Disco Driscoll

Point and click, retro, music, meh...

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Ben Jordan Case 6: Scourge of the Sea People

It perhaps speaks volumes for how sad I am, that I spent last Saturday evening playing the new Ben Jordan mystery, Scourge of the Sea People. However, I am unapologetic once more, as this series of games is amongst the elite of the point and click scene. Once again, Grundislav has not disappointed.

We pick up with our eponymous hero as he arrives in Athens airport, with his two cohorts from the previous two adventures, Simon and Alice. The triumvirate have decided to take a well earned rest and visit the Greek capital for some culture and relaxation. They should have guessed though that fate would conspire to send them spiralling into the midst of another mystery.

Winding up in the port of Aiga Anna, the three investigators have no sooner settled into peaceful reverie than Ben, never one to shy away from a folktale, becomes aware of the legend of the Sea People. Tourists have been going missing from Aiga Anna’s beaches at night, and the locals blame the Sea People. Simon is reticent to get involved in another investigation, citing the fact that he came to Greece for some r&r.

We therefore take control of Ben once more as he goes it (almost) alone in his search to uncover the mystery. The interface is as per the other Ben Jordan games, and the graphics, whilst slightly improved, still have a reassuringly familiar feel.

First off, I must say that the soundtrack is one of the best I have heard in any game, freeware or not. The chirpy Grecian theme that accompanies us throughout the airport and village is an excellent piece of work, and whilst it is repetitive it never becomes jarring. The feedback-drenched guitar sounds that play whilst Ben explores the sea-lair are simply superb, and fit perfectly the ambience of the scenes, which are done to a tee.

The puzzles are satisfactory, and whilst I got stuck for 5-10 minutes on a couple of occasions, there was never a temptation to seek a walkthrough. In hindsight, some of the puzzles are a little contrived and the gameplay rather linear, but these are minor concerns. Once again, the all-round stylishness of the game, humorous dialogue and empathy with the characters wins through.

I have read criticism, notably on the AGS boards, of certain aspects of the gameplay (the needlessly fiddly navigation of the boat, the anticlimactic end scene), and whilst it is hard not to agree with the nitpicking, the minor flaws do not spoil the game. There are many hours worth of gameplay herein, and the difficulty level is set just about right, although as ever with AGS games there’s a little bit of random inventory clicking needed.

Perhaps the hype which now surrounds the series is placing unrealistically high expectations on each new instalment. All I will say is that there are very few developers out there in the freeware AGS environs who can hold a candle to Grundislav.

Afficianados of the series are keen to know how the series will end, and messageboards are ripe with theories regarding Ben's chums, the mystic's predictions in BJ4 and the tombstone in BJ3, But with parts 7 and 8 still to come the wait will go on a little longer.


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