Review: Amazing Media's "Mummy: Tomb of the Pharaoh" (1996)

Matt Barton's picture

Malcolm McDowell is one of my favorite actors, so naturally when I found a graphical adventure game (GAG) starring him for only $1 (and that was a dual pack including a Frankenstein game), it was really a no-brainer. When games come that cheap, the only question is whether it's worth the time investment. Verdict? Definitely worth it. It's a fine game that is fairly well balanced, and I only have a few small gripes to make about some of the puzzles. Overall, though, it's quite nice, and I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys GAGs and doesn't mind stepping back a few years in terms of graphics.

I've got a few last days of Christmas break before starting back to school this week, so I've been trying to get the most out of them by cranking through as much of my GAG backlog as possible. As I mentioned last time, there are quite a few GAGs that popped out in the mid-to-late 90s that are very difficult to find and play today. As you know, Cyan's Myst came out in 1993 and quickly became the world's best-selling video game. It practically single-handedly brought about the widespread adoption of the CD-ROM drive and also better graphics and sound cards. The result was something of a "GAG rush" as dozens of companies (mostly extinct now) rushed in with tons of me-too products. Most of them relied heavily on full-motion video and tried to duplicate the easy success of The 7th Guest. The idea was that customers would buy anything as long as it had full-motion video and shipped on CD-ROMs. After all, they'd just plunked down a thousand dollars to upgrade their 486 to run Myst and The 7th Guest.

At any rate, it's tempting nowadays to sweep the bulk of these games away and pretend like they just didn't happen. The fact that so many games of this era are nearly impossible to get running on a modern PC or Mac doesn't help. Nevertheless, many of these games are worth playing, and it's really sad that companies aren't doing more to update and re-release these games for XP.

The Story and Characters
Anyway, let's talk about Mummy: Tomb of the Pharaoh (henceforth, "Mummy"). Although it's advertised as an "adventure thriller," there are only a few moments of suspense. The bulk of the story concerns McDowell's character, Davenport, who is in charge of an Egyptian mining operation that you've been sent to investigate. The operations have halted after a mysterious box was found in the mines, and an Egyptologist (your ex-girlfriend, Lorrie) has been called in to determine if it's a fake and whether the operation should be stopped permanently. You quickly meet the other key character, a Westernized Egyptian named Chris, who's about as quirky as they come.

Malcom McDowell: It's not his best work, but he's not given a chance to really shine here.Malcom McDowell: It's not his best work, but he's not given a chance to really shine here.Davenport makes it clear that you're not welcome there, giving you plenty of the old "you city boys don't have what it takes to survive in the outback" routine. As you explore the camp and try to figure out what's going on, Davenport makes many cameos, popping in to say something ingratiating and walking off. You can't really interact with him (it's all pre-determined), but it's not nearly as annoying as it sounds. I found myself looking forward to Davenport's next visit; his presence really added a lot of interest and pleasure to the game.

The other characters aren't as polished. The woman playing Lorrie may have talent, but she's comatose for much of the game. At any rate, there's definitely no "sizzle" between her and your character, so that opportunity is lost. Chris is a more interesting character, but he's on screen so little that you really don't get to know him.

For most of the game, the evidence indicates that there's nothing supernatural going on here--an ancient tomb loaded with artifacts has likely been found, and folks are trying their best to cover it up so they loot in private. Later on, though, you do find yourself talking to long-dead spirits and casting magic spells off scrolls. The supernatural stuff doesn't mix very well, and although the actors who play the ghosts have talent (particularly the evil Symhotep), it's a bit much. I almost kept expecting a sort of Scooby-Doo moment when you find out that it's all just been smoke and mirrors. Anyway, it's probably best not to go looking too sharply for plot holes.

In short, whether you enjoy this game or not largely depends on what you think of Malcolm McDowell. Although this role is hardly his best (A Clockwork Orange), he's not shabby, either. I didn't realize that he'd been in other games, most notably Wing Commander III and IV, and after seeing his performance here I'm more than curious how it compares. I can't imagine how difficult it must be even for a professional actor to really show his stuff in a production like this.

