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
Watch our let's play here!
Byzantine: The Betrayal is © Discovery Communications Inc
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me