Saturday Crapshoot: Conspiracies

Richard Cobbett at

OH MY GOD DON'T KILL ME AND STICK MY CORPSE IN YOUR SOFA!

Once again, Richard Cobbett rolls the dice to bring you an obscure slice of gaming history, from lost gems to weapons grade atrocities. Today, he dons his fedora to meet the Greek detective that even other sleuths call... well... Nick Delios, probably. Because that's his name.

Every great detective needs a gimmick. Nero Wolfe eats his weight in food on a daily basis. Adrian Monk can't shake hands, or even get near milk. Hercule Poirot's leetle grey cells make him the most punchable of all Belgians. Harry Dresden is the only crimesolving wizard in the phone book. If you don't have a gimmick, you don't have a career in sleuthing. It's that simple.

Prepare to meet Nick Delios: Crazy Hobo PI of THE FUTURE!

OH MY GOD DON'T KILL ME AND
STASH MY CORPSE BEHIND YOUR SOFA!

Conspiracies is a Greek adventure game from a few years ago that's... how do I put this tactfully? I can't. It's a shameless rip-off of the Tex Murphy adventures. Full 3D world. FMV. An unlucky PI in a future full of flying speeder cars. Even the conversation system is a carbon copy, starting out with sets of three responses before cutting to a long list of subjects. But that's okay. The Tex Murphy games deserved to be ripped off more than they ever actually were, and it's not as though Access itself was making them at the time. Certainly, it's this somewhat 'borrowed' lineage that made me pick up a copy of the game, as opposed to the box's claim that it - and I quote - Includes Video Clip of Blues Wire - a band I've never heard of, but are apparently a known quantity in Greece/friends of the dev team.

Could be worse though. Check out the Polish cover...

Despite owning this game for ages, I've never actually finished it. It's not dreadful, like many of the games we've looked at over the last few months, though it's far, far from good either - certainly if you've played Tex Murphy's adventures uncovering The Pandora Directive and Overseer. The puzzles range from meh to stupid, the 3D engine is pretty weak, too many of the puzzles rely on un-hinted at triggers and inventory objects, and the hardest puzzle in the entire game is working out how to save. The biggest issue for me though was that the story didn't grab me, and in adventures, that's the ultimate enthusiasm killer. The mystery isn't very compelling, has too many irrelevances, and like a lot of sci-fi games, gets utterly drowned in bullshit, from an opening scroll which tries to set up a huge intergalactic universe the game just doesn't have the budget for, right down to irritating trivial details like making it The Future by splitting the game map into areas with Forced Future Names like Sector 1523 and such. I gave it a chance, and I've played much, much worse, but in the end it gave me no reason to give a damn.

(I did however watch the ending on YouTube, and hereby dock the whole game a million points for its cliffhanger ending. Note to designers: every time you do that, everyone who buys your game earns the right to smack you twice in the face with a wet herring. Stop it, stop it, stop it, stop it!)

Really, only one thing kept me playing as far as I did. Nick himself. Ah, Nick Delios. How can I describe this man? How about with the very first puzzle in the game. He won't leave his apartment until he's had a cup of coffee, but the water's been cut off. So you use the water in in his fish-tank.

Yes. Really. While doing this, you get to enjoy the single crappiest PI apartment you will ever see in your life. In terms of furniture, it's not too bad. Certainly Marlowe wouldn't have complained, although he might have queried the cupboard at the back, designed like a noughts-and-crosses board, where you press squares at the top to open random drawers at the bottom. Maybe not though. In retrospect, he'd be too busy drawing the line at the giant gaping crack running down the entire back wall.

I can see your house from here.
And the entire rest of the city!
And the world's stupidest puzzle drawers!

As for Nick himself... he's... he's... Picture every great game detective. Gabriel Knight. Laura Bow. Raoul Dusentier. The guy from MST3K Presents: Detective. Reverse them, and you get Nick Delios, a slobby mess of a man stumbling around The Future in his grey tracksuit and scrappy beard. He is, we're told by at least two characters, one of whom hates his guts, The Best, though it's hard to imagine that. When he stumbles up to people, it's amazing that they don't apologise for not having any change.