Gameplay
By far the greatest challenge I faced int his game was getting around. There are six floors worth of mines whose walls look nearly identical, as well as some shorter but still frustrating tomb mazes. Even though you can find a map of the mines, it's still not easy navigating them, and at one point you have to do so while facing a pretty severe time limit. Suffice it to say, this isn't a game for people who don't like mazes! Many areas look alike, so it's tricky keeping track of where you've been, and it's easy to miss important areas.

The puzzles range from the obvious to ones that'll quickly have you on the UHS hint site. I only encountered a few such spots, thankfully. Unfortunately, this is one of those games where it is possible to get the game into an unwinnable state, so it is important to save often and in different files to minimize the tedium. I was very far into the game when I gave up, consulted UHS, and realized I didn't have the luger and couldn't get back to it. I had to restore pretty far back and go through the mazes again. Sigh. I also missed a few hot spots, and felt really stupid after missing a hidden door that was outlined on a wall. Oh, well. There's another hot-spot issue involving a statue. There are two hot-spots on it fairly close together, though it's easy to assume they're just one big hot spot. I had to use UHS to find out about this and get past the stupid thing. Fortunately, most of the puzzles are easy enough, and shouldn't stump anyone familiar with these types of games.

There are also a few timed puzzles that I suppose account for the "thriller" part of the game's description on the cover. One of these is in the mine and is very difficult. The others involve quickly getting to and using an item in your inventory. Since the inventory system is rather awkward (you must cycle through it one item at the time), these segments are some of the least enjoyable.

Ambiance
The graphics are definitely dated, but not bad, either. The biggest problem I had was that for some reason the gameplay screen was confined to a smallish rectangle on my monitor (occupying about 1/2 the available area); it was large enough to play, but I wish I could have made it full-screen. The music was nice but got somewhat repetitive; there's definitely nothing here I'd want to rip, though it fits well enough in the context of the game. There's lots of sitar or koto or zither or whatever the heck they call that instrument that goes "pluck."

In any case, if the developers were really going for suspense and tension they missed the target (see Dark Fall and Scratches for that!). That's not necessarily a bad thing, though. The game's ambiance lends itself well to a desire to explore the environment and work through the game's many puzzles.

That was some gas: Okay, help me out here...His clothes have rotted away to dust, but his gas mask is still fully functional?That was some gas: Okay, help me out here...His clothes have rotted away to dust, but his gas mask is still fully functional?I've played many GAGs with an Egyptian theme, such as Mystery of the Mummy and Riddle of the Sphinx. Egypt, with its amazing pyramids and mysterious tombs, is a fascinating place, and a perfect setting for a GAG. Surprisingly, though, Mummy doesn't have you exploring pyramids or Sphinxes, but rather only a mine and eventually a tomb. You spend most of your time in a "World War II" era camp that apparently was formerly inhabited by Nazis.

Compatibility Issues
To play Mummy, I had to un-install QuickTime and re-install the old version that was included on the CD-ROM. Once I'd done that, the game ran perfectly (aside from the pesky small-screen issue I mentioned earlier). The game only crashed once, and ran nice and speedily. The only other issue I had was that the video clips ran off the CD-ROM, and for some reason stuttered a bit if they went on for more than a few seconds. Irritating, but not unbearable. The issue might be on my end, since I've always had problems viewing video files off CD-ROMs.

Conclusion
Mummy isn't a great game, but it's better than I expected. The best part of the game are the many cameos from McDowell, who really adds zest to what would otherwise be a mediocre game. It's also interesting to see how different developers approached the new GAG paradigms established by Cyan and Trilobyte. Amazing Media decided to go for well-known but, shall we say, "niche" actors like Malcolm McDowell and Tim Curry (who stars in their game Frankenstein: Through the Eyes of the Monster). No doubt many devoted fans of A Clockwork Orange and The Rocky Horror Picture Show were drawn to these games. Nevertheless, there's nothing here that can even come close to, say, Gabriel Knight II: The Beast Within, which also relied on live actors. Even though Mummy manages to integrate live action more seamlessly than Sierra did in that game, the actors just aren't given as much material to work with. Davenport and Chris act very suspicious and arrogant, and, who would've guessed, turn out to be just as villainous as they appear. Where's the surprise in that? Compare this treatment to the intrigue among the characters in GK 2, and you start to realize what's really missing. There were moments in GK 2 when my skin crawled. There were moments in Mummy where the game crawled. Well, not really, but it was fun to write that.

