An Explosive Mystery

Secret Files: Tunguska
Reviewed On
Available For

The 1908 impact event near the Tunguska River in Siberia is one of the great unsolved mysteries of our time. This explosion is estimated to have been between 10 and 20 megatons, and felled about 80 million trees over 830 square miles. This event caused the night sky for the next few weeks to glow such that you could read by it, yet to date no light has been shed on what exactly caused the explosion.

Most scientists agree that the most likely explanation is an air burst from a large meteoroid from several miles up. However, all manner of theories have sprouted up, from crashed spaceship to antimatter to a black hole.

Secret Files: Tunguska capitalizes on this mystery and weaves a story of intrigue and adventure around it. In it you play Nina Kalenkov, who finds her father, Vladamir, who works at a natural history museum in Berlin, missing, and his office in disarray. As she begins to look for her father, the truth about his past, and possibly the answer to the greatest mystery in modern times, begins to unveil itself.

The gameplay interface is what has pretty much become the standard for third-person solvers. Nina stands inside a scene, and you can left-click to make her go to a location or take an item into your inventory. Right-clicking on an object will allow you to examine it. One of the things that sets SF:T apart from similar games is when you mouse over an object, the cursor will change not only into a symbol indicating what type of action is possible, but also a diagram of a mouse will remind you which button to click. This definitely eliminated many trips to the game manual.

Largely the puzzle work is common-sense sorts of things, like figuring out how to fix a flat bicycle tire or finding the combination to a safe. There are a few instances of classic puzzles, such as a ‘Lights Out’-style one (like the old electronic device game), but largely it is very "Longest Journey" in style, where you take ordinary things and combine them in interesting ways to change the environment in the desired way.

Unfortunately, sometimes you are expected to leap the bounds of common sense and try something that you wouldn’t ordinarily even think of, and do so on faith. In one instance, you are left alone in a lab where they are testing plant samples, and you are expected to realize that the only thing to do is to haphazardly mix two of the samples together. In reality, this would be more likely to do nothing, but in the game it causes a great discovery that you can use as a distraction.

In another example, in order to open something you must place a human skull in a recess. How the heck was I supposed to know that? The recess isn’t skull-shaped, nor is there any clue that would lead to this conclusion. Yet I am expected to not only find the partially-hidden skull in the corner of one screen, but am also supposed to put it in the alcove through elimination of all other possibilities.

This sort of brings me to another problem with this style of game. All too often you need an object that is very small, and is nearly invisible in a scene, and you might find it simply because you were lucky enough to mouse over it.

A similar problem can be had when the thing that needs to be found is a part of a larger object – sometimes you won’t notice the text at the top of the screen change as the cursor passes over the important part. I consider this to be the nature of the beast, and the only solution is to carefully mouse over everything that looks like it could interacted with.

The artwork is nothing short of beautiful. The details are everywhere, from the far off background to the stacks of things in the foreground that often form the bottom border of the screen – everything is extremely well-rendered, and pleasing to look at. Even pieces of junk that are in some of the scenes are beautifully drawn. And the art for the interface is just as pretty, with stylized borders and a nice ordered feel.

The voice acting is a bit above par for an adventure game. For the English version, the publishers decided to totally abandon situation-appropriate accents. While the main character needs to have a fairly neutral voice that is easy to understand, I was surprised to find that the background characters had random assortments of American accents, even though they were portraying Russian soldiers and so forth.

Of course, I would much rather hear a German kid with a bicycle have an American accent than a poorly done German one, so I guess this was as good a move as anything.

Secret Files: Tunguska is a thought-provoking adventure that takes you all across the world and probes into one of the greatest mysteries in the modern era, and its minor gameplay foibles don’t really detract from this. For the money it is definitely worth having if you like a good mental challenge.

It earns four and a half GiN Gems.

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