Ni Bi Ru: Age of Secrets is a graphic adventure, full of mystery and conspiracy, that spans interests in modern-day archeology, World War II Germany, and ancient Maya civilization. Players take the role of a young linguistics student named Martin Holan, who has been invited by his uncle to investigate a recently unearthed tunnel, believed to be left behind by Hitler's Third Reich. Ni Bi Ru features more than three dozen key non-player characters, each with a different perspective and personality, and the game plays out through 80 detailed locations. The adventure begins as Martin arrives at the site and finds that the contact he was supposed to meet has been murdered. Martin's first task will be gaining access to the excavation site, but far deeper mysteries and greater challenges surely await at the end of the tunnel.
NiBiRu: Age of Secrets is a point-and-click adventure in the style of The Longest Journey or Syberia series. It features an eclectic story filled with Nazis, ancient Mayans, and space aliens. While an earlier incarnation of the game has already been released as Posel Bohu back in 1998, developer Future Games has now translated the original Czech game to English and updated the graphics to modern standards. While the game does not break any new ground and suffers at times from a slow pace and improbable puzzles, it is a good value for players who can appreciate a good story. While NiBiRu: Age of Secrets is not a great game, it has a compelling story and rich graphics that help to compensate for a inexplicably poor translation and banal puzzles.
NiBiRu: Age of Secrets has a large and impressive back story that adds greatly to the game's atmosphere and ambience. There are few adventure games whose stories I care to read in novel form, and this game definitely fits into such category. Sometime towards the end of World War II, Hitler's Nazis discovered a strange link between the ancient Mayan civilization and a mysterious alien race of untold power. The key to the mystery is a hidden 13th planet in our solar system named Nibiru. Nibiru has eluded Earth astronomers because of its peculiar orbit, which matches Earth's but is opposite the sun. Besides a few rumors, however, all knowledge uncovered by the Nazis about Nibiru was lost in the ensuing aftermath of Germany's defeat in the war. Your avatar, Martin Holan, a university student of linguistics and archaeology, becomes involved when his uncle, a famous archaeologist with an interest in Nibiru, learns of a secret Nazi mine uncovered by a Belgian road crew. All the signs indicate that there is more to the mine than it appears, though no one has any idea what secrets it holds. Although he suspects that the mine promises to reveal what the Nazis have known about Nibiru, Martin's uncle is too old and infirm to investigate the matter himself, so he sends Martin - who quickly finds himself in a tangled web of intrigue and deceit. To make matters worse, someone else has already made the connection between the Nazi mine and Nibiru - someone who has no qualms about murdering whoever gets in his way. There is far more to Niribu than a breakthrough in astronomy - whoever claims its secrets first may very well have the power to conquer or destroy civilization as we know it.
Without doubt, the most appealing aspect of NiBiRu: Age of Secrets is its lush, immaculate graphics - all rendered in 1024x768 truecolor resolution. The game uses the AGDS (Advanced Graphic Development System) engine that was first developed by Future Games for Black Mirror. To take full benefit of the hardware, the engine can run in either 32-bit or 16-bit graphical mode. The system is also optimized to render special effects such as rain, lightning, and space fog. Many scenes are rendered so beautifully that you may catch yourself making screenshots to use as desktop backgrounds. Whether Martin is exploring the streets of Prague or the depths of a Mayan pyramid (the game features 80 locations), the graphics surely satisfy your desire for eye candy. As far as sound goes, the ambient sound effects are adequate for inducing a proper mood, but there is very little music of note. Most unfortunately, the voice acting is cringe worthy, particularly that of Martin. Compounding this problem is the great amount of rather poor dialog players must sit through to complete the game. The dialog is at times poorly translated, and whatever cleverness may have been in the original Czech is butchered for an English audience. Jokes fall flat and dramatic tension is all but eliminated by the wretched dialog and acting. Although the game boasts of having over 35 characters, such shortcomings make this less of a feature and more an annoyance. Indeed, at times the translations are so terrible they result in laughter instead of the intended anxiety or suspense. There really is no excuse for such poor acting and translation in a commercial quality game.
The puzzles in NiBiRu: Age of Secrets range from the really clever to the hopelessly inane. A particular puzzle, for example, is so bad that it must have been intended as a joke. To get an old homeless woman to loan him her cane, Martin must first find her a hot dog, then exchange it for another when he finds that she detests mustard. Now you must buy another hot dog and find some ketchup for it (the vendor does not stock it) - the quest for hot dogs and ketchup. If this sounds like a banal and unwelcome digression from the game's main story, it is. Unfortunately, the bulk of the game's many sub-quests are of the fetch variety - Martin talks to a non-player character who demands that he performs some mundane service before divulging a key piece of information that then allows Martin to move forward with the plot. The game feels as if the story comes first and the implementation a distant second, to the extent that the developer is unsure how to make puzzles that are relevant to the story. What results is a series of puzzles that make little sense and only distract from the game.
Furthermore, the game (which runs over 5 chapters) is rigidly linear, so the only way to complete the game is to carefully tread through each piece of dialog and fetch every required quest item in the proper sequence. For instance, although Martin may pass by some mushrooms on many occasions, he can only be able to put some into his inventory after a guard tells him that he is hungry. Thus, it is not clear to the player what objects are useful and which are merely decorative. It may have been helpful if Martin gives the player clues about which objects may come in handy later, but it is left to the player to guess.
Still, not all of the puzzles in NiBiRu: Age of Secrets are insipid. There are plenty of Myst styled logic puzzles to solve, and some of the inventory based puzzles are quite creative. Among the more interesting puzzles is a puzzle that involves strapping a piece of dynamite to a rodent and forcing it through a crevice. Suffice to say that animal rights advocates are not likely going to be amused by the solution. Again, it may be nice to offer sensitive players a workaround for this puzzle, but, alas, Martin must cruelly destroy the rat to move on with the story. While most players probably find this situation amusing, I can easily imagine players who may be sorely offended by it. There is also a sound puzzle that makes the game unplayable by players who are hard of hearing.
In short, NiBiRu: Age of Secrets has many flaws, but it does many things right. The best features are its intriguing and well thought out storyline and its beautiful graphics. The worst problems are the poor translation and bad voice acting, followed by poor puzzle design and integration. I am also very disappointed by the quality of the English version of the port from the original. There is no excuse for such shoddy work translating what is probably a decent script, and how hard can it have been to recruit capable talent for the players' voices? These design choices have ruined what is likely a much better game in Czech, though I still cannot fathom why anyone would ever think searching for hotdogs and strapping explosives to rats can make for compelling gameplay.
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