Adventure Review
Circle of Blood
A professional, polished work of art
by Tim Royal
Virgin Interactive

utumn in Paris conjures up a pretty scene in the minds of many. The romance, intrigue, and ambiance of the city of love touches within us a light-hearted sigh. For without Shot1 the discovery of the sacred fry by the French, what would we eat with our hamburgers? Leave it to Virgin Interactive to use that Parisian mystique as the foundation for Circle of Blood, its latest, and without a doubt its best, adventure game yet.

The game diaries the journey of George Stobbart as the protagonist visiting France while on vacation from the states. For poor George, a seemingly innocent cup of coffee turns brutal when the café it's surrounded by is demolished by an accordion-wielding clown (at least it wasn't one of those wind-walking mimes….)

Not satisfied with the inactivity of the French police, whose apparent mode of investigation stems from watching re-runs of the Psychic Friends Network, the hero steps out into the seedy side streets searching for his own answers.

Shot2 From start to finish, Circle of Blood is a professional, polished work of art. All elements of game play are refined to the extreme, and as with any great novel (or after you've thumbed past the picture section of certain adult magazines,) you'll feel a sense of loss when the story concludes.

Given that the team of professional artists who designed each scene also worked on such "obscure" films as An American Tail and All Dogs Go To Heaven, it's no surprise that the background artwork lends a wistful air to the general theme of the game. It's not nearly as dark as the title implies.

As with the artwork, the cel animation techniques used for the individual cast members are well above average. A broad spectrum of characters grace your path while the mystery plods on. Among them you'll find a fortune teller who sells flowers when the futuristic interests of the general public wane. Or an addled French cop who, after viewing a corpse at the scene of the crime, spits out a demand to the crumpled body to "cease and desist." Of course, we can't forget the ever-present love interest (this is Paris, after all), whose skills in journalism rival that of a crosswalk signal. Luckily, she has some very big… dreams about being famous that lead her to offer your character assistance throughout the game.

Shot3 Adding to an already superb game is a musical score which puts those in most of the recent Disney flicks to shame. Each selection is rich, well orchestrated, and quite perfect for anyone who plays Quake just to go "help the poor monsters find their inner child." Music is as mood altering as any prescription medication, and composer Barrington Phelong taps masterfully into its abilities to lighten the heart while still leaving the sense something is amiss.

While showering accolades of praise onto Circle of Blood, it would be unfair not to mention its few shortcomings. Namely, there are no rabid chipmunks to be found. This will disappoint those who insist on a steady diet which feeds off the intelligence of small, rodent-like creatures. Sadly, this game falls well short….

Aside from that, the only gripe would be the rudimentary dilemmas presented throughout the game. Most of the trinkets and trivial trekking is done for the sake of the escalating plot. It's far easier to get lost amidst the game's grandiose plot than to submerge into its depth of superficial puzzles.

No other game has an installation program which lets you play a miniature round of Breakout while the files install to your hard drive. Subtle camera effects, such as parallax scrolling, where the foreground pans at a different rate than the background, give credence to the notion that talent might just be worth more than technology when it comes to a good story.

Mix the sickeningly sunny world of Pollyanna with the sinister overtones of The Crow, and you've got a pretty good idea what Circle of Blood is about. It's inspiring to see an adventure game that actually produces a tale worth paying $8 to see at a theater. Heck, you can even make the popcorn yourself, if you don't mind your fingers sliding off the keyboard as you play.

©1997 Strategy Plus, Inc.