Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Shai-la of the Sith: The Investigation

Chicken and rice. Coke floats. Chili and chocolate. Cheese and pickle. What do the above have in common, you may ask? In each case, some clever bugger decided that combining things people love made for a surprisingly good idea. And it paid off.

The Investigation, the latest episode of Marion's story of dark Jedi Shai-la, has truly earned itself a place in the above list by combining Cluedo and Star Wars. Forget the current spate of inane film/TV board game tie-ins, (Disney Monopoly anyone?) what if you had a game that promised both a crime to solve and an authentic Star Wars experience? That's just what Marion offers in the game that promises a replay value far extending your usual AGS game.

While the best content the software has produced is invariably of the point-and-click variety, so much respect is due to the few innovators who dare to experiment beyond adventure games. In the last few months we've seen war games, shooters, RPGs and a whole variety of creative efforts. A fully-functioning board game is the next step, and I for one welcome the future.

But let's focus on what makes it an unmistakeably Star Wars experience. The story starts with an assassination attempt on everyone's favourite black-hooded baddie, Emperor Palpatine. Palpy's been so traumatised by the attempt that he's forgotten completely about it. Cue returning series hero Shai-la to investigate the most likely suspects. In come the more familiar Cluedo elements: was it Darth Vader with the lightsaber in the Sith Meditation Room? Was it Mara Jade with the blaster in the TIE docking bay? You get the idea.

At the time of playing and reviewing, there are a few nasty bugs in the game that deserve a mention. For a start, I wasn't able to find out if I was right at the end once I'd made my accusation, because I started flying around and the game wouldn't progress. Secondly, the 'yes' button doesn't work when trying to quit; I had to exit the game via the keyboard. But I'm not considering bugs into the game's review because it's still undergoing updates and patches. While there could have been more beta testing, it'd be cruel to mark down a great game because of some temporary snags.

And it is a great game. The game manages to avoid the inevitable boredom of the space in any computerised board game when the other six players are making their turns with smooth character animation. As a bonus, your suspect sheet does not tick off names are they're disproved, forcing the player to concentrate on the action rather than twiddling their thumbs and minimising to check Twitter until it's their turn again. I was originally going to include the lack of cross-offs as a criticism, but it's a good way to keep people involved.

The graphics are artfully done and give the game a feel that's pleasantly close to the trilogy. Palpatine's facial animations could be described as a minor part of the game, but you see him on every turn and it's good to see how well it has been done. The animation of the dice and the moving characters is a fun touch and although the character movement is stationary, watching Darth Vader's turn still gives you all the excitement you got when you first saw him in A New Hope. The music is faithful to the films and engaging, making a refreshing break from the banal tunes in computerised board games that makes you want to rip your speakers out before passing go.

To put it simply, this is an incredibly fun game. Having never played the first instalment of Shai-la I can't compare it to its predecessor but you'd better believe I'm playing that next. And whatever the incredibly inventive Marion develops next, one thing is for sure. The force is strong with this one.

Final Score: 8/10


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