Comments

Mark Vergeer
Mark Vergeer's picture
Offline
Joined: 01/16/2006
Matt, perhaps it's good to

Matt, perhaps it's good to state what hardware and OS you used to review this game on. This might give people an indication whether they can be successful or not when trying out this game themselves.

========================
Mark Vergeer - Editor / Pixelator
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
Xboxlive gametag
========================

n/a
Matt Barton
Matt Barton's picture
Offline
Joined: 01/16/2006
Ah, that's right. I used

Ah, that's right. I used Windows XP for this one. I'd love to get more games running on my wonderful new iMac, but, alas, still haven't managed to play any games on it--with the exception of SNES games via an emulator I found for it.

I'm just going to have to break down and order some new games for the Mac via Amazon or something.

n/a
Bill Loguidice
Bill Loguidice's picture
Offline
Joined: 12/31/1969
I actually own this game

I actually own this game too. I got it several years ago in the bargain bin. I must say, my wife and I were quite bored with it, quite fast. I can't say I particularly enjoyed any of these actor-based adventure games and have to give the majority of the post CD-ROM genre a pass. Of course I despised Myst as well, so perhaps they're just not my type of games...

Malcolm McDowell definitely starred in his fair share of FMV, but I think John Rhys Davies takes the cake for being the biggest multimedia game hoar.

======================================
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
(A PC Magazine Top 100 Website)
======================================

n/a
Matt Barton
Matt Barton's picture
Offline
Joined: 01/16/2006
Bill Loguidice wrote:I
Bill Loguidice wrote:

I actually own this game too. I got it several years ago in the bargain bin. I must say, my wife and I were quite bored with it, quite fast. I can't say I particularly enjoyed any of these actor-based adventure games and have to give the majority of the post CD-ROM genre a pass. Of course I despised Myst as well, so perhaps they're just not my type of games...

I initially despised Myst as well, and had a considerable chip on my shoulder about the game when I first played it. I was coming at it from a LucasArts/Sierra background, and didn't see what all the hubbub was about. It's a tough game, but not as tough as Riven, and I didn't enjoy it.

However, now that I've got so much more GAG experience under my belt, I can more easily see why the game is considered a classic. I guess you have to play enough bad clones of it before you really understand why it's so good. Just compare Myst and Riven to games like Schizm and The Crystal Key. Myst really did establish a new sub-genre, if you will, of GAGs that I like to think of as transcendental gaming. The game worlds are relaxing and pleasant to explore, and the puzzles, while difficult, make sense given the context. The key to understanding these games is the idea of world building. Cyan always starts with an amazing virtual world, then populates it with puzzles and grafts on a story. The focus is on making the virtual worlds as coherent and aesthetically sensational as possible. You could really play Myst and Riven without ever bothering with the puzzles; a good part of the game is just exploring.

You can compare that to LucasArts games, which usually focus on wacky characters and parody, or Sierra which focuses on themed puzzles and riddles. Both Sierra and LucasArts games tend to rely on satire and humor to atone for what usually amounts to pretty dull puzzle solving. Cyan, on the other hand, dispensed entirely with the humor, opting for more abstract puzzles.

I'd compare LucasArts/Sierra to visiting a Chuck E. Cheese, and Cyan to visiting a Zen rock garden. They're both fun/enlightening in their own way, but very different.

n/a
Michael McCourt
Offline
Joined: 01/17/2007
Bill Loguidice
Bill Loguidice wrote:

Malcolm McDowell definitely starred in his fair share of FMV, but I think John Rhys Davies takes the cake for being the biggest multimedia game hoar.

