ancient scroll and the apocalyptic portent contained therein. To do so, you will have to visit mysterious sites spread across the globe, from Chichen Itza to Stonehenge, Easter Island, and Devil's Triangle, all the while scanning for clues and solving puzzles.

Similar to Myst and older titles such as the 7th Guest, players explore their world from a first-person viewpoint, utilizing a context-sensitive cursor in order to move and interact with the environment. Unlike those titles however, players can explore the 360-degree environments by simply moving the mouse in the desired direction. A more traditional scheme is provided that only advances the scene when the mouse cursor reaches the screen edge.

In order to surmount the many challenges ahead, you will need to sift through an array of documentation, gleaning pertinent information from maps, research documents, letters, and journal entries. Additionally, players can take photographs of particularly relevant notes and objects for study at a later date, that when seen from within a particular context may reveal a clue. Your journey will also require the acquisition of important items and artifacts; many of which will be of use to you in locales you have previously visited. Reminiscent of the FMV-dominated titles of the mid-'90s, The Omega Stone is presented using live actors placed against computer-generated backdrops.

Like many fans of Omni Adventures' Riddle of the Sphinx, I have been looking forward to playing the sequel, The Omega Stone (also known as Riddle of the Sphinx II: The Omega Stone). The husband and wife team of Jeffrey S. and Karen E. Tobler have obviously lavished a great deal of their time and creative energy into the series. While Riddle of the Sphinx is undoubtedly a sizable game with many scenes of ancient Egypt, The Omega Stone is much more ambitious, with settings as diverse as the Devil's Triangle, Stonehenge, Easter Island, and even the Mayan pyramids. It is an enormous game that will take many hours of play to explore fully. As with the previous game, many of the puzzles in this sequel are based on actual ancient symbols and rites, such as alchemy and the Mayan number system. I really appreciate a game that manages to be educational as well as entertaining, and this game succeeds in that endeavor. While I have a few nitpicks, overall I have enjoyed this game very much and highly recommend it to anyone who likes Myst style adventures or ancient civilizations.

The story picks up immediately after Riddle of the Sphinx. Your character is asked by Sir Gil Blythe Geoffreys to learn more about a mysterious artifact called The Omega Stone, which is somehow connected to Chichen Itza, Stonehenge, Easter Island, the Giza Plateau, and the Devil's Triangle - indeed, all of these ancient civilizations are found to be linked. As the player solves puzzles and begins drawing connections, a story unravels to involve aliens and a deadly meteoroid that threatens to destroy the earth. Of course, the player is not alone seeking to solve the mystery and retrieve the priceless artifacts. Part of the fun is learning about all the drama from Sir Gil's past expedition and encountering a cast of rather eccentric characters. I note that while the Toblers have certainly researched and in some cases travelled to the locations which they have chosen to include, there is a great deal of popular mythology and mysticism at work in this game. I cannot really give more information about the story without ruining the game, but suffice it to say that fans of world history documentary will feel at home here.

Like Myst, there are very few characters the player will interact with directly, though the interactions tend to be significant. The characters are portrayed by real life actors, and thankfully their acting skills are adequate. Occasionally an actor will try to effect an faux accent that can be somewhat grating, particularly when the actor cannot seem to maintain it consistently. The player's encounter with the other characters will occur mainly by reading diaries, notes, listening to recordings, and other means. Fortunately, there is also a friendly driver who helps to breakup some of the lifeless feeling that often exits in games of this type.

The production values are good, though I must admit the graphics seems quite dated, even by the standards at the time of the game's original release back in 2003. The main problem is the movement interface, which involves lots of vertigo inducing panning and rotating. The screen resolution is also rather low (640x480 pixels only), which can occasionally make finding exits or important objects difficult. It makes some of the text blurry and hard to read as well, which is a real problem given the abundance of onscreen reading required. Personally, I prefer a system that automatically highlights or outlines exits and hotspots, but I acknowledge that other gamers may enjoy hunting for them with the mouse. The inventory system is quite tedious. The player can only view a few objects at the time and must scroll left or right to get to the others. This becomes a major hassle later in the game, when the player may have up to dozens of objects to manipulate. By contrast, the save game system is excellent, capturing a screenshot of the area and allowing for many saved games. I am able to use this system to test out different theories very rapidly, rather than having to trek long distances each time. This latter point brings me to my main criticism of the game. While many of the areas are delightful to see and explore, I find navigating around the huge cavern beneath Chichen Itza to be really frustrating. It is dark and boring, and I am frequently lost in it. I really wish that the developers implement some type of zoom function to get to the key areas instantly, since wandering the caverns is anything but fun. Another area is the hedge maze, which again I find to be frustrating rather than fun to play. I know that some gamers enjoy these sort of puzzles, but at the very least I like to have an option to be able to skip instantly to the key areas after having solved the maze once. The music from the game's soundtrack is good but probably not as varied and plentiful as other games of this kind.

Among the game's touted features is the ability to save a screenshot which can be viewed in-game as a thumbnail for quick reference. Unfortunately, only a small portion of the screen can be captured, so this feature turns out to be rather useless.

The puzzles are mostly high quality logic and symbol puzzles. For the few instances that I have been unable to figure out what to do next initially, they usually involve some important object I have previously overlooked. The worst of these involves giving the bus driver a strange object that he somehow knows meant to drive to a mansion. I am still not sure how the player is supposed to figure this out logically without a more obvious clue, such as an address or map on the object. Likewise, it is not obvious that the trunk of a truck in Chichen Itza can be opened - a fact that if missed, can create an impasse. Still, these are relatively minor issues given the cleverness of the rest of the puzzles. I particularly like the alchemy puzzles, which combine ciphering and mathematics in an intriguing and fulfilling way.

The game's biggest strengths are its clever puzzles, wonderful scenes, and colorful atmosphere. At times I feel I am part of some world history documentary about the mysteries of ancient civilizations. I also appreciate the egghead humor sprinkled throughout the game, such as a can of coffee with a funny message on the back. The only real downsides are the dated graphics and occasionally frustrating interface, but these are not enough to prevent avid adventure gamers from playing through to the end. All in all, though, I have enjoyed The Omega Stone and can recommend it to all fans of Riddle of the Sphinx and any gamer who likes first-person adventures such as Myst. It is not necessary to play Riddle of the Sphinx first, though doing so may give players a greater appreciation for this sequel.


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