If a picture is worth a thousand words then this review would have to be a novel to do true justice to Virgin Interactive's new adventure, Circle of Blood. Beautifully illustrated, hand-painted graphics combined with an entertainingly twisted plot makes this an eye-catching adventure to savor. However, as you move from city to city taking in the spectacular landscape, be careful. You might forget that you're on a mission and not a vacation.
As George Stobbart, an American vacationing abroad, you are literally blown into this adventure when the Paris café where you're sitting sipping a cappuccino is ripped to shreds by a bomb. One dead body and a suspicious clown later, the vacation is transformed into a quest to uncover the party responsible for the blast. However, George quickly discovers that there's more to the crime than merely someone's distaste for Parisian coffee.
While most of this epic (which spans five countries, involves a huge cast of characters, and is divided into 11 sequences) is the result of highly creative storytelling, the plot does contain some elements of fact. The Knights Templar, the ancient society George stumbles across as he attempts to solve the café bombing, actually existed in the 11th century. But relatively little is known about this chivalrous group of knights who mysteriously disappeared sometime after the 14th century. In this case, fact is definitely stranger than fiction, and adds spice to an already entertaining adventure.
Put simply, Circle of Blood is a visual treat. Every scene - from the interior of the hospital to the streets of Syria - is filled with rich, lush, illustrative detail that rivals any animated feature film. Even the sewers are picturesque. Combined with appropriate sound effects (like the Irish tunes playing in the pub and danger music when George picks a deadly path), this adventure is truly a work of art.
But Circle of Blood is not just a group of pretty moving pictures. Although at its core the game is a standard inventory-based adventure, progressing through it will take quite a bit of imagination and brain power. Solutions to the puzzles are not immediately obvious, but with careful scrutiny of each scene (pass the cursor over every inch of the screen) and creative use of the inventory items, they are logically solvable. More importantly, each resolution seems to bring you closer to everything but the truth until fairly far into the game. The rapidly moving storyline is as detailed as the graphics, and even minor characters who provide only smalls clue or details are well-developed and have more to say if encouraged. You'll find most have quite an entertaining history, from the American tourists in Syria to the janitor with his faithful floor cleaner, "Mr. Shiny," in Paris. Some provide a pleasant diversion as you try to figure out what to do with interesting items like the pressure gauge or the plaster of Paris.
Without question, Circle of Blood is an adventure of epic proportions and ranks as one of the most intriguing games to roll out this year. Its only drawback is that the graphics might be too real. After playing the game, you might find yourself wanting to pack your bags and take in the European sights first-hand. But if you're lacking for travel funds and must stay home and play computer games, Circle of Blood definitely won't disappoint you.