By: Matthew Striplen
Back when I was a wee lad (the early ’90s), I had no game consoles, but I did have a spectacular computer: a Packard Bell running Windows 3.1. Those were the good old days, before Super HD graphics and gajillion gigabyte processors. There were a few games that sparked my initial fascination with video games, including the classic Ski Free, the hilariously outdated 3D Dinosaur Adventure, and a slew of point-and-click adventures. Sacra Terra: Kiss of Death takes me back to a simpler era of gaming when titles were more like I Spy books and less like Call of Duty.
Point-and-click games got their start on the PC, and the very nature of the genre lends itself to the typical PC setup: keyboard and mouse. A mouse enables the player to effortlessly and efficiently scan the screen for important objects. Since the PS3 obviously doesn’t have a mouse, both analog sticks are used. The left stick moves the cursor quickly and the right one moves slowly. This is a nice touch that allows for more precision in scanning jumbled areas. However, the same effect could have been created if the developers utilized the analog capabilities to the fullest.
By far, my favorite part of the controls is how the player navigates the world. In all previous point-and-clickers I’ve played, the only way to move is one room at a time. Sacra Terra, while also allowing for this same type of motion, makes use of the map. The world is depicted by a series of hearts, each representing a different room. Clicking on a heart displays the name of the selected room and also a thumbnail. Clicking again instantly transports the player to said room. Can you say, “timesaver”?
Sacra Terra uses two distinct art styles: one for still objects and scenery, and another for characters and other items requiring motion. The still scenes are far superior to their moving counterparts, mostly because they appear hand drawn, while the latter is mediocre CGI.
The best looking stills appear when the player is faced with a mass of random paraphernalia, as seen in the screen shot. These images are highly detailed and usually have great lighting effects. The CGI is fairly run of the mill, neither contributing nor detracting much from the experience. The speech animations for the characters look a little bizarre, though.
On the topic of speech, the voice acting is atrocious to the point of hilarity. I’m pretty sure this is unintentional since the rest of the game takes itself rather seriously, but I could be wrong. The musical score is interesting and intriguing, but unfortunately it uses very low quality synthesizers. I can easily appreciate the writing of the music, but the performance is less than stellar.
Adventurous pointing and clicking! That’s what this game is all about. As I mentioned earlier, if you liked I Spy or Where’s Waldo books as a child, this game will take you on a trip down memory lane. That being said, I’m a little confused as to the target demographic. Games like this typically cater to younger children, but Sacra Terra has some pretty mature themes like suicide, murder and literally being dragged to hell. This content definitely warrants the T rating, but the majority of the game seems to be geared towards kids.
Sacra Terra is divisible into two types of actions: puzzles and find stuff. Personally, I never liked Where’s Waldo, so the searching sections felt tedious. The one unique part of the search portions are the special items. The items the player are supposed to find are listed at the bottom of the screen, but certain items are written in a different text color. These objects can only be found after triggering a different action. For instance, an apple listed in red might only be found after lifting an umbrella that was obscuring your view.
The puzzle sections are far less frequent in occurrence than the searching, and many puzzles require searching before they can even be attempted. Once you’re actually solving them, the puzzles are only moderately difficult. Most of them come with an explanation of the goal, which is usually pretty obvious to begin with. More on the puzzle sections below.
One of the more unusual aspects of the game is its high level of difficulty customization. Two overall game modes exist: casual and expert, though only a few minor changes differentiate the two. Additionally, when in possession of a map, the player has the option to view the locations of actions yet to be taken. A simple box check toggles this ability.
Also included is a hint/skip button. Depending on whether you’re playing casual or expert, you can get a hint every 30 seconds or every minute, which just finds whatever object you’re looking for. The button changes to Skip when solving a puzzle. Instead of “hinting” like before, this automatically solves the puzzle with no negative repercussions. Essentially, if the gamer is willing to wait long enough, the game will play itself. Kind of defeats the purpose of having the puzzles in the first places, doesn’t it?
If you’re looking for a good story, you’ll probably want to search elsewhere. Sacra Terra uses the “save the princess” stock story, but it’s gender swapped. This paired with the terrible voice acting and subpar writing prevents the audience from caring much about the characters.
To rescue your gentleman in distress, who’s been kidnapped by the succubus Lilith, your character travels to the island of Sacra Terra, which just so happens to contain a portal to hell that consequently has portals to other places. To defeat Lilith, you travel through the portals to free the trapped and tormented souls upon which she feeds.
Playing Sacra Terra: Kiss of Death requires some serious self restraint. Since auto-solves are just a click away and have zero negative impacts, I constantly fought with myself not to just skip something whenever I encountered the slightest sign of difficulty. A beginner mode with these attributes would be expected, but the expert mode still had too many crutches for it to be a challenge.
The fact that I personally don’t like searching games combined with the inherent repetitive nature of the genre marred the experience. While Sacra Terra‘s puzzles and the drawn graphics held my interest a bit more, they did not make up for all of the game’s problems.