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Review #455

Shadows On the Vatican – Act I: Greed
Developer:10th Art Studios
Publisher: Adventure Productions
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: 02/13/2012

Although the North America has companies like Double Fine and Telltale Games, the vast majority of adventure games are being developed and published across the Atlantic in Europe. Case in point, the game we are looking at today, Shadows On the Vatican is a four part episodic adventure gaming coming out of Italy. I did an interview with several of the staff working on the game back in January and I have to admit, I’ve been really looking forward to this game. It’s one of the few I knew I wanted to review if I had the opportunity and so here we are. So does the first episode, Greed, having me chomping at the bit for more…or have I seen enough?

Let’s Review

1. Story

The main character in James Murphy, a 38 year old ex-priest who now works as a doctor. He left the priesthood in 1996 due to an incident in Africa that left his mentor dead. At the start of Greed he is back in Italy visiting a friend who is still a priest. Unfortunately his friend is acting very mysterious, wanting to meet immediately, but then bailing at the last second and requesting that James come to where he is staying instead. When James arrives, his friend has suffered a grievous injury, Before he falls into a coma he tells James to be careful and that something deeply disturbing is afoot.

James finds himself investigating a shadowy conspiracy - the tip of which we only begin to see in Act I. You’ll follow James throughout Italy as he makes a possible love interest, shadows seedy gangsters and goes to old, almost forgotten churches. The entire story is very real world, so don’t look for any fantastical or supernatural happenings. The plot climax of what is going on might be a little too mundane for some, but I really liked it and things definitely felt like a nice thriller/legal novel turned into a video game.

My only real complaint is that the last scene of Act I suddenly shifts you to a new character without warning. Said character is pretty unlikeable and shallow, at least for now, and it was odd to move to her without any sort of setup or warning. All in all though, I really enjoyed the story and I’m curious to see where the dangling plot threads and the foreshadowing will lead us in Act II.

Story Rating: 7/10

2. Graphics

Shadows On the Vatican uses the Wintermute engine, much like last year’s Alpha Polaris. Unfortunately the game doesn’t look nearly as good as that one. The in-game character models are about a decade behind what most gamers are used to and they’re a bit awkward looking, especially when someone is sitting. They seem to double in weight and width. Background look nice though. They have a lot of detail compared to the average adventure game, but there’s still nothing here that will really wow you.

Cut scenes are done motion comic style with art provided by Daniela Di Matteo. I like her art a lot and it really helps make the game stand out. The cut scenes are by far the best visuals in the game. My only complaint is that everyone in the game is supposed to be American Caucasian or Italian but their eyes all look asian. When you get a close up, it’s very odd. Especially with James’ best friend who I constantly thought was Chinese save for his VERY Italian name. I can’t say I was impressed by the visuals in Shadows on the Vatican and I hope the character models improve in following chapters, but what’s here will sate the average adventure game fan.

Graphics Rating: 5/10

3. Sound

The aural aspects of Shadows On the Vatican are by far the best in the game. Both the voice acting and soundtrack blew me away. The soundtrack is one of the best I’ve heard in a video game this year and it’s definitely my front runner for when we give out or end of year audio award. I honestly could have just sat there and listened to the music in this game. It’s that good. Unfortunately, my favorite song is only on the menu screen but wow is it amazing.

The voice acting too is really well done. The characters come to life primarily through the voice acting and it really makes you care about the characters. Sylvia’s voice actress is the one weak link, but then she was hit by a car when you hear her so the fact she sounds out of it and monotone isn’t something I’ll count against the game – yet. Now when she’s better in following acts…

Between the stellar voice acting and the exceptionally impressive score, Shadows On the Vatican is well worth experiencing just to listen to it, even if adventure games aren’t your forte. This game really shows that an indie company can go toe-to-toe with the multi-billion dollar publishers out there in quality…if not marketing.

Sound Rating: 10/10

4. Control and Gameplay

Shadows On the Vatican plays like most adventure games. You left click on an item to interact with it or pick up, you left click on a person to talk with them and you left click on an exit to leave the area. Right clicking on something gets you a bit of information and the space bar brings up all possible hot spots in the location. Shift+M brings up a map for fast travel. It’s all fairly standard, easy to figure out and can beplayed by just about anyone. Like most adventure games, Shadows on the Vatican is extremely user friendly and at no point did I run into any glitches, hotspot detection issues or the like.

Most of the puzzles involve putting objects together to get past an obstacle or proceed past a point. There are a few others, all of which are pretty original and outside the box for this genre. One involves hanging a drape up just right so that you can find a secret location. Another involves tailing someone to their secret lair. I really enjoyed these puzzles and they were a nice change from the usual “combine object A and object B to make object C” or “use object X on background piece or person Y.” The puzzles here show that the designers really wanted Shadows on the Vatican to stand out from the pack and here’s hoping they are able to keep this fresh feeling going through all four episodes.

