Thursday, 6 February 2020

BYZANTINE: THE BETRAYAL


Istanbul, a city steeped in history and intrigue; that is the setting for Stormfront Studio's 1997 game Byzantine: The Betrayal. With the Discovery Channel heavily involved in its production, the exceptional conspiracy thriller at the heart of the story also doubles as an impressive travelogue of the Turkish capital that'll make anyone want to visit.

As a freelance American journalist, you are convinced to travel to the city on the promise of a major scoop. Emre, your old college friend, has uncovered juicy info an international antiquities smuggling ring, but when you arrive at his apartment, he is nowhere to be found. Not only that, but the Turkish police are looking for him too. What follows is a sprawling FMV adventure with many twists and turns that spans a whopping 6 CDs! And it's a bloody good yarn too, unlike many similar games keen to promote the technology and use of circular plastic.

If you get stuck during your time in Istanbul (left), you can always consult the hint guide (right).

The game plays entirely in the first person, with the occasional establishing shots cut together for the sake of the Turkish tourist board (although I must admit they set the scenes quite nicely). You move around in nodes, each with a 360° panoramic viewpoint. To look around, you aim the mouse towards the edge of the screen which wields an imprecise result when you want to look for something specific. I know a lot of mechanically similar games used this method at the time, but I much prefer holding the right mouse button to scroll. Most retro adventure gamers will quickly overcome this singular hiccup to an otherwise exceptional game but for some reason, I noticed how troublesome it was here. That could be due to some very intense moments cropping up within a storyline that's very easy to get invested in.

You can visit many major and minor locations of the city once known as Byzantium (hence the name of the game). Each one is unlocked by uncovering clues, whether it be specific addresses or a general hotspot mentioned in conversation. They will then crop up on your map by way of scrawled hand-written text (be warned, the Süleymaniye Mosque is a little difficult to read if you're the unobservant type whose let his glasses prescription lapse). Among the story-specific locations, you'll visit the historic caverns of the Basilica Cistern, the beautiful gardens of Sultanahment Park, the archaeological exhibitions of the Topkapi Palace museum as well as many others.

Puzzle solutions are mostly found by paying attention. 
Here the box on the right is opened thanks to the polaroid clue on the left.

When it comes to the puzzles, most are inventory based but finding the items is often more difficult than using them. It's not because they require pixel hunting or use moon logic, but if they are hidden, you'll need to pay attention to everything else. Conversations can lead to clues of how to progress, and many of the paper notes or books scattered around are even more helpful. For example, there is only one rug on display at Mehmet's Rug Shop which gives you a clue that it is important. It is only when reading a private note that you realise a valuable ancient coin has been sowed into its seems.

If you do get stuck, there is a robust hint system which acts similarly to that of The 7th Guest in that there are varying levels of hint. It could guide you in the right direction without giving too much away or outright give you the answer for you. While I generally recommend not using the latter, you may find the story too compelling to waste time pondering over a deliberately obtuse puzzle.

While functionally similar, your HUD and cursor will change when in a VR simulation. 
You can turn off the extraneous jargon cluttering up the screen if you so choose.

At times, there are moments in which you can die. A fair few of them can crop up seemingly without notice and will require a specific (yet obvious) action to be executed within a short time frame. You're probably groaning at the thought of this design choice, but it's not that bad. Those that aren't signposted are easily replayed almost instantaneously thanks to a generously thought out autosave feature. Bear in mind, these autosaves are reserved solely for such events and can be turned off in the menu.

There is a point in the story where some minor sci-fi elements crop in. Don't worry, there's no aliens or robots, just some technological advancements that seem a little too absurd even for today. A college student is developing a VR program that will recreate the past exactly - to the point that it will reveal truths that real archaeologists were yet to discover. In this respect, it feels a little like a Dan Brown book - specifically the Robert Langdon series that include The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons which always features some dubious moulding of science and history.

Clicking on hotspots that have a headphone icon will offer up an educational commentary (left).
Even scanning artefacts for the VR program can reveal some interesting tidbits (right).

