Der Schatz im Silbersee (roughly 'Treasure in the Silver Lake') is one of the best known stories by author Karl May and thus clearly needs no introduction. Phew, great how I got away with not having read that book and still reviewing this game, isn't it?
The story concerns trapper Old Firehand travelling to said lake to inspect the silver mines there. On his journey, a baddie called 'red Cornel' ('red' because of his hair - he's a white guy) turns up causing lots of havoc and actually, he and his men are bound for the lake as well - to steal the old Indian treasure said to be located there. Firehand is aided by his old friend, the detective Droll, whom people call 'Tante Droll' ('Aunt Droll') because of his strange clothes and his high-pitched voice, and later the Apache chief Winnetou.
The game is divided into four chapters. And when I say chapters, I use this term, because the game uses it. In fact, 'episodes' would be more appropriate, because each part it rather short. The parts are also completely self-contained, i.e. after each, your inventory is emptied and you're transported to a completely new location with no way to go back. It all begins on a riverboat on the Arkansas River where the Cornel ('the Cornel', because 'Cornel' is a deliberate misspelling of 'Colonel') steals money from an engineer and sabotages the boat, then the player visits a lumber camp, then a farm which the baddies are trying to rob and finally, we get to the lake and its catacombs.
Writing is generally weak. There never is a real feeling of a coherent storyline or any plot development. The characters are shallow and the dialogue is mostly inane. One scene in the second act, for example, has a travelling salesman asking Firehand for a map of the forest, because he's lost. Uh... just walk to the right two screens and you're back at the river. Two more screens further, and you have arrived at the other end of this part of the world. Right, understandable you got lost. Probably not the right game for fans of May's writing.
Graphically, the game leaves an inconsistent impression. The backdrops usually look very good, the in-game characters and their portraits (which are shown in dialogue scenes) look amateurish and cheap. Also, the animation is really bad (watch out for the panther in the very first scene...).
Gameplay consists of your usual Adventure game tasks: Collecting items and using them to progress. The biggest challenge, though, is dreaded pixel hunting. How and where to use each object is usually trivial, but finding them is not. Since the cursor doesn't react to hotspots in the scenery, this gets especially hard on some screens. It actually looks as if many objects were hidden deliberately by the game designers, so this isn't an accident, but apparantely meant as a game feature.
The curse of Adventure Game Logic is all too apparant, too. For example, you have to prepare the farm to withstand an attack in the third act. One aspect of that is to get the old cannon ready to fire. Instead of just... asking one of the inhabitants for the necessary items (which they undoubtly will have lying around somewhere - after all, it's their cannon, so asking should at least be worth a try), you have to produce gunpowder from the ground up - amongst other equally ludicrous requirements for the final solution. Really, most of the game is just busywork in that style, sometimes even requiring you to commit some actions several times in a row (examine this twice, fetch water three times,...).
In the end, it's no wonder the sequel Durch die Wüste ('Through the Desert') was canned (as was the half-finished Amiga version of this game by the way). Der Schatz im Silbersee isn't particularly bad, but what's fatal is that there isn't anything particularly good about it. Unimpressive story bundled with unimaginative puzzles - not exactly what people would be rushing to buy.