The Cameron Files: Pharaoh's Curse

30 December 2002

Copyright © 2002 Balmoral Software ( Portions copyright © 2002 Galilea Multimedia and DreamCatcher Interactive, Inc. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Balmoral Software.

The new release The Cameron Files: Pharaoh's Curse is the sequel to The Cameron Files: Secret at Loch Ness, in which the same main character, detective Alan Parker Cameron, undertakes a quest in Egypt to find out what happened to his friend Moira McFarley. Moira also appeared in the preceding game, but in this one has a very small role apart from being the object of Cameron's search. Taking place in June 1936, the adventure comes on two CD's and provides several main locations and characters with which to interact. In tone, the game has a lot in common with the Indiana Jones movies and even The Maltese Falcon - right down to some of Sidney Greenstreet's dialog. We were hoping the sequel would be similar to Loch Ness, but were sadly disappointed. Unfortunately, many of the things that made the original game an involving adventure have been omitted from this sequel.

Our biggest complaint about the game is its very single-threaded plot, in which advancing through the story often hinges on finding a tiny hotspot among dozens of game screens, or depends on a trigger event that may not seem logical. Frequently, new hotspots appear in areas that have been previously explored, which requires a lot of backtracking and tedious re-searching. Other triggers seem to depend on sound clues, but in fact require a very specific sequence of steps to be followed exactly. Some clues, such as a character dropping a key, should have been included in the cutscenes so the player would have an idea of what had happened, but were omitted. On several occasions, the game lets you progress way ahead in the story without an inventory item that will be required later, necessitating a lot of frustrating backtracking and re-solving of puzzles. It seemed too easy to get stuck without knowing what to do next, and the game desperately needs a function like Cameron's automatic journal that was available in Loch Ness.

Some of the plot elements are not developed or explained; for example, a countess with ESP, complicated map coordinates, and Egyptian symbology. These add a little to the depth of the game, but leave the player wondering how they fit in with the rest of the story. Based on the game's title and cover graphics, we expected more tomb exploration, but this does not occur until the very end of the game (a better storyline for this type of thing might be Riddle of the Sphinx).

The game's graphics are okay, not outstanding. A weird camera/sunspot effect is present in some locations. Incidental animations are few and far between; for example, all water shown in the game is frozen in time. This is in sharp contrast with contemporary releases such as Syberia, in which animated detail is seen everywhere. The cyberpuppets in Pharaoh's Curse are also not as sophisticated as in other recent releases - Cameron sometimes looks a lot like one of those marionettes from the Thunderbirds TV show. Some attention to detail seems to be missing - there are a few spelling mistakes (which may be attributable to translation errors), and a backwards map of Africa can be seen in the museum.

When playing Pharaoh's Curse, we got the feeling the game designers were more interested in tripping up the player rather than extending his enjoyment of the adventure. Like Loch Ness, Pharaoh's Curse has a few timed sequences without any autosave function - again, these seem to frustrate more than challenge, and you may frequently be looking at a Game Over screen while a girl sings "ahoy" at you. There are very few standalone puzzles in the game - it's more of a pixel, inventory and sequence hunt. The few puzzles that are encountered in the game are not particularly interesting or original.

The game's inventory screen is accessible by right-clicking the mouse, but unfortunately this action does not toggle the screen and a particular icon must be clicked to return to gameplay. Unlike in Loch Ness, there are no titles for inventory items, so without a relative size scale, they may be hard to identify. Some paper inventory items are collected in a separate "wallet" screen. Thankfully, all inventory items get used eventually, and extraneous inventory is removed periodically in the game. The saved-game and exit menu is accessible by pressing the Escape key, but once again this action is not a toggle and a hotspot must be selected in order to return to the game. The saved-game interface provides screen thumbnails without timestamps or player-supplied titles. There is a saved-game overwrite warning that was missing from Loch Ness, but the number of saved-game slots offered may be too few for a game in which there is no autosave function and many ways in which your character can die. Players needing more than the 16 slots provided should know that the saved-game files are stored in the game installation directory as SAVE_xx.DAT files and can be transferred elsewhere as needed, although only sixteen at a time are ever available in the game. Unlike its predecessor, Pharaoh's Curse can be started from either of its CD's. The game manual is well done.

The game's full-screen display mode combined with node-based 3D navigation is effective, although no movement transitions are provided. Most gameplay is in the first person, with the occasional cutscene shown in third person. The 3D navigation does not provide for any sort of automatic rotation at a position node, and so ends up requiring a lot of lateral mouse sweep. A smart cursor helps to identify areas to revisit later for further action, although its red color may be hard to see against certain backgrounds. This cursor also lets you know when an inventory item is needed. There are no shortcuts such as maps for game navigation other than a brochure that lets you return to one area early in the game.

Voice acting in the game is very good, with believable accents and dialog. Atmospheric sound effects are prevalent throughout the game, although some may sound inappropriate for the location. Background music is minimal, usually present only during cutscenes and transitions. There is an awkward, multi-step exit/credits sequence, and we found it easier to just terminate the application when we wanted to exit the game. Under Windows, there is no way to task-switch the game.

In summary, The Cameron Files: Pharaoh's Curse is somewhat of a letdown compared to its predecessor and to other contemporary releases.


Copyright © 2002 Balmoral Software ( Portions copyright © 2002 Galilea Multimedia and DreamCatcher Interactive, Inc. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Balmoral Software.