Secret Files: Tunguska (Wii) review
"In one scenario, a Russian military hospital that has Nina imprisoned in a rat-infested cell with only a stinking foam mattress for company, Max flies out to the rescue (for some reason, in Tunguska, everyone has a plane license, despite their profession) allowing the two to work together as a team, swapping items between the two as they may need to, attacking the hospital from two different locations. Itís hardly a new idea, but itís one that forces you to think at things from a slightly different angle. Then itís over, Nina is sprung, and this teamwork is never used again."
If anyone tells you they lived in the Tunguska region around 1908, you have my permission to call them a dirty, stinkin' liar! The area was completely levelled that year on the 30th of June by what was probably the air burst of a small comet fragment. The result was an explosion some 1,000 times more powerful than the nuclear blast that destroyed Hiroshima in the Second World War. Over 80 million trees across an area of 2,150 square kilometres were felled, and the aftershock was responsible for an earthquake that registered 5.0 on the Richter scale.
This isn't a video game intro. This really happened -- look it up.
Secret Files: Tunguska borrows the facts of this case and then runs wild with them, though itís not immediately obvious. After showing you a CGI destruction of the aforementioned region, youíre thrown forward in time to the office of a stuffy old guy as cloaked figures give him the willies and, eventually, seemingly brain-fry him with sci-fi powers. Why the old fellow is such a wanted target is explored, but the immediate focus falls on his daughterís desperate search to find what happened to her father.
Meet Nina and her very tight jeans. Youíll be seeing a lot of both.
Despite her American accent, Nina Kalenkov was born in Russia but raised in Germany by her father, Vladimir, after he moved from his home country following a scientific dispute. After a hard day living in a European country without a single European accent, she drops in on her fatherís place of work, the Berlin museum, but finds him absent and his office in disarray. The caretakerís hidden himself in a T-Rex display, gibbering something about hooded interlopers and voices in his head, while Vladimirís only other colleague has locked himself in his office with a stereo and a dodgy taste in techno music. Whatís a girl to do to get answers?
Itís a point and click game, so she needs to collect every bit of crap she can find and try to combine it in such a way that no one sane would ever dream of.
While the formula is nothing new (grab that bowl, combine it with that plant for a bowl of oily resin, scratch head), Tunguska throws in a lot of neat touches new to the genre. Lifted from the PC game, with a press of a button, all the hot-spots on-screen are highlighted, meaning the player can get on with trying to figure out a semi-logical use for all the random bits of rubbish they carry around in their pockets rather than endlessly search for them. This is especially helpful on the Wii port, because of the shakiness of the cursor. Replicating the mouse, you instead have a Wiimote cursor on-screen which you must scroll across static backdrops to try and find items, and you have only the steadiness of your hand to rely on. It doesnít help that some of the items you need to find are only a few pixels wide.
Knowing exactly where youíre meant to look doesnít completely eradicate the problems of a shaky cursor, but enlarging the area the cursor can cover was also a good idea. Now and then you may jump off hot-spots at crucial moments (or even non-crucial moments, if you want a less dramatic sentence) but the damage limitation is certainly appreciated.
The Wii-specific enhancement occurs when you scroll an item through your inventory or across the screen and land upon something it can be successfully combined with. When this happens, the Wiimote vibrates in your hand, letting you know youíre on the right track. While the benefit of this is obvious, it also promotes an easier way to grab an item and simply scroll it across anything when youíre at a dead end. Sure, we all do this anyway when stumped on an adventure game, but no game has gone out of its way to promote it before. But, though I preach about how it makes the game easier, I certainly appreciated its inclusion a dozen times throughout my play-through.
What doesnít help either addition is how the game is cut into set chapters rather than keep an always-open mapscape assessable. This means the combinations of items and hot-spots are always limited, so that, what your hand being held when youíre randomly clicking items around the place, you can bluff your way through the game more easily than ever before. The first chapter has you stuck in the Berlin museum while you try and find some way to gain your fatherís colleague's attention over the top of his blaring music. It wonít take long to discover that the best way of doing this is to rip his roomís fuse from the fuse box you open with the caretakerís key which he accidentally drops when exiting his hiding place, but, in any other game, the key would probably remain unnoticed for a while. That Tunguska eliminates this padding can work against it at times, but, on the other hand, it lets the focus remain on whatís more important: solving puzzles and advancing the story.
Once Nina succeeds in frying half the museumís electronics, she finds curator, Max Gruber, to be of little use. Keen to try and stay in the good books of the attractive young lady in the super-tight jeans, Max will become increasingly active in the game, even acting as a second protagonist at times.
In one scenario, a Russian military hospital that has Nina imprisoned in a rat-infested cell with only a stinking foam mattress for company, Max flies out to the rescue (for some reason, in Tunguska, everyone has a plane license, despite their profession) allowing the two to work together as a team, swapping items between the two as they may need to, attacking the hospital from two different locations. Itís hardly a new idea, but itís one that forces you to think at things from a slightly different angle. Then itís over: Nina is sprung, and this teamwork is never used again.
Tunguska has these setbacks quite often; it promises something that will tilt the title slightly ahead of the new pack of adventure games trickling onto all formats everywhere only to later stumble and damn earlier efforts to nought. While the game is absolutely perfect at keeping the player guessing at the culprits and origins behind both Ninaís fatherís disappearance and the Tunguska disaster by offering up numerous fake threads of enquiry, it never settles on a tone of its own. The plot is forwarded in a super-serious manner covering human experiments, government conspiracies and ancient sects, but Nina kids and jokes through the entire escapade like sheís on a family picnic rather than trying to rescue her father from unknown and malicious clutches. Top-tier adventure games like Broken Sword might seamlessly combine a serious and gripping plot with a sharp and witty script, but Tunguska always takes the easy way out, attacking the fourth wall and dropping genre references that soar over the heads of those who only associate LucasArts with awful Star Wars titles.
The gameís not perfect, but it is clever. The scriptís not stellar, but the plot that drives it is engaging. Itís not going to be a driving force behind the adventure genreís new siege of the Wii, but it fulfils a purpose. You could do a lot worse than Secret Files: Tunguska and thereís enough new ideas contained within to make it the most relevant PC-to-Wii port yet. All in all, thatís not a bad place to be.
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