The Lost Crown
Publisher: Got Game Entertainment
Developer: Darkling Room
Release Date: 03/03/08
It’s taken nearly two years for this game to come stateside, but it’s finally here. I’m not sure why there was such a delay in bringing this to the US, but American gamers can now take part in the fourth game in the “Dark Fall” series as it were.
New to Dark Fall? Well, that’s okay. It’s only my favorite franchise in Adventure gaming, and with the release of The Lost Crown it’s overtaken Clock Tower as my favorite horror game series (because 3 and 4 were so bloody awful). In early 2006, the first game in the series Dark Fall: The Journal placed #9 in my Top 30 Spooky Video Game Countdown. Later that year, Barrow Hill would come out and was my personal game of the year for 2006. It won our awards for “Best Adventure Game” and “Best Horror Game” in 2006 as well. So this should tell you the pedigree The Lost Crown is coming from. As The Lost Crown is the first game in the series to go third person (Previous incarnations were all first person) and the first to tie any of the games together (The Lost Crown is a prequel to Dark Fall: The Journal, hardcore fans of the series were a bit nervous that with these new changes, the quality of the series might dip.
So is The Lost Crown a Game of the Year nominee like two of its ancestors, or does the game fall flat?
You’re playing as Nigel Danvers, a character you might remember from Dark Fall, even if you never SAW him. Here poor Nigel is on the run from the Hadden Corporation because he accidentally snooped into their files and discovered “Project Dark Fall.” Nigel’s escape takes him to the tiny town of Saxon, where he decides to settle for a while. Nigel eventually makes a deal with Mr. Hadden himself to test out their new line of ghost hunting equipment. This leads Nigel through an intricate web of ghosts, ancient evil, revenge from beyond the grave, a serial cat murder, and a great deal of ancient British history and folklore. At the center of it all, is the lost crown of Saxony, which legend holds must never be found, lest England itself will fall.
The Lost Crown does an amazing job of blending real folklore and historical events into a horror-adventure game. There is a lot of reading in the game, and nearly every book you find is factual. Want a game that will teach you about the Pagan calendar? Here it is. Ever been interested in learning about multiple British ghost stories or legends? They are presented here in their entirety. Hell, the game even gives you a nice recipe for a pigeon stew!
All the characters in TLC are well designed and a rich in personality and details. Even the throwaway characters fell real and are quite enjoyable, even the sinister ones. The plot can be laugh out loud funny at times, but make no mistake, this is a serious game, that never fails to exude a level of creepiness I wish we could get in console games like Silent Hill or Resident Evil. There were moments in the game that were pretty spooky and the game portrayed most of the hauntings in a very serious and realistic manner. So many horror/terror games are too over the top with their ghosts and monsters to be taken seriously. The Lost Crown however is very realistic, and at times more graphic than you would expect from an adventure game.
This is a beautifully done tale, and although action gamers might find TLC to be a bit slow, the story is well told, quite gripping, and gave me a quality sinister tale filled with things that go bump in the night. Story wise this is the best game I’ve played so far in 2008.
Story Rating: Unparalleled
The Lost Crown is amazingly beautiful. The graphics are a step down from Barrow Hill, but that’s because for the first time there are humans in the game. The previous games in this series had no people whatsoever. The character models aren’t awful, but they are about what you’d see on the first Playstation or the Sega Saturn. They a bit ugly at times and very jerky.
Now that we have the negativity out of the way, I can tell you the rest of the visuals in The Lost Crown are stunning. Backgrounds are amazingly done, animals such as dragonflies and herons look almost real, and the backgrounds are some of the best I have ever seen.
Hidden in the game’s museum is actual video footage of how the game’s buildings and look came about. I was very impressed to see Darkling Room went out and actually got footage of various buildings and then gave them a digital representation. The Northfield Church and graveyard for example is completely based on a real ancient church ground somewhere in Saxony, which helps to make the game look and feel even more realistic. I never failed to be impressed by the textural detail but into everything on the screen.
Most importantly in the game’s use of colour and imagery. 99% of the game is in black and white. Colour is rare and when it appears it generally means something. Although some gamers might find this to be some artsy elitist thing, it’s not. The more you advance the story, the more colour creeps into the game, and all will eventually make sense.
The is the first time I’ve ever seen a video game try something like this, and the result is spectacular. The black and white aspect of the game makes TLC feel even creepier and I enjoyed seeing colour appear in places where there were once only drab hues. Colour in this game is a nice little metaphor for something else occurring in The Lost Crown. I don’t want to ruin it for you though – you’ll have to play the game.
