Reviewed by Jamie Downes
As has been discussed before on this very website, the mechanics of well developed games in the adventure genre can be considered fine just the way they are, with many hybrid games that claim to be part adventure in fact having very little in common with the genre that we love. So with this in mind, I would expect skepticism when I tell you that, on the face of it, Daemonica is indeed one of those dreaded hybrids. Consisting of part adventure, action, and RPG, Daemonica is a game that shouldnít, however, be dismissed by die-hard adventure gamers. For while its appeal to avid fans of action and RPGS is likely extremely limited, its appeal to the adventure community should be far greater. Indeed, treated as an adventure game, Daemonica is an excellent example of the genre. Why is that, you ask? Well, put simply, Daemonica is able to provide an immersive experience throughout its duration.
Story and atmosphere are the two main reasons for this, so letís start with those. The player takes on the role of the Beast Hunter, Nicholas Farepoynt. He has a special ability, for he is 'Haresh al-Dorem'... 'the one who speaks to the deadí. While traveling, he receives a letter asking for his assistance in the small town of Cavorn. In this dark and depressing place, a newly settled couple has gone missing, and a small scrap of blood soaked clothing has been found by the river. Upon your arrival in the town, you are greeted by the Mayor who informs you that events have taken a further turn for the worse. A young woman has been brutally murdered, apparently by her lover. He has already been hanged for the crime, although some residents are unconvinced of his guilt. This is where your mission begins, investigating these two terrible occurrences.
As this suggests, Daemonica tells a grim story, one that deals with the darker side of the afterlife. The plot is mostly satisfying, containing several twists and turns that leave the player unsure as to who is involved and with what. Indeed, while Cavorn is home to some innocent and hardworking residents, Nicholas will also encounter characters who are rather more shady, suspicious, and sometimes just downright mysterious. The personality of Cavornís residents is, in fact, a big contributor to the overall atmosphere of Daemonica. Many of the less suspicious characters seem to outwardly express a general sense of hopelessness, thus providing an insight into their lives and the town they live in. It is clear that Cavorn is an unsettling place to live.
It is not just the characters who help to evoke such a dark atmosphere, however. It is also clear from the visuals that Cavorn is a dreary place, and likely always tinged with unpleasantness. Although the gameís graphics are by no means cutting edge, they do their job very well. The player will find no bright colors in Daemonica; instead the palette is often faded and lifeless. This isnít meant as a negative comment however. The gameís story requires things to be this way, and I give full marks to the developers for sticking their necks on the line to create visuals that are in fitting with the game, rather than purely eye candy. Throughout the game the player will also notice mice scurrying around the town, and birds flying menacingly overhead. Rain will often pour down as well, really adding to the claustrophobic feel of the town.
During these rainstorms the player will also hear crashes of thunder, which in truth can sound a little tacky. This doesnít detract much from the atmosphere, but a meatier sound effect would certainly have added to it. Nevertheless, the sound in general is of a good standard. The music is again fitting for the atmosphere, and compliments itself nicely with quiet and gentle interludes breaking up the more sweeping and dramatic highs of the soundtrack. The game does contain voice acting during cut-scenes, and while overall Nicholasís character is acted adequately, the gameís atmosphere probably benefits from the lack of voice acting elsewhere. There is a small amount of voice acting connected with Nicholasís attempts to speak to the dead, and this is suitably haunting.
So, with the story and atmosphere explained, how does the game play?
Daemonica is an isometric 3rd person, 3D game using point and click controls. A simple left click of the mouse enables the player to move around, and the same button is used to interact with a character or item. Moving the mouse cursor over a person or object will reveal an interaction should one be available. The player will also want to rotate the camera angle at times, and this can be done with the left and right arrow keys on the keyboard. Zooming in and out is achieved with the up and down arrows, or by scrolling the mouse wheel.
It is in the gameís interface that it first becomes clear that Daemonica will contain elements that are not normally seen in the adventure genre. Perhaps the starkest of these is the health bar located at the top right of the screen. The player is also provided a very handy compass (which can be expanded into a map), and a much more adventure friendly device, the inventory, both located at the bottom left of the screen. Key locations can be accessed from the map without the need for manual travel, which is particularly useful when youíre not sure where to go in order to progress the story. The inventory, when expanded, shows the player the various documents and items that have been collected. This is also where Nicholasís diary is accessed.
