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Discovery Channel's Byzantium - the Betrayal

Byzantium - the BetrayalA Learning Adventure

Byzantium - the Betrayal, from Discovery Channel Multimedia and Interplay Productions, is the latest title to tread the fine line between education and entertainment - and the first title in the companies' "Planet Explorer" entertainment line. Discovery Channel has successfully gone this way before, with its Connections "mind game," which was a very entertaining brain teaser.

In Byzantium, you take the role of an American journalist who's invited by college friend Emre Bahis to Turkey, supposedly to uncover an antiquities smuggling conspiracy you think might cop you a Pulitzer prize (not a pullet surprise, which might also have something to do with turkey - or at least chickens).

You show up in that exotic locale, but instead of meeting your buddy you discover he's being hunted and has gone on the lam, so you head out in search of him. Unfortunately, one you're out on the trail you come across his dead body - and come to the unpleasant realization that you're the one who's now in danger.

What do you do? Well, you're an investigative journalist, so you investigate.

The quest takes you around Istanbul, researching the Ottoman empire (no, there are no footstools here), digging up clues that you hope will lead you to the greatest story of your career. Of course the downside is that you could also end up in an early grave.

Byzantine: The Betrayal is a "first person" game that uses complex 3D models for its set pieces, combining them with full motion video and live actors. As with other games, the environment is very photorealistic (in this case, with shots of the real Istanbul), and you're given an excellent freedom of movement. For instance, while standing in one spot, you can move your mouse and pan 360 degrees around - and up and down - to examine where you are. This is Istanbul not Constantinople - to steal from an old song

When the cursor changes, clicking the mouse button takes you to a new spot, where you should also examine your surroundings (not only do you want to see where you are, you want to cover your back!). The interface works well and lets you interact with the environment in a quite natural manner.

Byzantium's graphics are very good, and your interaction with other characters uses full motion video. You choose a phrase from the selection offered, then watch and listen as the character replies. All conversations are logged in your notebook for future reference, which is great for those with particularly short memories.

The actors' ability ranges from merely adequate to pretty good, and the music soundtrack is first rate, though the dialogue echoes and fades in spots, which can be a bit hard to hear.

You play the game by pointing and clicking (surprise!), and the interface is intuitive and works well. To move around, just pan the cursor and click where you want to go. As hinted at above, the cursor changes to reflect navigable areas and objects with which you can interact. For example, if you click on an object and it can be picked up, it appears in your inventory box at the bottom of the screen. Or, click on an item and then click it on what or who you want to use it with, and it's applied.

Moving around the game map is done by clicking on a postcard that shows known areas to which you may travel.

Byzantine - the Betrayal gives you a lot of stuff to do. Despite the story having a set path, there's plenty of background for you to investigate and it fleshes out the details - if you want (it isn't mandatory).

The story is good on its own, as well as being educational, and will undoubtedly appeal to both history and conspiracy buffs.

Be careful, though, or you might learn something in the process.


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January 31, 2006