Although I am not a fan of the character models, everything else is the game is so beautiful I can turn a blind eye to that one flaw. Animals, buildings, items and ghosts all come alive on your screen and make you forget these things aren’t real. This is even more impressive due to the lack of colour and I really love how outside the box Darkling Room went with this game.
Graphics Rating: Classic
As always, the Dark Fall series provides us with an amazing soundtrack. It’s very subdued, and at times you might not even notice the music because of how into the story and visuals you are. However, when you do hear, the music is both ominous and sublime. I have to say, this is the best horror soundtrack I’ve heard since Clock Tower: The First Fear. The music hits all the right nerves and always manages to enhance the scene rather than detract from it.
The Voice acting is well down. Every character has a proper accent and as this was a British developed game, jargon and British grammar are the way they should be. The only actor I had a problem with was the priest and that’s because it sounded like a guy trying to sound like a girl trying to sound like a guy. I really hope that is not their real voice.
All the sound effects in the game are well done as well. The creaking of beams at night, the slow squealing of a haunted wheelchair’s tires, the rattling of a drawer, insidious ghostly laughter and the crackling of static on a tape recorder trying to pick up E.V.P. It’s all hair and it is done brilliantly.
Darkling Room did an amazing job with all the aural aspects of the game. If only I can convince Got Game to release the soundtrack to The Lost Crown…
Sound Rating: Classic
4. Control and Gameplay
For the most part, The Lost Crown plays like your standard adventure game fare. You’ll only be using the mouth in a point and click fashion. You’ll left click on people to talk with them, or left click on object to view them and possibly add them to your inventory. Right clicking on an item in your inventory allows you to view them, or use them with an on-screen item. The game is mainly puzzle solving and reading about mysteries man should not be delving into, so there’s not a lot of gameplay.
The Lost Crown does mix it up a bit by including some first person gameplay in addition to third person navigation. First person scenes including wandering in haunted caves and graveyards at night with your night vision camcorder, but also fending off dark mist phantoms on a haunted railway at midnight. This last bit was unexpected and a really nice change of pace. I generally don’t like first person shooters, but this scene was short and seamlessly blended into the game. Like Barrow Hill there was a real threat of you dying in this game, something a lot of adventure games lack.
Gameplay does have some issues at time. There is a bit of lag with the accessing your inventory screen and there are some long loading times for a game that has very little requirements to run. Worst of all is a game killing bug I found that I can’t believe is still in the game after existing for two years (albeit in Europe). This bug involves using your walkie talkie that you get in day three. NEVER EVER use the walkie talkie unless someone calls you on it first. Otherwise you will be looped back to the very first time Lucy calls you on it, and every item you found from that point to where the loop began will be DELETED FROM THE GAME, leaving you unable to advance. I had to restart and backtrack for over an hour. Because the game is so story based, I was disappointed that I had to hear every line re-spoken and that there wasn’t a way to fast-forward through the dialogue like in a lot of adventure games. I’m still ticked about the walkie talkie bug. PLEASE Got game, release a patch for this thing!
Aside from this horrible bug and the inability to speed through things if you happen to be a faster reader than listener (or are just impatient), the game handle quite well and the controls are simple enough to pick up. The controls are definitely a step down from the earlier three games, but this is also the first third person game in the series, so it’s understandable that there will be a few bugs. Still, if there is a fifth game in the series (And the game does have a hidden teaser for Dark Fall III, I would prefer it to be back to first person.
Control and Gameplay Rating: Good
Like most adventure games, replay is a low score here. The game is going to be exactly the same every time you play it, and the puzzles nor the dialogue will change. Because one has to go through all pieces of dialogue to trigger events, it means that you’ll only be able to play this game once every 2-3 years, lest you become bored with it. This is a shame, because the story and characters really are well done enough to bring you back for a second or third gaming session.
The Lost Crown is quite slow and plodding at times, but that should appeal to fans of writers like Lovecraft, M. R. James, or other quality spooky writers. The game also has little mini events such as feeding and befriending a hog (poor thing) or entering a photo contest called the Saxton Snappers. Both are nice little diversions, and the game’s large collection of historical and folkloric essays will keep the more intellectual gamer highly entertained.
