The sudden announcement of the upcoming Monkey Island is an event that certainly overshadows almost all of this year's releases in the adventure game genre (except perhaps the excellent Syberia: World Before, which has an equally loyal audience). Nevertheless, it would be unfair, to say the least, to ignore that there are other developers who have major projects already ready or expected to be released in the coming months. Undoubtedly, Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit by Lithuania's Tag of Joy was among the most anticipated adventures of the year, being obviously influenced by Revolution Software's beloved Broken Sword, but also by the fact that it takes on the task of telling a story that is not particularly well known to the rest of the world. That of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

Admittedly, the game starts a bit unusual, as our first concern is to choose an... avatar, like in an RPG, while we are also asked to define the appearance of the protagonist Milda Kovas through various outfits and hairstyles (Sims anyone?). But there is no question of concern as to who the game is about, as except for a single instance where the appropriate outfit is intended to solve a puzzle, the whole matter is purely decorative. Crowns And Pawns is pure adventure and it doesn't take long for its virtues to unfold.

In Milda's small apartment, before the adventure begins.

In fact, the plot gets interesting very quickly, as in the beginning of the game, Milda receives a letter informing her that her grandfather Rokas Kovas has left this futile world. The letter also stresses that he is leaving her a house in Lithuania, her home country, on the condition that she goes there within two weeks. The fact that the girl is in Chicago and has difficulty making a living are deterrents to her accepting the inheritance, but thanks to the urgings and financial help of her friend Dana, Milda is persuaded to make the long journey. After all, her online friend Joris, a language expert and a great bookworm, is staying there and can host her for as long as she needs, without having to pay accommodation costs in some shabby inn.

But things turn out to be not so simple. When she arrives at her grandfather's house, she finds that it has been broken into by burglars, who seem to be looking for something very specific that they failed to find. As if all this wasn't enough, she realizes that the burglars were still in the house at the time she arrived, as a result of the fact that she spots a working walkie-talkie lying under the broken bedroom window. The man on the other end of the line directly threatens Milda to bring him what he's looking for, which she of course refuses, but has no idea what it is. Nevertheless, the evidence she discovers in her grandfather's room suggests that there is information about items that someone would kill to obtain.

With Joris, who will prove to be a valuable companion.

It is here that the revelations begin, with Milda trying to find out what the guy was looking for, what her missing father's connection is to her grandfather, and to the (now former) KGB. In short, a story that will surely catch the interest of fans of conspiracy theories, but also of lost artifacts that possess (?) mysterious powers. Therefore, if you like Indiana Jones-type historical quests (without whips and snakes), then Crowns and Pawns will put you in your element.

Especially when the game also features a series of good quality puzzles, well above the average of most recent adventures. Honestly, we can say that Crowns and Pawns surprised us positively with the design and the variety of puzzles, which never give the solution on a plate, and there are many times when it is necessary to correctly combine the information recorded on our mobile phone in order to draw the conclusion that will lead us further. Particularly after our visit to our grandfather's house, the sequence of puzzles in order to identify the three places where an artifact is probably hidden, proved to be very clever and quite demanding in terms of the information we have to collect. We must highlight that there are also puzzles that have more than one solution, dialogues that have different endings depending on our answers, and the profession we declare before visiting Lithuania is quite important. For example, if we declared ourselves photographers, then we will take a camera with us, which we will need to use somehow to steal the librarian's password. Alternatively, if we signed up as programmers or psychologists, then we would have to act differently.

An Orthodox church in Lithuania may be hiding many secrets...

Although these cases are not so many, it's a very pleasant surprise that personally reminded me of the unforgettable Fate of Atlantis, with its three different paths. However, we have some objections regarding the time-limited puzzles, which are often seen and require quite fast movements on the part of the player, like the balloon puzzle or the scooter chase. While not lacking in logic, it would have been welcome if the time limit until action is taken was not so strict. Apart from these and one more that we don't have an adequate hint to solve (3D printer, I can see you), we have no real complaints. Neither from the various mini-games, which are based entirely on information utilization rather than our jigsaw-solving skills (thankfully!), nor from the "music" puzzle. Overall, Crowns and Pawns doesn't offer anything we haven't seen before, but manages to execute it so aptly that it makes the experience extremely enjoyable.

Of course, this would not be the case if the controls were not as simple as they should be. All the action is performed with the mouse, each hotspot has a maximum of two possible verbs (examine and/or use), the dialogues are performed with the familiar dialogue-tree, while a hotspot indicator and double-clicking to quickly transit from one screen to another are included. Of course, it would be just as convenient to pop-up the inventory screen by scrolling the mouse wheel, but this qualifies more as a "gripe" than a real problem.

Careful observation of objects is everything in cases like this.

But the grumbling is justified in the relatively short duration of the adventure, which, depending on how experienced player you are, can range between six and seven hours. On paper, that number may not seem that short (for the genre, of course), but the final act wraps up the story rather hastily, while leaving a few loose-ends. You'd think that with the rate the plot was progressing, we'd expect there to be more of that, but unfortunately that's not the case. Of course, clear hints are left for a sequel, but we don't know when or if it will be released. We wish it with all our hearts though.

As far as the technical area is concerned, we would say that Crowns and Pawns is functional. The bright colours and 3D characters (movement, lip synch, facial expressions) are the ones that win the impressions, but they are dampened by some mediocre implementations of the environment, especially when the camera decides to zoom. However, the voice-over is excellent, we didn't detect any actor lagging behind, while the accompanying soundtrack written by the composer of several Daedalic titles (Memoria, A New Beginning) proves to be an ideal "companion" for our efforts.

Some intense Broken sword vibes here.

In general, Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit is a very worthy proposition that deserves the support of adventure fans. It features a beautiful story, well-written dialogues, enough interesting Lithuanian history and the necessary mystery to keep the player's curiosity high until the credits roll. Even with its slightly disappointing ending, this is a game you ought to add to your collection.

RATING - 82%


Crown and the Ring

An adventure that pushes all the right buttons for fans of the genre.

Γιώργος Δεμπεγιώτης

Lover of action, shooter, adventure, RPG's and sometimes racing games, he prefers mainly single-player gaming. Every now and then he breaks out into a multi, but he doesn't overdo it.

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