Indeed, the aforementioned diary is an invaluable asset as far as gameplay is concerned. Not only is it used by Nicholas to record key information learned about characters and events, but it also holds the instructions the player will need to be successful in creating potions, some of which are absolutely necessary to progress the game. The herbs needed to create these potions are collected from around the town and its surrounding areas. Iíve read elsewhere that it is possible for the player to reach a dead end due to there not being enough ingredients to make a vital potion. However, the only way this would be possible is if the player went way overboard on health potions. Itís never a bad idea to carry one around with you, but any more than two is excessive. (Note, however, that the developers have now released a patch that will provide more herbs to find. A link to the patch is provided below.)
Having already alluded to a health bar, and now health potions, you wonít be surprised to hear that Daemonica does contain combat. This is conducted in real-time, and is only very occasional. Furthermore, the fighting is extremely primitive and not an aspect of gameplay that will halt the playerís progress. Each fight can easily be won by holding down the spacebar to block, and only releasing it when the enemy drops his guard and an opportunity arises to counter-attack. Clicking either of the mouse buttons while the cursor is placed over the enemy will instigate a swipe of Nicholasís sword. The player will know when a hit has been successful, as blood will fly from the enemy. Each fight will take very little time to win if the above strategy is adhered to, and again, these sequences do only occur a handful of times throughout the game. The player can die however, so itís best practice to save and save often (there are plenty of save slots to do so). There is also the option to 'Quick-Save' using the F5 key.
Aside from the fighting and alchemy, Daemonicaís gameplay will be nothing new to adventure gamers. Most progression occurs when the player solves a simple inventory puzzle or talks to the correct character. The player will spend much of the time doing the latter of these, as Daemonica is quite dialogue heavy. The writing isnít inspired, however it does the job fine with very few glaring translation errors. One rather unique gameplay mechanic requires the player to use the knowledge he has gained in the land of the living to make correct choices when in the land of the dead. However, saving is recommended before crossing, as the information will no longer be available to you after you do. The game will also require the player to keep an eye out for some well-hidden information (although itís usually in a logical place), as well as solve the occasional riddle. Daemonicaís puzzles do not make it excel, but neither do they ruin the illusion of the game.
One extra point that may be worth mentioning is that Daemonica has multiple endings. The key differences between these endings are triggered by how the player chooses to act in the final sequence of the game. Additional minimal differences in the gameís summation relate to how or whether the player dealt with other situations throughout the game. While the smaller differences are fine, the different main endings seem unnecessary, perhaps even detracting from the story rather than enhancing it.
So there we have it... Daemonica, a game which far exceeded my expectations in providing an immersive journey into the dire and depressing Middle Ages, where a small town holds a deadly secret. As is hopefully clear from this review, Daemonica is not a game to play if youíre in the mood for light and fluffy. Furthermore, the amount of reading that the player will need to do, along with the lack of variety in the gameís locations, also means that it is probably not for those who grow bored easily. On the other side of the coin, the non-adventure elements of the game are neither prominent nor challenging enough to provide any reason for not playing on the basis of their inclusion. So if youíre a sucker for a well-developed genuine atmosphere, and an intriguing story, then this is a game that you will most likely find yourself immersed in, and enjoying greatly.
© December 2009 Jamie Downes
There is a Patch for only the English Language version of Daemonica. The other language versions do not need the patch.
Developed (2005) by RA Images and Cinemax. Published by Meridian4.
Rated: T for Teen 13+ (blood, mild violence, mild language)
Minimum System Requirements:
PC: Pentium III 1 GHz Processor or Equivalent; Windows 2000 / XP; 256 MB RAM; 4X CD-ROM Drive; DirectX 9, 64 MB Video Card; DirectX 9 Compliant Sound Card; 500 MB of Free Hard Drive Space; DirectX 9.0c; Mouse and Keyboard
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