Control and Gameplay Rating: 8/10

5. Replayability

Alas, this is the one week part of the game. Greed is only two to three hours long and it’s exceptionally linear. As such there’s really no reason to replay the game unless you want to refresh your memory of what happened in the beginning by the time the next (or later) episodes come out. This is very much a “one and done” game and although there are a lot of very positive things to be said about the game, it’s not something you’ll really find yourself coming back to.

Replayability Rating: 3/10

6. Balance

Act I: Greed sets a really strong precedent for the next three episodes of Shadows on the Vatican and it will be interesting to see if the others can follow suit. You have some of the typical object based puzzles that are in all adventure games along with a few unusual but very fun puzzles to guide you along. The only time I really got tripped up was at the beginning when I was trying to sterilize a needle. I kept trying to use my peroxide and it wouldn’t let me. Finally I figured out I needed to heat the needle instead. Other than that it was generally the game not allowing you to do some actions (even if they were the correct one to take) unless you did something else first. That could be a bit frustrating, but it’s part of the genre and the very linear nature of some games like this.

Overall, Shadows On the Vatican is a really great example of what draws people to point and click style games in the first place. The puzzles are challenging but not frustrating and the storyline is strong enough to keep one interested even if it moves at a slower paces that other video game genres. I was very happy with the entire package here.

Balance Rating: 7/10

7. Originality

Although Shadows On the Vatican plays like nearly every other adventure game out there, the story is a nice change of pace from the over the top plots we tend to get in video games nowadays. It’s mundane but in an interesting way. It also boasts some new fun puzzles I haven’t seen in other adventure games and it’s just all around fun. Act I: Greed doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, but it does feel fresher than a lot of other adventure games that have gone almost purely hidden object for puzzles.

Originality Rating: 5.5/10

8. Addictiveness

I beat Shadows On the Vatican in one straight play through. Now granted, as this is an episodic title rather than a full length game, it only took me about two hours to beat it, but I was hooked from beginning to end. I’ve been really burned out on video games in general this year, but Shadows On the Vatican reminded me just why I love this genre so much. It might not be much to look at but with a quality story, amazing soundtrack and fun puzzles, Shadows On the Vatican is a game that any adventure fan will enjoy. I know that I’m going to be anxiously awaiting each episode as they come out.

Addictiveness Rating: 7/10

9. Appeal Factor

Contrary to popular belief, adventure games do still have a decent sized audience – it’s just they tend to be more casual gamers and not the ones that frequently visit the major video game websites and/or forums. This is because those sites don’t really cover adventure games (Boo!) Still, as Shadows on the Vatican is a digital download only game that really isn’t marketed that heavily, it means a lot of gamers are going to miss it entirely. It also doesn’t help that you can only get the game from the Zodiac store, which I had honestly never heard of until I started investigating this game a few months ago. To download the game you have to use the Zodiac client. I’m REALLY not a fan of having to have a client to play a game (Hi Steam!) but at least you don’t need to be connected online constantly to play this.

If you are willing to download a client just to play the game, you’ll be happy to hear that Shadows On the Vatican is a hair under eight dollars per episode. That means it will be roughly $32 for the entire game, which isn’t a bad price at all. The problem is going to be getting gamers to know about this game and then track it down. It’s a wonderful little adventure title but the genre isn’t for everyone, some religious folks might be offended that the main character is an ex-priest and it might be a little too mundane of a storyline for some, but I really enjoyed it. Now let’s hope others will as well.

Appeal Factor Rating: 5.5/10

10. Miscellaneous

With a price tag of roughly eight dollars, Shadows On the Vatican – Act I: Greed is an exceptional deal. You get a well made two to four hour game with an incredible soundtrack and a gripping plot. The game is priced similar to a lot of other casual games like those that you can find on Big Fish Games or similar sites. Although the game is only available as a digital download in one specific spot, it’s well worth picking up. I know I’ll be seeing the series through to the end. If the other three chapters are anything like this one, I think Shadows On the Vatican will have this year’s “Best Adventure Game” award all sewn up.

Miscellaneous Rating: 8/10

The Scores:
Story: 7
Graphics: 5
Sound: 10
Control and Gameplay: 8
Replayability: 3
Balance: 7
Originality: 5.5
Addictiveness: 7
Appeal Factor: 5.5
Miscellaneous: 8
Total Score: 66
FINAL SCORE: 6.5 (EnjoyableGame!)

Short Attention Span Summary
Shadows On the Vatican – Act I: Greed is a wonderful opening to this four part episodic point and click adventure game. For less than eight dollars you’re getting a gripping real world style detective story that will take between two and four hours to complete. The voice acting and soundtrack is amongst the best I’ve heard in a long time – which is all the more impressive as this game is made by a small Italian company most of you reading this have never heard of. Although you’ll need to download the Zodiac client to experience the game, it doesn’t need to be online while you play (Think the GOG.Com installer). It’s well worth tracking this down to experience, and just think – there are three more episodes to go after this one.

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