Creepy-wise, he also doesn't help his case with some of the puzzle solutions, from having trouble getting a drink even when he actually has money to his occasional tirades. The highlight though comes when he tracks down a female source, creeps her out as he tries out new lies to get into her apartment, finally does so by masquerading as a janitor, immediately drops the disguise once he's inside, and pelts her with questions. Soon after, she leaves, he breaks in, and... for no reason... steals her bra.

(It is of course used later. Once again, It's Out Of Context Adventure Game Solution Time! Just imagine what situation can be best fixed with: "Use the dynamite with the bra and attach the detonator." However, at this point in time, there's no hint that this will be so. It's just there to swipe.)

What makes all this better is that Nick has one of the most awesome voiceovers ever. Being a Greek adventure, all of the cast are dubbed - and in fairness, usually pretty well. With Nick himself, it's... hmm. His dub doesn't fall for any of the usual voiceover traps, put it that way. It's not bland, it's not emotionless, he doesn't trip over his sentences or choke on the translation. It does however a guy who can already... er... come across as a bit crazy, and makes him utterly unhinged.

I could explain in detail... but YouTube exists.

Not included in that compilation is the real highlight - Nick finally meeting the great (?) Blues Wire. Celebrities in FMV games are often amusing for both length and performance. Under A Killing Moon for instance was proud to give Margot Kidder (Lois Lane in the original Superman movie and... uh... some other stuff probably) second billing in Under A Killing Moon for roughly five minutes of footage of her as a cranky bartender near the end of the game. Over in Black Dahlia, Dennis Hopper's ten or so minutes of footage earned his name pride of place on the box... and that was more time than he got in an earlier adventure called Hell, where his badly rendered 3D form played a demon. In fairness though, that is about the only thing anyone remembers the game for, so it was money well spent.

Musicians only occasionally get the same treatment - most recently, in Jane Jensen's Gray Matter. The songs were provided by a group called The Scarlet Furies, which is pretty much the Jensen family band. One of the puzzles involves finding the CD that one of the main characters used as background music on his honeymoon. If you're guessing that involved a very glaring plug... you'd be spot-on. Let's not even ask what a very straight-laced Oxford professor was doing with a CD from an independent American 'Southern Gothic' band. (Though their music is decent, and available on Spotify, along with a cool Gray Matter soundtrack whose track listing totally spoils the big mystery. Doh...)

The Blues Wire cameo in the game is pretty damn toe-curling though, not so much for the music itself, but how the band is integrated into Nick Delios' crazy world. For starters, it's the future, and we're watching a current band? Are they vampires? What's going on here? On a wider scale, yes, their presence is part of a puzzle later on, when Nick has to bluff a fan. However, and this is important, much like stealing a woman's bra from her sofa while looking for clues, he isn't actually aware that this will become useful later on in the game his life. From this, we have to assume that his responses are genuine.

Conspiracies II was released last month, which is a hell of a development cycle considering that the first one came out in 2002. It's called Lethal Networks, and I suspect I won't be sent a copy after that whole Crazy Hobo PI Of The Future thing. Still, here's the trailer, which shows that both the technology and production values are considerably higher. Best of all, it's the same voiceover guy as Nick, even if the man himself appears to have bought a new shirt and tie since his first appearance.

Alternatively, since we're talking detectives and I doubt I'll ever get around to doing this one on its own, there's another PI Of The Future game out there too - a student project called Fate By Numbers. It's fully noir, with a female detective for once, and also heavy on the FMV. No 3D room-raiding though - it's a more traditional 2D point-and-click. It's... uh... better than this trailer makes it look. Honestly, what is it with Future PI games and dreadful trailers? No matter. Here you go anyway:

How about the classics? Well, I do have this here copy of Philip Marlowe: Private Eye, based on the book Little Sister. It's an interesting game, especially if you like Chandler's original stories.

But I think we'll save that for another week...