This is definitely one of the few adventure games I’d play again and again, but because of its slow pacing and lack of action compared to other horror-adventure games, I probably won’t pick this up again until Dark Fall III hits the states as a refresher.
Replayability Rating: Poor
This is one of the most balanced Adventure games I’ve ever played. A fault of the genre is that sometimes you’ll be completely stuck as to what to do or who to talk to in order to advance things. Even The Lost Crown‘s predecessors had this problem. Here, every puzzle makes sense, and the game’s puzzle all make sense in the context of the game. They are all logical and there is never a question as to where to go or what to do next.
I haven’t played an adventure game this well balanced since Grim Fandango, and that’s saying something.
Balance Rating: Unparalleled
TLC may be the fourth in this “realistic ghost” series, but it really manages to stand out not only from the franchise, but from other like-minded adventure games as well. The black and white graphics with the odd bits of color in really unique. I can’t think of another game that uses colour and light in such a fashion. They story is quite interesting too, and I love when games are historical fiction and not just a totally off the wall plot. I also like that the game is willing to step out of the usual point and click puzzles and have the first person shooter feel for a puzzle and even a chase scene or two.
The Lost Crown might be Jonathan Boake’s fourth game in a row like this, but each one managed to stand alone and feel highly original. It’s nice to see a game in a much stymied genre trying new things.
Originality Rating: Good
Although the game was quite slow at times, I really got into this. I loved pouring over the numerous texts in the game, talking to all the different NPC’s and I really loved the night time ghost hunting. The night vision scenes and the electronic surveillance equipment really made the game come alive and if Darkling Room ever did a full game like this, I would leap on it. I was glued to my computer way into the wee hours of the morning when common sense would have otherwise told me to sleep.
If the game had been a little faster in responding of moving Nigel (Double clicking will be your friend), I would have had even more fun with this. Still, it’s hard to think of a game released in 2007 or 2008 years that was this spooky.
Addictiveness Rating: Good
9. Appeal Factor
Sadly most American gamers these days want mindless entertainment and a ton of violence. You won’t find that here. Adventure games require a great deal of deductive wisdom and puzzle solving skills. TLC in particular involves a lot of reading and the occasional note taking. This is, no doubt, to be a turn off to some gamers. Me? I used to play the SII D&D games with graph paper by my keyboard/controller, so it wasn’t a problem.
A lot of gamers probably won’t get the lack of colour and in this age of graphics being more important than gameplay to the casual gamers, this too will no doubt be a turn off. This is a pity because it’s one of the few times I can honestly consider a gaming being artistic.
As great as The Lost Crown is, perhaps its biggest flaw is that it is a niche game. Realistic horror point and click games are rare, and even here at Diehard Gamefan, we have only three staff members that actively seek this type of game out, with me being the most prominent. Compared to a lot of other horror and/or adventure games, I do feel The Lost Crown has the ability to pull a larger audience that other gamers of the genre would normally bring in. it’s just a matter of getting people to play a game on their PC instead of a console, hoping they won’t be put off by a nearly all b&w game, and them being excited about learning and having to think rather than react.
Again, it’s a small audience no doubt, but hopefully word of mouth and reviews like this one will get people to play outside their usual genres. I know I’ve already promised any DHGF staffer that I will mail them my copy of this game if they agree to play it. God knows I’m still pissed about Barrow Hill, losing the 2006 GOTY award to Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.
Appeal Factor: Poor
I’m probably gushing like a fanboy here, but The Lost Crown is exactly what I want from a scary/adventure game. It’s intelligent and articulate. The ghosts are realistic and not over the top. The game focuses on terror rather than horror. The game makes you smarter for having played it and is well down in every way possible. The story, the graphics, the music, the voice acting, and the puzzles all roll fall into place and give me my second GOTY contender for 2008, along with Endless Ocean
If you’re looking for an actual spooky game that is going to make you cast cautious glances around the room before turning out the lights at night, The Lost Crown will make a wonderful addition to your collection. I still prefer Barrow Hill out of the four games, but The Lost Crown if far more accessible due to its less “out there” antagonist and the variety of gameplay.
Miscellaneous Rating: Unparalleled
Control and Gameplay: Good
Appeal Factor: Poor
FINAL SCORE: VERY GOOD GAME
Short Attention Span Summary
This is easily the best adventure game released so far in 2008. Almost any PC can run it, so there’s no excuse not to pick this up. This game is certain to win SOME award from us at the end of the year – it’s too good not to. Now go run out and buy the bloody thing already!