Length - Short
Engine - AGS
Suitability Factors - N/A
Samarkand, created by Babar Ahmed Kemal, was the winner of the October 2009 MAGS competition. The topic of 'Steampunk' was perhaps taken to it's most distant limits, but this short Arabian Loom-like title was still more than worthy of it's victory.
As an unnamed traveller in the city of Samarkand, the protagonist has travelled a great distance to hear the song of a particularly talented songstress. However, with her beauty not going unnoticed by the King, she is captured for his court before the song is finished. The protagonist fears that he must find and rescue the songstress if he is to ever hear her song again.
The underlying premise of the story is based on whether the reason for saving another life affects the value and importance of the act. This seems a thoroughly interesting idea, but unfortunately the issue doesn't appear to be explored as deeply as the beginning of the game suggests it might be.
Nevertheless, the story is still entertaining enough. The thoughts of the main character are conveyed well, while the game's dialogue is well written and feels authentic to the gameworld. And that gameworld is an interesting one. The city of Samarkand is unlike any other city - for the power of music has been harnessed by one of it's residents, and it is now stringed instruments that are the primary provider of energy.
Talking of music, the piece that accompanies the game's introduction is perfect for drawing the player into the Arabian setting of Samarkand. This musical style is employed throughout the game, however the main tune is a little more dull in comparison.
Visually the game is simple but effective. The city's architecture looks genuine, and along with the well drawn and attired character sprites, does a good job of immersing the player in the gameworld. Despite also utilising a minimalistic style, the cut-scenes look great too.
Perhaps just as big a draw into the world of Samarkand is the aforementioned writing. It seems as though genuine thought has gone into making the dialogue original, and the game's ability to hold firmly onto the players interest increases greatly as a result.
There are only a small number of puzzles in Samarkand. The few that do exist are of a very low difficulty level, requiring the player to make use of a system similar to that seen in the LucasArts classic, Loom. For this, the player needs to pluck the strings of instruments in a certain order to set off whatever action that combination corresponds to.
Now, I'm a firm believer that while innovation can be great, it is not the only solution for improving the current crop of games in the adventure genre. Instead, looking back upon adventures from the past and utilising what made them so great can be just as effective. These things have to be used in the right context and in an appropriate setting, and this is exactly where many games go wrong. Yes, Monkey Island was great. It's inventory puzzles were great too. But that gameplay isn't suitable for all adventure's. And here's my point - it is great to play an adventure game where the gameplay, no matter how little of it there is, fits into the story and gameworld. So what if it is similar, albeit less complex, than a game from twenty years ago? It works, and feels plausible within the context of the game. I would personally like to see more gameplay design take this approach as I genuinely believe better games would be produced as a result.
As already mentioned however, the unfortunate thing about Samarkand's gameplay is that there isn't much of it. In fact, this is true of the game as a whole. It is very short. As a MAGS games this is to be expected, but you can't help but feel that the game has more potential than it's length will allow it to demonstrate. I would love to have been able to explore the strange string-powered city a whole lot more than I was able to.
Finally, it is also worth mentioning that it's possible to die in this game.
Much to it's credit, Samarkand takes an interesting premise and combines it with relevant gameplay - it's just too bad that the short length of the game prevents it from building on it's promise. Despite this, Samarkand is a MAGS game made in the space of only one month, and it is only fair to judge it as such. On this basis, it is very good indeed and well deserving of your attention. Just prepare yourself to wonder what the game might have been like had the developer had more time at his disposal.
- Interesting and appropriate puzzles system
- Thought provoking story concept
- Well written
- Simple visual style works well
- Length of game prevents full potential from being realised in terms of both story and gameplay
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Samarkand (Scroll down to last post on page to find download link)