The house is on fire, a poisonous spider is crawling closer, and George Stobbart is tied up and in big trouble once again. George clearly didn't get his fill of mysticism, murder, and exotic-location mystery solving in the Circle of Blood because he and Nicole Collard (Nico) are back, caught this time in a smuggler's web that leads directly back to the dark Maya god Tezcatlipoca.
But they don't know that initially. It's only through extensive travel and chat with strange characters that George and Nico discover what's really going on. Locations, of course, are one of the strongest draws this game has - as was the case in Circle of Blood. London, the Caribbean, the docks of Marseilles, and, of course, Central America and Maya ruins are each artfully and realistically re-created, providing the very distinctive sense of place necessary to fully immerse you in the game.
Pointing and clicking will get you from beginning to end, with stops along the way to pick up various items. Gameplay has several new features, the most prominent being that Nico is no longer merely a sidekick. When she and George split up to tackle different parts of the mystery (and the globe), you'll play first as one, then as the other, until both characters get what it was they went for. The puzzles, for the most part, are straightforward and logical. One or two may require the "try every item with every clickable object on the screen" approach, but most can be addressed with a little thought and ingenuity - and most move the story forward. In fact, hard-core gamers may find a number of the "make this machine work" or "get this guy out of the way so you can get the clue" puzzles easy, though there are definitely a few challenges towards the end.
A couple of things have changed since the Circle of Blood days. One of the most noticeable is that George no longer has to end every conversation with a "See ya later" or "Nice talking to you." Now, George has polite openers and good-byes, but he only uses them once or twice. Hence if you go back to talk to the guard yet another time, you can just jump right into the conversation and then walk away when you're done - a blissful improvement.
Gameplay has been streamlined as well as dialogue; it's more linear. There's no map and in only one area do you have more than one choice about where to go next. Essentially, you're in an area to find a specific thing or solve a specific puzzle and once you've done it you're done with that area.
One disappointment was the insufficient information about Tezcatlipoca and Maya civilization altogether. One of the best and most interesting parts of Circle of Blood was the historical background on the Knights Templar - you learned some actual history as you played. Although parts of Tezcatlipoca and the Maya culture were discussed, I continued to hope for more, right up until the very end of the game. The Maya are every bit as fascinating as the Templars - if not more so - and I found myself searching the Web for several hours after finishing the game, looking for background and more detailed information on Maya gods.
This, however, is a minor complaint. George is slightly more sophisticated (a consequence of all that traveling he did in Circle of Blood no doubt), Nico has been fleshed out a bit and takes on a few adventures of her own, and the quirky humor of Circle of Blood raises its oddball head once more (i.e., the minor character who gets up from his desk only to reveal that he works in bikini underwear - not pants - because it makes him feel friskier). It's Circle of Blood with new characters, a new storyline, a new threat to world harmony, and a few omissions and additions that help to streamline the adventure.