As much as I frequently mourn the death of the 'Point and Click' genre, I've come to the realisation that it's not particularly the old LucasArts Scumm engine that I miss; instead, it's been those sublimely created storylines, those convoluted puzzles to solve, and those cracking scripts that couldn't fail to draw any gamer ever deeper into the murky depths of the storyline. In short, it's the stories that made this long dead genre such a popular style in the first place.
For those lacking in the knowledge of the real life story of the Tunguska region in Siberia, way back in 1908 there happened to be an explosion that devastated the region, packing the power of an atomic bomb. In fact, it was such a powerful explosion, that the glow was even seen here in the UK, allegedly giving us that much craved ability to read our newspapers out in the streets at the dead of night.
Many wild and unusual theories have been tossed about over the years, from atomic bomb tests gone wrong, through to massive build ups of natural gas, and presumably something to do with scientologists and huge green lizards too. The mystery itself still remains unsolved to this very day, but the German developers behind Secret Files: Tunguska have seen fit to develop their own outlandish theory and create a whole game around this particular guess of theirs.
Starting with a somewhat attractive depiction of the explosion itself, we're introduced to an elderly scientist working away in his lab, during an introductory sequence involving a shadowy figure, and eventually his disappearance.
You start out as Nina Kalenkov, daughter of this disappeared scientist, as you visit your father's office only to discover his area in a supreme mess, and your dear pop nowhere to be found. With the police on their way, you begin to explore the museum in which your father worked, only to discover little in the way of clues, and no-one around able to shed too much light on the situation. Throughout the course of the game, you'll discover just how much your father knew about the Tunguska mystery, and even continue his research in order to uncover his whereabouts. In terms of a potentially classic storyline at least, this has to be up there with some of the very best.
Unfortunately the script fails to help realise this potential. For starters, those who grew up with the Monkey Island titles will certainly be put-off by Tunguska's very much straight-laced approach to proceedings. There's only the odd hint of humour, and never anything that might bring about the beginnings of a slight grin. The translation from the original German has left some very odd turns of phrase and more than a few grammatical errors, both on screen and blaring out at you from your PC's speakers.
While the script certainly could have done with a lot more work, the aesthetics themselves surpass those of other fairly recent point and click hit, Still Life. With some stunning backdrops, and each location containing some incredible amounts of detail, visually at least you'd find it particularly difficult to find any sort of fault with Tunguska. The developers have even managed that often overlooked skill of giving us characters that actually look like they belong within the game world, each moving with a delightful hint of realism, and interacting with their environments (albeit very rarely) with glorious aplomb.
Thankfully, the interface continues the plus points, with a purely mouse-based control scheme. Simply right or left click to perform every action you could hope for. No convoluted, twelve clicks to whip out that rubber chicken with a pulley in the middle, nor any kind of fiddly clicks to study, rather than pick up an object. There's even an icon to click which, for around 5 seconds, shows off just what you can interact with on the current screen. A particularly glorious inclusion considering the graphics are of such a high quality that you can't simply spot interactive items by differences in the quality of modelling.
Sadly, just like the script, the puzzles just aren't up to par. Instead of introducing delightfully relevant and thoughtful puzzles as the classic Longest Journey games introduced, Tunguska has gone down the route of handing over masses of inventory-based puzzles that simply require the right item or two in your backpack. That wouldn't be too much of a minus point if it wasn't for some puzzles seeming to have absolutely zero relevance to the overall story, leaving you feeling like you're simply being led around the 'scenic route' to lengthen out the total game time.
As an addition to a much missed genre, Secret Files: Tunguska was always going to gain a huge following from point and click fanatics and by those intrigued by the Tunguska incident. Sadly, Tunguska suffers from a lack of true writing quality, which in the end is what matters the most, and what made the classic LucasArts adventure games so much fun to play. One for genre fanatics only.