Jonathan Boakes, well-known for his point and click adventures, the Dark Fall series, released The Lost Crown back in 2008, a game which has recently appeared on Steam. If, like me, you enjoy a good story, haunting atmosphere and love to get those brain cells sparked up, rather than relying on finger dexterity and the ability to murder masses of slavering beasties, then read on for a journey into the darker areas of English folklore and thoughtful gaming experiences.
You begin your tale as Nigel Danvers, previously a student of the paranormal and a cast member of the Dark Fall games. Now qualified and having worked for the mysterious Hadden Industries, Nigel has discovered some dark secrets about the company while snooping and has escaped with evidence of supernatural contact. Trying to stay a step ahead of Mr Hadden and his henchmen, Mr. Hare and Mr. Crow, he finds himself en route to the fictional harbour town of Saxton.
Arriving at Sedgemarsh station, Nigel finds that he’s stranded in the misty town and is drawn into a mystery that involves a lost Saxon crown, the local festivities and a community that are, at best, a little strange. It becomes apparent, that no sooner than you’ve stepped into the local pub, everyone in Saxton knows your name. It would sound a bit like 80’s comedy Cheers, apart from the fact that the locals keep referring vaguely to your mortality.
Gameplay consists of the usual point and click fare with some added depth involved. You click on the area you with to travel to, access your inventory at the bottom of the screen by mousing over items. Left clicking will pick up items and use them to interact with scenery and characters, whereas right clicking will examine the item and give you a description and possible use. Conversations require questioning people on all manner of subjects, from the possible whereabouts of the crown, to the geography of Saxton and furthermore, the possibility of local hauntings…
The Lost Crown is aptly subtitled, A Ghost Hunting Adventure, as you’ll eventually be given the opportunity to play around with some very nifty investigation gear. A short time into the game, you’ll receive a package containing a digital camera, a Dictaphone, a night-vision camcorder and an EMF meter to detect the presence of supernatural beings. This adds a whole new layer and at points, changes up the gameplay style completely.
For instance, you’ll be required to access a cave network along the beaches of Saxton and on reaching a point that light no longer penetrates the gloom, you can use the camcorder’s ability to view dark areas and traverse through the moaning caverns with a first person perspective. This also adds a heightened tension to the exploration of the beautifully scenic Saxton.
Saxton, being fictional, has its own history. Dig deep enough into the internet though and you’ll find that the sleepy village has its folklore, geography and landmarks planted firmly in real life. All the areas of the game have been built around photography of areas around Cornwall, deep in the south of England. It looks very picturesque in all its monochrome glory, highlighted here and there with sprigs of colour that make exploring a joy and finding new areas is worth setting your feet off the path in search of clues.
From misty beaches, with gulls screeching eerily in the winds, to the wailing caves that set your teeth on edge, listening to the low groans of the tide that sound like a large beast, snoring and growling in the abyss below. Streets that look like something reminiscent of a coastal Silent Hill, with fog swooping in from the sea and run down ruins, overgrown forest trails and the option to explore in both day and nighttime set a wonderful scene of dread and curiosity for the budding adventurer.
Character models are well done, if the animation is slightly stiff. Voice acting is almost perfect and the regional accents are impeccable, all except for Mr. Rhys Branwyn of Celtic Corner, a shop shrouded in the supernatural. He’s supposed to be from Wales, but this is pulled off with the quality of someone who can’t tell Welsh from Indian, a common misconception in the world of the impressionist.
The yokels of Saxton range from the seemingly normal Nanny Noah and elusive Lucy Rubens, to the wondrously mad Edmund Gruel, who prefers speaking through the medium of rag doll, Jemima, in a screechy soprano mockery of a Punch and Judy show. The conversations can be hugely entertaining at times. There’s a few niggles, like the over-exaggerated pauses after commas, but mostly, things run fluidly.
If you’re interested in finding out about Saxton, it’s lore, mysteries, histories and locals, there is a multitude of ways to research. Just look at the photographs mounted on the walls in just about every building you can enter. Read the interactive books scattered around or second-hand magazines outside the curiosity shop. If garnering everything about the worlds you play in is your thing, The Lost Crown does not disappoint. I found myself reading a book on pagan festivities with absolute concentration, as most of the documentation has something to do with your visit to the area.
The meat and potatoes of The Lost Crown comes in the form of puzzle solving, a long-lost mechanic of gaming that has been shouldered aside for more guns, RPG-lite character leveling and on rails exploration. There are a number of riddles and item collection conundrums that are pleasantly not too obscure or taxing that it slows gameplay down to a halt. From using a coded book to decipher a message you need to progress in the game, finding a plank to lay down over a gap or using your ears in a sound engineered button pressing sequence the puzzles are varied and well thought out, much like everything else this gem of a game has to offer.
From slow-paced, creepy beginning to the highly satisfying end, The Lost Crown delivers something that has been lost and much more sought after than some stinky old royal headgear in the past ten years… A thinking-man’s challenge with a fantastic story that drags you deeper into an amazingly crafted world of suspense and the supernatural. There is very little to fault here and if you need something to stimulate your grey cells, Darkling Room have created one of the most enthralling, cerebral experiences available since the days of clever survival horror games.
The Lost Crown is available on Steam for purchase along with both previous games in the series, Dark Fall: The Journal and Dark Fall 2: Lights Out.
This review is based on the PC version of The Lost Crown, supplied by Iceberg Interactive.