These VR sections also have the most obvious puzzles such as placing pieces on a game board or flipping tiles. You'll also be required to complete the simulation by filling out missing areas in the code. These are represented as missing visual pieces such as a door which is patched together by scanning specific objects in the real world. Some may find this treasure hunt a little tedious, but I was fully engaged with it. It helps that the biggest clue of where they are is if you could focus in on otherwise benign areas. They'll likely be useful at some point. Or you can just pay attention to what the college student says.

Coming from the Discovery Channel, it'll come as no surprise that there is an educational bent to the whole game. It doesn't force this upon you though, with most info-dumps being presented as optional textbooks or narrated audio clips. They're never uninteresting, though. Learning that a game of Nine Men's Morris scratched into the wood of a bannister at Aya Sofya by a bored churchgoer is particularly fun. When historic asides creep into the overall plot however, it adds welcome depth and authenticity to the whole endeavour.

I was majorly impressed by what Byzantine: The Betrayal had to offer, in both its story and its puzzle design. There are times where it threatens to unravel due to some leaps of logic, but it keeps it all together 'til the very end. This is something that even The Black Dahlia - another oft-requested title featured previously  - couldn't achieve. I wouldn't say it tops Gabriel Knight 2 as a globe-spanning FMV adventure but it surprisingly comes close. High praise!


To download the game, follow the link below. This exclusive installer uses the DOSBox Daum build of DOSBox 0.74 running Windows '95. Manual included. Tested on Windows 10.

IMPORTANT - Remember to shut down the emulated version of Windows before exiting DOSBox. This could potentially result in errors, lost saves and corrupt data. Press Ctrl-F9 when it is safe to do so.

File Size: 3.08 Gb.  Install Size: 4.43 Gb.  Need help? Consult the Collection Chamber FAQ

Download

Watch our let's play here!




Byzantine: The Betrayal is © Discovery Communications Inc
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me


Like this? Try These...

http://collectionchamber.blogspot.co.uk/2017/12/black-dahlia.html  https://collectionchamber.blogspot.co.uk/2017/03/noir-shadowy-thriller.html  https://collectionchamber.blogspot.com/2019/02/legend-of-lotus-spring.html

20 comments:

  1. Aaah, yes, thanks, this looks so good! I've been wanting this for a long time. I only played through the early scenes on a Vista computer, but then couldn't progress further (because the Vista was too advanced for it!) I haven't been to Istanbul, but it whetted my appetite to visit.

    I suppose all adventure gamers were clever enough to work out that Biffman's clue on the Touche page about "a delight" referred to Turkish delight. My clue, Agatha Christie = AC, should also have been straightforward. AC is the beginning of Agatha Christie. One of her most famous novels, Murder on the Orient Express, begins its journey in Istanbul/Constantinople/Byzantium.

    The adventure looks truly deep and satisfying, especially now after reading the review. I'm guessing it is tonally similar to Broken Sword, and it's about time adventures like that made a comeback.

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    1. I thought you had it :)

      I feel the game is a little more serious than Broken Sword. I'd compare it more to the earlier chapters of Gabriel Knight 2 or The Black Dahlia. I'd say it holds up favourably with those comparisons too.

      I've been to southern Turkey, Marmarus to be precise, which also has a rich history. A beautiful place.

      Been working a lot on getting a YouTube channel up to compliment this site. That, plaus an imminent trip to Canada is taking up a lot of my time. To keep you guessing up until then, here's the clue for the next game which is also an adventure: tumulus treasure.

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  2. TY! This one, Versailles 1685 1 & 2, SPQR and Wrath of the Gods are examples of how to make adventure games with educational flavours. GJ!

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  3. That clue seems to point to one thing. If it is that, here's another clue: Wheel Mole. The doubt in my mind is that this game is from 2006, which is much later than most games on this site. (If it's not that, then it may be Ark of Time, which has a Stonehenge section.) If you're doing Windows XP games from the 2000s now, that's great. I find that most of them work natively on Windows 10, and I think this one does, but many don't.

