Benoit Sokal’s Syberia was one of my favorite adventure games of all time. It blended art, characters, puzzles and plot into a moving and intriguing whole. But somehow Sokal has never been able to match it, or even come close. His adventures always have interesting artwork, but the other elements are hit or miss. With Syberia they were all hits, but with his other games, including his latest offering Sinking Island, they’re usually misses. And unfortunately, with Sinking Island they miss badly, and the game is more of a test of patience than a journey into wonder.
In Sinking Island you play a detective named Jack Norm (I guess John Doe was already taken). You’re called out to a remote island where an aging, overweight billionaire has kicked the bucket, and nobody is sure whether he was killed or if his death was an accident. That’s a fine enough start, but then the clichés start rolling in: it turns out everybody on the island had a reason to kill the billionaire, a storm rocks the island, preventing anybody from coming or going, and one character actually comes up to you and says that it was murder and that he knows who did it -- but that he can’t tell you who it was until tomorrow. Well, guess who dies during the night.
The subtitle to Sinking Island is “a psychological thriller,” but there aren’t any thrills. The story itself is a bore. None of the characters are interesting or likeable, and so I didn’t care who the killer was or if he got caught. The dialogue is horrendous. It’s clunky, badly-translated, full of typos -- and best of all, you can’t skip it so you have to listen to Jack Norm repeatedly introduce himself to characters by saying things like “I warn you, the rules have changed: I am the inspector officially in charge of the investigation of the murder of Walter Jones, and I therefore have all powers at my disposal to bring this investigation to a close.” Well, that just rolls off the tongue, right?
But worst of all is the puzzles, because there basically aren’t any. The most difficult puzzle in the game requires you to create some fingerprinting powder, but all you have to do for it is sharpen a graphite pencil, and Jack all but tells you how to do it. Instead, Sinking Island is a pixel hunting adventure. You have to scan locations to find clues, than talk to people about them, which opens up more clues to find, and then repeat the process. For some adventures this works out fine because the characters say interesting things, and conversations with them unlock new locations for you to search, but Sinking Island has neither. The characters are dull, and you only get to explore about a dozen rooms in the hotel where you’re staying. For me, searching locations a couple of times is fine, because I usually miss things the first time through, but Sinking Island expects you to search rooms and talk to people over and over and over again, and it’s just tedious (especially when new clues suddenly appear where they weren’t before).
Basically, Sinking Island has nothing going for it. The mystery is boring, the puzzles don’t require any thought, the dialogue is astoundingly bad, and too many parts of the game seem like they were made on the cheap (for example, when you talk to people their lips don’t move). The artwork is nice enough, but it can’t compensate for everything else in the adventure being worthless, and so Sinking Island is definitely a game to skip.