John "The Gneech" Robey (the_gneech) wrote,
John "The Gneech" Robey
the_gneech

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I See Dead Pixels!

Periodically I just get an urge for something spooky, generally in either book or computer game form. I don't like "horror" in the sense of, well, horrible things — evisceration by mad slashers or kitten-eating baby-killers — but I do go for creepy ghost stories. To that end, when I wasn't drawing this weekend I went on a CRPG binge with The Lost Crown, the latest in a series of goose-fleshers by the British one-man game company, Jonathan Boakes.

The Lost Crown, like its predecessor Dark Fall, starts with a frantic train ride out to a tiny end-of-the-line town in the English countryside, where you promptly get stranded and, for reasons which are sufficiently vague that they boil down to "The plot's over there, get on with it!" you find yourself spending the rest of the adventure skulking around shabby places with bad lighting, wondering why the calendars have gone all wonky, and having the bejeezus scared out of you by things jumping out and going "Boo!" Sort of like Lost, except set in Cornwall and with better dialog. (But not better acting, unfortunately.)

In fact, to that end, so far The Lost Crown feels something like a "do it again, but bigger" of Dark Fall, with a lot of the same elements showing up again. Ghost-hunting gadgetry? Check. Phantom trains? Check. Something nasty in the bathroom? Check. Lots of ghosts with individual-but-connected histories? Check. Time and space getting all discombobulated? Check. ("What do you mean that place burned down in 1968? I just spent three hours completing quests in it!") Something wicked behind it all? Check, I think. (I say I think, because I haven't finished it yet but it's certainly looking that way.)

On the other hand, The Lost Crown adds several other elements that Dark Fall is noticeably missing — a big one being other people to talk to. Granted, they all have exaggerated diction and move like theme park animatronics, but it does at least make the game seem a little less lonely. One of the NPCs even comes along and helps you in your investigations for part of the way, providing some illusion of camaraderie and banter while the shapeless thing rises up out of the floor and attempts to do you in. But only attempts — taking a cue from LucasArts during their heyday, The Lost Crown is a game in which it's impossible to get yourself killed or into an unrecoverable failure. This blunts the suspense a little, but not that much given that in other games when you get yourself killed you just reload from a save anyway.

As far as technical issues go, I'm about 2/3 of the way through and I've just found my first bug, which is pretty impressive for a game made on the cheap. The visuals are very nice, mostly in black and white, which is a little weird, but with splashes of color to add highlights or establish a mood. The only real problems are that movement is wonky (stiff and artificial, as I say, like animatronics), and that the voice acting is generally not so hot. It's not bad per se, it's just "Very. Exaggerated. With. Crisp. Enunciation. And. Slow. To. The. Point. Of. Distraction." Even the witty repartee sounds something like a schoolhall recital. These two elements combine to create a game that feels a bit like it was made in 2000, rather than just this past winter.

Of course, with the way time slides around in the game, maybe that's intentional. ;)

I'll post a final review once I finish it. But so far, it's quite good. I just wish it would pick up the pace a smidge.

-The Gneech
Tags: adventure, gaming, yog-sothothery
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