Written by: Rik

Date posted: January 1, 2010


Warning: this game contains druids.

Back in 2001, the stock of the traditional adventure game couldn’t have been lower. The release of notable new titles had slowed to a crawl, and the genre’s big-hitters seemed to have concluded that their efforts were best directed elsewhere. With no new Monkey Island or Sam and Max or – go on then – King’s Quest capers to look forward to, fans of the point-and-click had little option but to make do with lower-profile (and budget) titles such as The Mystery of the Druids.

It’s hardly a title that conjures up images of screaming fans rushing to their nearest games emporium to fight over the last few remaining copies, and if you are intending to include some genuinely educational historical content in a computer game, you’d think you’d at least have the sense to hide it behind some Indiana Jones-style gallivanting around the world, or even push the bumbling-around-in-a-contemporary-setting angle employed by Broken Sword.

Still, even if it’s not an exciting title, it’s certainly not a misleading one either. This game is about a mystery involving some druids, and if it doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, well, no-one’s forcing you to play it. It’s a semi-serious adventure, largely in the mould of the aforementioned Broken Sword, with your loveable everyman character getting embroiled in something he doesn’t really understand but which could have terrible consequences unless he does something about it, which also happens to involve learning a bit of history along the way.

Excited? [No – FFG reader] Good! Then allow me to continue, and fill in some more detail, but without giving away too much, in the event that you may wish to try the game yourself (although if you pay any attention to our scoring system, then you probably won’t). In the game, you take the role of Brent Halligan, a young detective at Scotland Yard tasked with investigating a series of gruesome murders known to all as ‘the Skeleton murders’. You begin in the office of the Chief Inspector who, as fans of all well-worn clichés will know, is a very angry man with little patience for anything in particular, especially your own youthful hi-jinks.

For some reason, extremely loud and dramatic music plays whenever you visit this chap to speak to him about his work on druids. Really – it’s very loud. And dramatic. Perhaps it’s to compensate for the potentially educational dialogue.

Once he calms down, it transpires that you’ve been handed the case after the failure of your more senior colleague to make any headway. Unfortunately for you, he’s not happy about the decision, and so declines to give you any help. As does the guy in forensics, and the woman in charge of the police database – and, of course, the chief himself, who’s just too darn angry to give you any more of his time. So, essentially, you’re on your own (small wonder there are corpses piling up all over the place) – well, at least to start with. As the mystery unravels, you come to rely upon the support of a young female anthropologist and a crusty old academic with a beard, while also encountering a great number of other uncooperative individuals and contrived situations which conspire to block your progress. The point of the game is to get around all of these situations and characters and ultimately view a disappointing final cut-scene.

Ahem. Possibly I’ve gone into too much detail there. That’s what happens in all adventure games – and you know what an adventure game is, right? And the setting itself will be familiar to anyone who’s read a book or watched a film with a remotely similar setting, of which there were thousands even before anyone had heard of The Da Vinci Code. So let’s move on.

The Mystery of the Druids is very much a traditional point and click adventure. You use the mouse throughout – no farting around with a joypad here – and all the usual things you might expect to see, such as an inventory and lists of dialogue options are here in their usual places. The one nod to the future is on the audio-visual side – with mixed results. The graphics are a mixture of 2D backgrounds and 3D characters, and while the former are fine, the latter are rather blocky and unconvincing, especially close up. Animation is generally okay, although characters do tend to wave their arms about with wild gesticulation even when talking about something with little enthusiasm. The worst thing to report on the visual side though is the cut-scenes that are spooled from the CD, a method that’s fairly pointless if the results end up looking worse than the in-game graphics, as they do here.

At various points, control switches to Melanie the anthropologist.

On the positive side, the multi-CD (or DVD, if you get the budget re-release) package does allow for quite substantial dialogue, and almost every character you encounter can hold a conversation of significant length with you. It also means you get quite a bit of detail about the history of the druids – when you speak to the characters that know about it, of course – and it’s fair to say that it’s all done in a way that’s interesting enough to prevent you reaching for the ‘skip dialogue’ key at any stage. Of course, this does depend on your general levels of tolerance for ‘learning’ and whatnot in gaming, but suffice to say that if you’re prepared to install and play a game called ‘The Mystery of the Druids’, you’ll probably be able to deal with it.

The more light-hearted elements of the script are slightly less well-done, though. Some of the dialogue is pretty clunky, and Brent himself seems to come from the Stobbart school of charm, naively blurting out tactless lines to his heart’s content. It’s fair to say that something seems to have been lost in translation; while the game is set in England, it certainly wasn’t developed there, and aside from the usual dicey accents, there are a number of other oddities that are likely to provoke a childish titter or two, should you be so inclined (see Al’s Pit-zer Palace).

The mechanics of the game generally work as they should, although one point worth noting is that you do seem to have to go through entire conversations over and over again until you choose the right dialogue options. This can get pretty tedious the third or fourth time through, especially as there’s no acknowledgement of previous, very similar, conversations having taken place – you literally go through the exact same dialogue as before. A less than exhaustive approach can see you get hopelessly stuck, with some clues more well-hidden in the dialogue than seems reasonable.

In fact, The Mystery of the Druids is a pretty tough adventure throughout. Some sequences are so hopelessly contrived they can appear ridiculous to even the most seasoned of adventure gamers (see A policeman, robbing a homeless man of his spare change). At other times, you’ll get absolutely hopelessly stuck and become convinced that the game is broken because you’ve tried every reasonable solution, only to find that the answer is something no rational being could have possibly considered. Hmm…how to get past a locked gate? Why, just slide your paper file full of case-notes through the lock, of course! (Apologies if that represents a spoiler – but really, if you end up playing the game, you’ll thank me for this).

The cut-scenes are dated and terrible.

The more perceptive among you will have noticed that I’m hardly heading towards a fulsome recommendation of The Mystery of the Druids. In fact, you may be wondering why we even bothered to track this game down and review it in the first place. The truth is, in 2001, a professional games reviewer paid to play and evaluate computer games happened to write a fairly glowing review of this game in the pages of a magazine whose opinions I generally happened to respect. The chap in question said that The Mystery of the Druids was ‘the best serious adventure game in years’ (this is quoted on the back of the box) and superior to the likes of Blade Runner and Broken Sword. I took this evaluation at face value – I even stuck it down in the Brief History of adventure games I wrote a few years ago.

It’s now fair to say that I disagree. While The Mystery of the Druids is by no means a terrible game, and certainly intriguing enough for the committed retro adventure game fan to plough through once, anyone who enjoyed Blade Runner and Broken Sword, as I did, and comes to this game expecting something of a similar calibre is going to be sorely disappointed.