Sinking Island Hands-On

We go CSI in this new virtual detective novel.

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Unfortunately for billionaire hotel developer Walter Jones, the beach below the rocky cliff on Sagorah Island was not wheelchair-accessible. On this beach, investigator Jack Norm examines Jones's body, with the wheelchair perched precariously on the cliff's edge above. Was it the fall that killed Jones? Probably, Jack thinks, as he examines Jones's tangled corpse. But the woman's fingernail lodged in Jones's cheek and the bludgeon wound on his forehead indicate otherwise.

A dead man and his wheelchair. Sinking Island begins here.
A dead man and his wheelchair. Sinking Island begins here.

And so begins Sinking Island, the upcoming point-and-click mystery adventure from developer White Birds. At the helm is writer Benoit Sokal of Syberia fame, and his preferred brand of noir is evident from the opening cutscene as Jack choppers to Sagorah Island in the Maldives. Looming above the swaying palms is the Jones Tower Residence, the most recent--and final--project of the eccentric developer. For what is supposed to be an unrivaled tourist attraction, the tower is dark and ominous, with elements of gothic architecture--not exactly Club Med we're talking about here. The constant storms that pound the region are not ideal for snorkeling, either. Although not ideal for a tourist brochure, the gloomy atmosphere does serve as a fitting backdrop for another of Sokal's mystery games.

The Jones Tower has yet to open to the public, so there are only 10 people on the island, and everyone's a suspect. We'll leave most of the investigation to you, but you'll quickly run into Jones's pretentious lawyer Hubert de Nolent, freeloading grandson Billy Jones, and sexy island native Baina Jumhu. Given that Jack is a trained investigator, you won't have to wander around the island blindly, piecing together random clues in a maddening pixel hunt. Instead, the game is broken up into 10 questions that act as minor investigations within the entire mystery. The first question Jack asks, fittingly, is, "Was Walter Jones murdered?"

This first question acts as a basic tutorial while you search for evidence to answer this question. Besides the forehead wound, a fingernail in the cheek, scratch marks on the face, and a wheelchair on a cliff above, there are also numerous footprints that indicate a struggle. It doesn't take Nancy Drew to see that Jones expired prematurely, and against his will.

At your disposal is the handy PPA, aka personal police assistant, which helps organize photos, documents, and interviews with suspects. By pointing and clicking your way through the hotel and the grounds, you'll casually interview suspects, asking for their whereabouts at the time of the murder and their thoughts on the other guests. When you have enough evidence in the PPA to answer the major question, you simply punch in the clues, hit enter, and progress to the next chapter of the game. There's also a matching tool that's useful for matching up footprints to boots, comparing fingerprints, or discerning if two items are parts of the same object.

Sounds neat, but then why not simply title this mystery "Jack Norm and the Curse of Sagorah Island"? Because Sagorah is, you guessed it, sinking. In fact, in the span of three days, the island will disappear beneath the Indian Ocean for all time, taking along every piece of evidence with it. As the water level rises, certain areas and items will become inaccessible as they are washed away, and Jack is not a licensed scuba diver.

Jones Tower is full of atmosphere, but it's no Disneyland.
Jones Tower is full of atmosphere, but it's no Disneyland.

Along with the standard adventure mode, there's a race-against-time mode in which the island sinks even faster. The guests are surlier and will get annoyed at your constant questioning, forcing you to gather evidence even faster. All of this action is accompanied by an excellent cinematic score that pulsates throughout the island, an ominous opus of heavy strings and piano sure to induce, um, a sinking feeling.

For adventure fans looking for another mystery to solve, Sinking Island is due this fall for $29.99.

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