I would've sworn that Tim Curry would've taken the cake, but you're right, he's only been in 10 games to Rhys-Davies' 11. (McDowell was in 6 and Christopher Walken was only in 5.) That would make a good article. Actors who had either been successful or went on to be successful who had been in a computer/videogame.

crcasey
Offline
Joined: 11/17/2006
Ok for the start of my

Ok for the start of my comments, I also like Matt like Malcolm McDowell as an actor, in fact he has a role in a film that manages to blend one of my favorite actors and writers in one movie (not the best work of either in that case). But that is not where I want to start with this, so that will maybe come later.

The thing that gets me with all of the reviews is just how hard it is to get a vintage "multimedia" title to work on any system today. What will this be like in 15-20 years when people do not happen to have ANY dos related experence? Will it be up to the OLD WIZARDS to make these games run one more time? By that time most people may think of a keyboard as unusual as a 8 inch floppy.

[soapbox]
The reason I say this is although Bill and other collectors may preserve the software in thier original boxes those packages are uselss without the hardware, and the NON-HARDWARE based OS's with the basic drivers that would enable loading these programs and be able to execute them.

You have to ask yourself, could I find and boot MS-Dos and Windows 3.11 at will from a floppy today, even if I had the disks sitting on a shelf? Odds are you could, but then you have to wonder if sound, video, or any other add in drivers that those cards need may be able to use will be emulated.

These may end up being the hardest games to keep alive over the long term. You may be able to find that one strange .dll file you need somewhere today, but where will it be in 20 years if we do not make a effort to preserve that operating environment that those games need today?
[/soapbox]

Back to that movie I mentioned, it was 'The Puppet Masters' where Malcolm McDowell played the lead role. I loved that story where McDowell's part was as the over thinking boss, but I felt that the rest of the cast was there for thier looks. Over all I would have to say that the way the story came across on video was less than great, but I am and will be a fan of it as it is one of Robert A Heinleins' notible shorts.

The question is why do I like such a dorky story?

I guess the reason is that it works for me.

There are many other of Mr. Heinlien's stories that I like more..

-Cecil

n/a
Bill Loguidice
Bill Loguidice's picture
Offline
Joined: 12/31/1969
There actually is a

There actually is a surprising movement among collectors out there to also preserve the hardware (and companion operating systems) necessary to run older games too, Cecil. I don't mean the obvious systems with personality like the ones from Apple, Commodore, Tandy, et al., I mean even the generic PC's. Certainly my collection consists of quite a few original IBM systems (like the 5150 and 5155) and the more intriguing semi-compatible clones. What surprises me most though about these collectors is that they'll even maintain a collection of rather lifeless 386 and 486 systems, as well as early Pentiums. While I have the latter just because I didn't get rid of one of the ones I had, I don't have a particular interest in generic 286 - Modern systems (though again, I'll keep the latter as I replace them and wouldn't turn away a free generi-box of early vintage if I happened to come across one).

I do agree that a big problem with running old systems and OS's is getting DOS games to run properly in the first 640K of memory and of course maintaining the right set of drivers for all the odd peripherals (sound cards, external drives, video cards, etc.) for early Windows systems. Of course that was always the problem with those anyway. As for old OS', I have a full set of various versions of DOS and Windows, and, up until Windows XP, one just needed a valid serial key, if any at all. This at the very least makes re-installation a breeze.

I think the one advantage that PC's and Compatibles have over other platforms is sheer popularity. To many, "computer" only means DOS and Windows. I think access to things like drivers and information is as good as or better than any other computing platform. In the end, beyond getting enough low memory free in DOS, which was always an issue and having the right version of Windows on hand, it's no more difficult to maintain than any other platform with variable configuration options (unlike, say, a C-64). And who's to say that DosBox won't continue to mature and something robust like that to configure various Windows environments from 1.0 and beyond won't be created. I'm sure it will. Even when I went to ME, there were some games that only worked in a real Windows 95 or 98 environment, necessitating maintaining either a dual boot or greater system. In fact, I have one system that can quad boot, and may configure more.

And finally, let's not forget services like GameTap, which fully support the running of classic DOS and Windows programs, even the ones that would otherwise be a challenge to get running (of course that is limited by the selection that they presently host, but they do continually add to the list).

======================================
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
(A PC Magazine Top 100 Website)
======================================

n/a

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.