Jonathan Danter - Belief & Betrayal
Release date Germany: 02/2007
Release date Italy: 12/2006
Game language: German
A review by slydos 27th February 2007
After the two comic strip adaptations "Druuna" and "Martin Mystére" the Italian developer Artematica presents us this time a mystery thriller á la The Da Vinci Code.
In Belief & Betrayal we meet the smart people journalist Jonathan Danter. Characteristics: different eye colours and fan of Italian motor-bikes. He's just on his way to Miami for an interview. But he won't get down to it at all. A mysterious call from Scotland Yard 'commands' him right away to London where they found the corpse of his uncle Frank, who was believed to be dead for years already! The British police escorts Jon to his uncle's home, not forgetting to uncover some revelations about good old Frank: he was a member of the Vatican secret service and sleuthing on ... well, that is what you should find out yourself.
The fast-paced story continues in distant London, where Jon meets likewise smart Katrin and other involved characters. Jon, i.e. the players, have only little time to let the fast turning up facts, stories and interrelations affect them. There is no time for leisure in this escapistic but breath-taking story. The scenes change as fast as the information, which lead to several Italian locations and to Chartres in France. The speed keeps high up to the end, the story thrilling and mysterious up to the surprising final video.
If we compare the story to The Da Vinci Code, Artematica however didn't even try to create an authentic background: for example the Catharists, a religious group prosecuted and brutally extinguished by the inquisition, whose peaceableness didn't exactly help them to survive, are presented in this game as the direct opposite: that is to say as a cruel, scruplesless sect! The heck with it, they are all dead anyway, some players may possibly excuse this mistake. To mark the fronts of good and evil in a fictitious church conspiracy however there would have been other options, 'heaven knows'. The story around the whereabouts of the biblical pieces of silver is contrarian fiction too, but at least there is no real evidence in the one or other direction.
The search for an artifact, which pushes the story ahead in "Belief & Betrayal", resembles the Hitchcock-style search for a MacGuffin, an actually interchangeable object. It's more a pretence for the search, serving dramatic fiction to the gamers who are thirsty for suspense and mystery. The gamer's plausibility feeling is calmed down by rapid, plenty text, and if this still hasn't helped, by a funny, absurd alienation effect. When our hero stumbles across an awkward 'coincidental ' toolbox at an exposed position, they first try: "Oh, this object was just unloaded by XY from the car." Before the players can reflect on the probability and logic of this occurrence, a joke turns the situation ridiculous and distracts the players. The developers rightfully believe that these manipulations let them accept such improbable details.
If we refrain from the defamation of the Catharists who can't defend anymore, the Belief&Betrayal-story is a never boring, acceptable conglomerate of church conspiracy, treasure hunt, mystery story, thrilling chase, interesting tourist locations and a dash of paranormal, combined with somehow familiar characters, which don't differ too much from the identification pattern.
But the story is not only made interesting by well-known narrative elements, tempo or locations, but also by splitting the plot to several player characters. You can freely change between them by icon most of the time. The actual linearity of the individual (up to 3) story threads is relativised by the possibility of changing between characters, and thereby avoiding frustrations most of the time. The approx. 16-18 hours of playing time (without using a solution guide) are indeed entertaining, but without real depth too.
Decent prerendered backgrounds offer a nice movement area for our 3D characters. They are not that breath-taking, but exhibit a temptuous recognition value like Saint Peter's and the Vatican Museums or The Bridge of Sighs. I likewise enjoyed visiting scenes that were not at all progress relevant, simply contributing to the atmosphere, never let arise the impression of claustrophobic restriction. The multiplicity of scenes and perspectives, mostly selectable by the the players themselves, are varied and the movement paths transition smoothly and logically into the next scene.
For the quite ingenious close-ups or pan shots of "Broken Sword 4" or "Sherlock Holmes - The Awakened" you'll however look in vain in "Belief & Betrayal". Ego zoom shots of screen areas have a lower detail and color quality than the rest of the static background graphics. The game lacks effects and animations, e.g. cloud or water movements. Instead car and railway traffic with adequate noises provide a realistical environment. Even some animated 3D tourist groups and moderately deployed pedestrian-NPCs are around. Else there are temporal explanations for the absence of humans at public places, to be on the safe side e.g. we only visit Venice at night - when the tourists sleep... and the pigeons too ; -). We can add realistic shadows to our characters depending upon PC capacity in the option menu.
Hand drawings representing Jonathan's childhood are a special graphic extra, faded in whenever our hero flashes back into his memories.