    I did test several games on Windows 10 and found they didn't work, so discarded them along with my old Vista computer (because I, like most people, don't know how to make Dosbox Daum builds). I wrote down a list at the time. Byzantine was one. Others which I tested and didn't work on Windows 10 include, in order of quality from most interesting to least: Dark Side of the Moon, Rent-a-Hero, DogDay, The Arrival, Inherent Evil, Puzzle Bots, Hollywood Monsters, Everlight, Gilbert Goodmate, Deja Vu 1, Ark of Time, Cracking The Conspiracy, Conspiracies 1-2, Treasure Island, The Watchmaker, Missing on Lost Island, The Minims, Wayward Manor, Animal, Transylvania 1-3.

    I look forward to seeing the YouTube channel. I hope people will notice it. (If you want to clickbait young people to these games, one way is to somehow manage to include the names of Hollywood stars in the video titles, e.g. the stars of the Little Women movie.) I've been to Montreal, which is really pleasant, as are other Canadian cities apparently, but you're probably going somewhere in the wilderness. Have fun!

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    1. You're a little off :) I guess you haven't founnd the key yet.

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    2. So it's not Barrow Hill. Then it may be The Crystal Key. I haven't played that, so I wouldn't know if it contains any tumulus treasure. I'll wait and see.

      Need to see Parasite in cinemas ASAP. Stunning wins at the Oscars last night.

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    3. Aaaah, everyone must go see Parasite in cinemas immediately. It's a timeless classic. Find out what the fuss is about. No waiting for it to come to the small screen.

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  4. Disney Interactive,that's surprising?

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    1. Only in as much as you've seen a glimpse of what my template looks like :) Looks like I forgot to change it over to Discovery Communications - all corrected now, thanks. I wonder how long it'll be until Disney actually own them...

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  5. Awesome! This is one of the four FMV adventures I've played that were great (the others are Gabriel Knight 2, The Dark Side of the Moon, and Yoomurjak's Ring). Most appreciated!

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  6. Ahh thank you so much for this, Biff! I've been trying to get my hands on this game for a loooong time. Looking forward to finally being able to properly play it.

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  7. Thank you for this, i have heard a lot of people say this is one of the more overlooked FMV games from the time this sub-genre of adventure games was still experiencing a golden age.

    I have also been wondering if you have ever looked into getting Sanity:Aiken's Artifact onto this blog? It's a game that was developed by Monolith Productions and i believe it has never had a digital re-release as the IP rights are in FUBAR limbo just like No One Lives Forever is(three seperate companies claim they have the rights, but none have ever proved that they do for either of those).

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    1. I have considered all of them, but I've yet to do any work. I was under the impression Sanity was on GOG but it appears I may have been mistaken.

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  8. Another promising game rescued from obscurity. I thought I knew the games of the '90s, but this site continually puts my assumed expertise to shame.

    Great work!

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  9. It is good to finally be able to play this as I have read about it before. The graphics are a bit low res and it would be a good idea if some games companies remade old games with better graphics. Still, it is nice to have it. Thanks for the excellent work you do in getting old or forgotten games to work on modern computers. If you have any time may I suggest Sherlock Holmes Mystery of the Mummy. It seems impossible to get it to work on Windows 10. Thanks.

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    1. You're welcome! Unfortunately Mystery of the Mummy isn't eligible for the site. Fortunately, it is available to by on Steam, hopefully with improved compatibility.

      https://store.steampowered.com/app/11130/Sherlock_Holmes_The_Mystery_of_the_Mummy

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  10. is there a way to run this game in TUrkish language on Windows 10 ?

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  11. thx good job.i've a game in french cd.

    I managed to change the videos in French but not the answers to the questions ... does anyone know how?

    thx u

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    1. I'm afraid I don't support languages other than English unless the option is already there. I suspect overwriting the ISOs in the CD folder was how you got the videos working. For everything else, I'd have thought it was the install data within Windows 95. Perhaps uninstalling Byzantine withing the Win95 environment and installing there again. I can't test this myself, though.

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  12. it's good, I succeeded !! it works. thank you so much.

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