USK: 12 years and up
A review by slydos 21st January 2003
Atmosphere Studios consist probably only of one man, Kiril Hristanow, responsibly for story and realisation. Only 3D-programming, dubbing and music he left to others. "Vandell - Knight of the Tortured Souls" is the first completed adventure of this developer, which years ago already fuels hopes with the production of the never finished comic adventure "Petko". Unfortunately Publisher Blackstar Interactive went bankrupt last year, so that Vandell could be still published, but then immersed into the sea of unknown. The license for the German-speaking countries was taken over now by dtp (Runaway), so that the game will probably hit the shelves again at the end of January.
"Vandell - Knight of the Tortured Souls" is a dark melancholic science fiction story which leaves no doubts about the archetypes: "Rise of the Dragon" by Sierra/Dynamix and "Bladerunner" by Westwood with a dash of "Beneath a Steel Sky" by Revolution. Thus it falls into the Film Noir category like the recent "Post Mortem", belongs however to the rare sub category Science Fiction Noir.
In the future Metropolis La Herida 5 (which means "injury" in English) the sun isn't seen, the roads are wet-with-rain and dirty, the light of the neon advertisements is reflected in the puddles. The world of 2289 is stamped by androids and robots, one-man fliers and humans, who live their lives in more or less hopelesness.
In the intro we become acquainted with Adam Vandell, who once belonged to the luckier part of mankind, after he had married his early love Cassandra when he was 17. His father was a Belgian officer who boozed himself to death; his mother, a Japanese, lives with his unpleasant half brother and his sister-in-law in Japan. Vandell remembers the day in December, when Cass got appetite on her favourite ice cream and he left their home only for a short time, in order to get it for her. He found her stabbed in her blood when he came back and lapsed into despair and hate. He believed to sooth this hate by joining the world-wide operating mercenary squad S.T.A.I.N.. But this also was of no effect. After he had tried in vain to find the murderer on his own, he went to the police and was trained as a detective. There he got an implant, which enables him to read the thoughts of other people. Once he hunted a killer named Mandarin, who revenged the death of his sister by executing child murderers. Vandell could catch the killer and he was put to death. But now an imitator seems to be at works...
Vandell comes on 1 CD with German manual within a cardboard in eurobox format. The installation of the 166 MB runs automatically and problem-free. You don't need to leave the CD in the drive after that.
The main menu is kept very briefly, the only choices are to start a new game or to take up an already started game (your game is automatically saved when quitting, no other save functions are available). In the main menu we can also select whether we want sub-titles or not. After selecting New Game we can watch the extensive comic style intro with Manga touch. Faded in single illustrations complete the told prehistory and thereafter we meet Vandell in his office. From now on we can control our hero.
Whereever we save the game and quit, we will always start again in Vandell's office, but our progress concerning information and objects is saved. Vandell is a 3rd-person-adventure, which up to the ESC-key to stop dialogues and for leaving the game and Spacebar to change between object inventory and location inventory, is exclusively controlled by mouse. A Chinese letter indicates scene exits and the crosshair cursor likewise changes its shape and color, if we can examine hotspots or talk with people. Within close limits we can move Vandell - he cannot walk to all possible points at the screen. But if we look at something or can take up an object, then our hero moves to the clicked point. Right-click with the mouse gives us a description of an item or a person, left-click lets us interact. In addition there is another special ability of Vandell - mind reading! With a doubleclick on the right mouse-button the cursor transforms and we can apply it to other characters.
The inventory is (nearly) always visible at the bottom of the screen. Taken up items must explicitly been put there. If one drives the mouse over the normally grey objects, they appear colored and also a describing text is shown. With a left-click one can select an object and the cursor takes its shape. With right-click again one receives a description or a comment about an inventory-object. Objects can be combined within the inventory.
With Spacebar we switch from object-inventory to the inventory of available locations. A change of locations through this icons is substantially faster than moving the slow-pacing Vandell in each case to one of the scene exits. Vandell can be moved by only one speed.
Altogether a quite simple and pleasant control. Nevertheless several functions must be looked up in the manual, particularly mind reading and switching between the inventories. The fact that one cannot store a single savegame is really not praiseworthy. This provides a very bad and dangerous possibility: you can easily destroy your only automatic savegame, if you select Start New Game instead of Continue Game in the main menu.
Particularly well succeeded the 2D-background graphics, which offer very many details in spite of the darkness. A large number of decent background animations enlivens the locations, dripping gasoline from a tank, a candle flickering or airplanes in the night sky. The expressionful, sad music and suitable sound effects let a movie-like atmosphere arise. The somewhat slow and angular movements and turns of our 3D-hero look a little soldier-like, but are - compared with 3D-characters of other games - of acceptable medium quality.
Whenever we are offered a video sequence in other adventure games, because we arrived at a key point of the story, Vandell shows a sequence of comic-strip fixed images (reminding very much of "Rise of the Dragon"), which are commentated by Vandell's pleasing voice. By the way the dubbing of all characters is excellent and professional. During the dialogues the portraits of Vandell and his interlocutors are faded in beside the additional screen-texts. There are only comic-like fixed images and no speech animation here too. Dialogues and comments are however very atmospheric and often give an idea of Vandell's feelings. We experience a lot more about our heroe than we would need for mere completion of our tasks.
The object-oriented puzzles range from easy to medium-difficult, are throughout logical and also imaginative. There are no multiple choice selections during dialogues, it's more about starting a dialogue at the correct time. Vandell cannot die and there are also no action sequences - except in the comics - and no Game Over. A pure adventure thus.
Unfortunately the game ends exactly when you want to make it yourself comfortable. The story doesn't end illogical, but based on the efforts, which the author put into the narration of the plot, one could have expected a by far longer game. The story would hold more in any case and points out a more detailed planned game with its entire structure .
I don't think that anybody will need more than 3 or 4 hours for Vandell (like always without using a walkthrough), adventure experts hardly 2 hours. (I already played demos, which were longer). That is simply not enough and also very unfortunate, since one already imagined, what would happen next. However the price with approx. 26 Euro lies quite below other games, which offer similar short entertainment, e.g. most adventures games for children - however worse price-performance ratio should not be the rating scale here. It is thus neither story, atmosphere, sound or puzzles, which really prevents from a recommendation of the game, but the game length, which lets potential buyers consider whether to go to the cinema and pay less for the same amount of time.
- 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:
- Pentium II 350 Mhz
- Windows 95x/ME/XP/2000
- 64 MB
- DirectX 8.0 compatible 3D-graphic card 16 MB RAM
- DirectX 8.0 compatible sound card
- 2x CDROM-drive
- min. 180 MB hard drive space
- Windows XP
- P IV 1,6 GHz
- 512 MB RAM
- 16x DVD-ROM (Artec WRA-A40)
- nVidia GeForce 2MX400 64 MB graphic card
- Sound card DirectX-compatible