Figuring out end-of-the-year awards for computer games is always tough. I mean, how do you compare a real-time strategy game to an adventure? Or a role-playing game to a first-person shooter? Right now I have three games in mind -- RHEM, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Conspiracies -- but I’m not quite sure how to order them. Each has definite reasons for making the list, but weighing those factors and determining the most deserving is, I expect, going to be a challenge come January. Oh, and if the list seems odd, it’s because I’m talking about the Worst Game of the Year.
That’s right, Conspiracies, from Greek developer Anima Interactive, is a truly awful adventure game. Every facet of the game is bad, from the graphics to the acting to the interface to the puzzles. It’s one of those games that makes me wonder about the gaming industry, why it can find a publisher but other, more promising games (like, say, the Jagged Alliance games), have trouble.
Anyway, in Conspiracies you play Nick Delios, a private investigator who really, really wants to be Tex Murphy, but isn’t. One day your arch enemy asks you to find somebody for him, and even though you hate his guts, you have to help him because he’s collected all of the bad checks you’ve written lately. Meanwhile, your friend on the police force asks you to look into the murder of a minor criminal. Of course, the two favors turn out to be related, and soon you’re investigating, what else, a conspiracy.
Conspiracies takes place in the future, in 2063, but for no other reason than to include time travel and aliens, two things the game would have been better off without. Worse, the only unusual thing about the murder of the criminal you’re investigating is that he had a certain drug in his body, and so right from the start it isn’t difficult to guess what the conspiracy is all about. Then you spend the rest of the game tracking down who’s behind the conspiracy and why, but whatever you’re imagining as you sit there reading this review is probably more interesting than what actually turns out to be the case.
Of course, adventures can survive despite not having much of a story. Look at Myst III, for example. But games that do that usually have interesting puzzles to fall back on, and Conspiracies doesn’t. In fact, its only claim to fame is that it uses a lot of full-motion video, but watching a bunch of badly acted scenes doesn’t exactly help its cause. At least when a developer like Westwood fools around with full-motion video, it uses attractive women so the acting doesn’t matter as much. No such luck with Conspiracies.
The puzzles in Conspiracies are downright bad. Usually I don’t give details of puzzles because I don’t want to spoil anything when people play the game, but here I’m guessing people are going to lean heavily on walkthroughs anyway -- or, better, avoid the game altogether -- and so it doesn’t make much of a difference.
So consider this sequence in the game. You have to get past some robotic guard dogs. Apparently there isn’t any such thing as electronic steak to distract them, and so your only choice is to get water on them to zap their circuitry. So, I don’t know, you somehow flood their pen and then the water pressure gets to them? Nope. You fill a duck-shaped flotation device with water using a syringe, and then when you throw the duck at the dogs and they bite into it, the water splashes on them and kills them. Uh huh. You’d expect robotic guard dogs to be that stupid and fragile, and of course it doesn’t rain in the future. I’ve seen a lot of stupid and goofy puzzles in my time, but that’s the lamest sequence ever -- and it’s not the only example I could have used.
Things only get worse with the interface. The cursor doesn’t change to tell you when you’re over a hotspot; the interface doesn’t tell you what your cursor is currently over (which makes it difficult to tell what some things are since the graphics are so bad); there aren’t any subtitles (which is a problem since all the names are Greek and the game doesn’t keep any sort of a journal for you); you don’t get to name your saved games; and you only get to hold 27 things in your inventory (that sounds like a lot, but there are all sorts of weird things in the game, and you can die if you’re not holding the right thing at the right time).
And so Conspiracies is one of those games that is just so bad you should never play it, even if somebody gives it to you for free. And yet, if you go to Got Game Entertainment’s web site, you’ll find six positive quotes about the game, from five different web sites! I realize that no matter what the object is, somebody is going to like it and somebody is going to hate it, but I’m shocked there are five people in the world who think Conspiracies is a good purchase.