In Italy, Martin Mystère is a well-known and well-loved comic book character; in the rest of the world, he is all but unknown (although there is one 13-page comic available on the official website to serve as an introduction). Now GMX Media have set out to change that, by publishing an English-language version of the Martin Mystère adventure game.
The game opens with a short introduction in which you wake from an unspecified nightmare to the ringing of a telephone. It, like the other conversations and non-important cut-scenes in the game, is skippable if you wish. The voice actors chosen for the demo all did a good job; I am not familiar with the Martin Mystère TV series, so I don't know if it's the same speakers, but they seem to fit the characters quite well.
There are only a few people to interact with in the demo, and only one of them can be spoken to directly instead of over the phone, a caveman named Java. He is, I am informed by sources outside the game, an actual caveman from 200,000 years ago who is in the employ of Martin and his fiancee, the unseen but always-present Diana, who he dares not defy even in her absence. Diana thinks Martin needs sleep and has therefore locked his tamper-proof wardrobe, hidden the key, and left the house. Unfortunately, someone has been killed and Martin is needed at the scene of crime—but he cannot possibly leave the house in his nightgown. And so the adventure begins, with the player controlling Martin (and, later in the game, at least one other person, if the screenshots don't deceive me).
The demo is relatively short but sweet—the backgrounds are nice and, unlike so many recent adventure games, provide dozens of objects that are just there to interact with, to provide some background for Martin Mystère, obviously a traveler of the world with, judging from the many masks, vases and statuettes in his house, as well as his car, a lot of money on his hands (although he carelessly dismisses things—"It's obviously a reproduction.... It's really well made! It looks original!" he says of a vase). The character models are also well-executed, and even throw shadows that are pretty convincing. Neither do they serve to expose clipping bugs in the engine.
We also learn he is lazy—he doesn't even go near drawers or bookshelves stuffed full of papers, books, notes, CDs, DVDs and magazines, and he always has an amusing excuse why not.
The few puzzles in the game revolve mostly around finding various things. There's a notepad that, according to Martin, only contains blank pages to prove that he doesn't need one yet, but it turns out to contain the current goals of the game (find the wardrobe key, find the mobile phone, call the car mechanic). There is no pixel-hunting in the demo, although there was one misleading message that stumped me—but more on that in a moment.
Conversations employ the well-known tree system and feature voice acting. The actor playing Java is doing an especially good job of conveying various meanings in monosyllabic grunts, apparently the only way he is able to communicate, although he seems to understand spoken English well enough.
Spoken English, however, is only available in cutscenes, during dialogues and, bizarrely, when in the inventory, which appears at the bottom of the screen when clicking a small button. (I am unsure whether this will change for the full version.) The rest of the interaction is conveyed in text, and that is where the game breaks down.
The subtitles are, I'm sorry to say, abysmal. Most of the time they come across as stream-of-consciousness rambling, with typos, arbitrary line breaks and equally arbitrary punctuation. At other times they are downright misleading—for example, when I put the cordless phone into its docking station, Martin said something like, "Ah, here is the mobile". Only it wasn't, and I spent 5 minutes trying to find the mobile phone where he said it was. I managed to expose some bug in the game and collected a sizeable number of cordless phones, but no mobile—it turned out to be somewhere completely different.
Here is a description from the game, transcribed verbatim:
It's a recipe for apple and lemon pie!
This note on the fridge makes me think...
That soon my taste buds
Will be happy
Sometimes the subtitles take on an almost haiku-like literary quality of their own:
My faithful Mac
Practically stuffed full of files
Unfortunately, they don't really help the player understand what's going on.
Strangely, the spoken conversations do not suffer from these problems (although their subtitles are similarly spaced). In short, I feel the text in the game needs serious work before it can be released. If GMX Media get this problem under control, though, I don't see anything standing in the way of Martin Mystère being a successful adventure game.
This article copyright © 2005, Gunther Schmidl