The captivating and action-packed cutscenes are rather blurry and differ from the ingame graphics. Our characters quite often appear in extreme wide shots as small or even tiny figurines with no mimik or gesturing required here. In close-ups Kat usually leaves a better impression than Jon. The lip-synch is o.k. her and also the voice-overs of Mark Bremer and particularly Marion von Stengel (German voice of Angelina Jolie) are an excellent choice. The movements of the male main characters look a bit stiff. I remember smoother character animation in Artematica's Martin Mystére. Particularly Jon's tripping steps are rather the opposite of cat-like or athletical. Together with the steps' noises results a rather artificial appearance, e.g. in a hangar, where footsteps rather sound as if one tips ones fingers on sanded paper. The other two playable characters move more natural, even if Kat apparently only knows one stereotype hand movement so that you sometimes fear that she pricks interlocutors with her index finger, at least if they are sitting, what they very often do. The different music themes support suspense and atmosphere, only the meditative spherical music in the last chapter was mismatching, because of the obvious showdown tension and time pressure.
Belief & Betrayal is a classic point&click adventure game where we only have to use the ESC-key to reach the main menu. 3 different context-sensitive cursor shapes let us interact with the environment: look, talk and manipulate. Our mouse movements over hotspots let pop-up descriptive texts. There's a good balance between the number of game-relevant and not-game-relevant hotspots. Thus puzzling becomes much more exciting by sufficient interaction than e.g. the beautiful Syberia which was so short of hotspots. We usually not only get one but two or three comments about one interactive area, what really makes fun during examining. On the other hand some very long standard responses cleverly keep us more than once from combining everything with everything else and trick us taking our time to think about the problem first.
Sometimes, if our character gets annoyed to be forced to go through the fifth dustbin, he directly contacts the players, complaining and bringing a smile to the face of even the most stubborn trial & error gamer. Beside object and character hotspots we will find very asymmetrically arranged, nearly coincidentally spread areas for scene changes. Finding all of this exits to new scenes in combination with a balanced quantity of other hospots and inventory items forms the basis of the puzzle design, which is supplemented by some dialogue- and extremely simple mechanical puzzles.
The degree of difficulty stays between very easy and easy up to the fifth chapter, however rises in the last two chapters in which we have to master some harder combination puzzles and sporadic pixel hunts, as it befits a classic adventure game. To prevent any boredom during puzzle solving, a second inventory was created, taking up written results of our investigations. Beyond that we acquire a communicator and other aids, which we can frankly combine with each other and with hotspots somehow.
If we are at a loss sometime, we move the mouse to the left side of the screen where we find a description of our current task beside the savegame area. In Belief & Betrayal solving puzzles makes a lot of fun, there are no unnecessary ways to go, no dead ends, no timed tasks, no labyrinths or slider puzzles. You must neither react fast nor can you die in this game. You'll never get the feeling that it's played out artificially. Just the opposite, sometimes one would have wished to repeat at least the conversations, because they are fast too and you are always right in the middle of the captivating action. Those who would like to repeat dialogues, should save often. Fortunately both times - in the save menu and when exiting the game - a question appears: "Do you really want to?". First I accidently jumped back into the main menu when hitting ESC to save my game as I assumed. But that was the only confusing thing. Handling is intuitive and controls are very easy to use. They don't require big explanations and no learning phase. At the beginning I was a little disturbed by the unfortunate background texture selection of inventory objects, but since you can magnify those objects by right-click and get a text and speech description, it's o.k. too.
Belief & Betrayal comes on one DVD in a DVD-Box accompanied by a German manual. Collectors will be pleased about the pretty additional mini flap-box shaped like an old book. One bug pops up in the last chapter, when you open the London city map and then can't return to the game except restarting it. Beyond that I didn't notice any additional errors, bugs or other difficulties on my test configuration.
Handling, puzzles, story and professional voice overs form a very pleasant unit. Graphically there are surely more perfect examples, but this doesn't cloud the general impression noticeable. Other points of criticism do militate heavier than that: as there is a story far from reality or historical facts. But most of this story is coherent in itself, suspense does not diminish to the end and is actually really very much satisfying ... decisive factors. Those who don't expect a psychological thriller of great depth or a more founded background research á la The Da Vinci Code, those who are satisfied with a simple, fast-paced adventure plot, won't be disappointed and undoubtedly get their money worth.
Total rating: 82%
Adventure-Archiv rating system:
- 80% - 100% excellent game, very recommendable
- 70% - 79% good game, recommendable
- 60% - 69% satisfactory, restricted recommendable
- 50% - 59% sufficient (not very recommendable)
- 40% - 49% rather deficient (not to be recommended - for Hardcore-Adventure-Freaks and collectors only)
- 0% - 39% worst (don't put your fingers on it)
Minimal system requirements:
- Windows 2000/XP
- Processor Athlon/Pentium 1,2 GHz
- 256 MB RAM
- 2,5 GB free space on hard disk
- 16x DVDROM-drive
- 3D-graphic card with 64 MB RAM, DirectX 9.0c-compatible
- Sound card DirectX-compatible, 16-bit
- Mouse and keyboard
- Windows XP
- Pentium IV 3,6 GHz
- 2 GB RAM
- 48x DVD-ROM
- NVidia GeForce 7600GS 256 MB
- Sound card DirectX-compatible
Copyright © slydos for Adventure-Archiv, 27th February 2007
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