Secret Files: Tunguska
Tunguska is a big patch of nothing way out in the Siberian sticks, that is considered remote even by local yak-herding standards. This is an area of Russia that stern dictatorial types with moustaches used to send the political opposition to so they could be completely forgotten about. There is, in a word, bugger all there. It is sort of strange then that this place's one claim to fame is that on July 13th,1908 there was suddenly even less there than before. Something exploded that morning with the force (as the intro of Secret Files: Tunguska luridly points out) of two thousand atomic bombs, blasting out a wall of pressure and debris hundreds of feet tall moving at about 500 m/s, annihilating an area over 2000 kilometres square. To this day, the number of trees, reindeer and squirrels that lost their life that morning remains incalculable.
The explosion is generally assumed to have been a meteorite or some such cosmic clutter, but the fans of the mysterious and the tin-foil hat brigade often like to weigh in with their UFO, passing black hole, or spontaneous antimatter theories. Now I'm not going to be the one who starts drawing parallels between the paranoid nutters and the gaming community, but a surprising amount of the time they do like their material to revolve around the same subjects. Secret societies, the supernatural, cover-ups, black ops, and as such the theme continues for Secret Files: Tunguska for the Nintendo Wii.
SF: T for the Wii is pretty much a straight port of the 2006 point-and-click adventure for the PC. Whilst this conversion is a little late in coming, it still makes good sense on the Wii with its simple two button control system. It is actually a surprise that the Wii has not enjoyed more of such conversions, as it lends itself pretty much perfectly to the genre.
In this adventure, you play Nina, prototypical daughter to Professor Kalenkov, who gets himself promptly kidnapped in the first few moments of the game. With the local cops none too interested, it's up to Nina to start sleuthing for clues, combining usually completely incompatible items together, and clicking her way to saving the world as we know it. A breadcrumb trail of clues will see you and your side-kick / love interest visiting the artic tundra, ancestral castles, unpopular Irish pubs, a nut-hatch in Cuba, and the titular Siberian province itself.
One of SF: T 's more endearing traits is in its keeping of the menu and the interface simple throughout. One of my major concerns about a point-and-click on the Wii would be the chronic shoulder fatigue that would be inevitable from combing the screen pixel by pixel trying to find the one key item you missed. Fortunately enough, simply pressing the '1' button will always highlight any collectable or usable items, saving untold hours of repetition and frustration. Not that SF: T comes completely free of either of those sensations, but that's pretty much what you sign up for with any point-and-click puzzle game. Only on one or two occasions was a complete block encountered that stopped progression for over an hour, with the rest of the progress being made at a sufficient pace to keep the player challenged but interested.
Where SF: T really falls down is on the quality of its plot and its writing in general. This is an outstanding example of perfectly professional, competent design and construction being completely undercut by utterly awful writing. The plot is pretty much all over the place with bad timing, variable dialogue, ludicrous characterisation, and all delivered in what I propose as the worst voice acting ensemble in the history of videogame entertainment. Initially I was prepared to hop aboard the Segue Scooter of post-modernism and accept that despite the Russian setting the characters tended to sound like they were from Detroit. It becomes clear fairly quickly however that the voices are less of a reflection of social realism, and more a reflection of what Bob from Shipping and Sue from Accounting or whoever happened to turn up to voice casting that morning sounded like. Of the whole cast of about two dozen speaking characters, only two or three randomly decide to go with the accents, but the rest seem to be locals of Minsk via Brooklyn. Nina's own reactions are endlessly chipper and upbeat, completely regardless of the situation. Be it impending death, the disappearance of her father, discovering ancient mysteries, or finding the remains of a man recently tortured to death, Nina remains completely unperturbed, suggesting either crappy writing or a complete psychotic break.
Secret Files: Tunguska has clearly borrowed from previous titles in its genre, and learnt from others mistakes. It delivers a solid gaming experience that will at no point blow you away but will chug along nicely for about ten hours, and so will probably deliver your moneys worth. If you can uncurl your toes from the occasional clanger of a line or plot turn, you will likely enjoy this as a dip-in experience over an afternoon cup of coffee.