THE DAGGER OF AMON RA / Sierra / PC
Many of Sierra's adventure game series lost a little bit of difficulty and depth when they transitioned from the parser-based interface to the icon-based one. After all, there's only so much you can do to make click-based puzzles challenging, and most of it (such as obscuring items, withholding information and using off-the-wall logic) really isn't fair to the player or makes for a well-designed game. Amon Ra (follow-up to The Colonel's Bequest) treads the safer path, which is to make the game basically pretty easy, and to focus instead on visuals, music, sound and a decent mystery, all of which it pulls off pretty well.
I'm not usually one to go for the superficial in this way, but Amon Ra still ends up working out pretty well. Mostly that's due to using a formula similar to what was done in the prequel, where you can blunder through the adventure with relative ease, but the challenge lies in thorough investigation, finding lots of little hidden details and using deductive reasoning to figure out what exactly happened and why.
This time out, Laura Bow has graduated from Tulane, and has landed her first job at some paper or another in the Big Apple. Her first assignment is to cover a social gathering at the Leyendecker Museum, for the premier of some new Egyptian artifacts just discovered by archaeologist Pippin Carter. Of course, since Laura is involved, Mr. Carter ends up getting stabbed through the chest, and the centerpiece of the exhibit, the Dagger of Amon Ra, goes missing. Police Chief Ryan O'Reilly happens to be in attendance, and he locks everyone in the museum while he investigates what is going on. Laura takes the opportunity to do a little investigating on her own, as naturally, dead bodies begin turning up one by one, which is pretty standard procedure when she is around.
The game has the same "time" structure that the previous did, although it is much more simple here. There aren't any major side-quests or deeply hidden secrets, and you can't observe conversations through hidden passages and stuff like you could in the previous game. The game also generally doesn't let you proceed until you've seen and picked up everything you need to. The only really bitchy part of the game is that it ends with a chase sequence that you can fail if you haven't picked up a whole bunch of seemingly frivolous items all throughout the game, and if you are prone to using only one or two saved games you might suddenly find yourself having to restart and replay the whole thing. Classic Sierra hang-up, and not really fair, especially since you are given no real reason for picking up most of these items other than that they are just sitting there, nor are you given feedback during the chase indicating that you might need an item that you don't have (and can't return for).
Despite the somewhat weak structure and ending, the game stays interesting mostly on the strength of nicely detailed graphics, a really good soundtrack and good use of digitized sound effects (including a couple of bizarre songs at certain points), and sharper (and funnier) writing than the previous game. I didn't think it was quite as good a game as the prequel, but it was certainly purtier and smoother to play, and the mystery is fairly engrossing - enough so that you'll probably overlook the weak points.
* Quest Studios - MIDI and MP3 music
* Gameplay Video