Reviewed by Mark Hasley
Have you ever played a game over a long period of time, finally managed to complete it with little or no help, and then realized that you have no clear idea what you think about it? I just accomplished that rather strange feat. I completed The Lost Crown a few days ago, and I am still not at all sure whether or not I was completely impressed by the game.
The game is the handiwork of Jonathan Boakes. It was he who created the well-known and generally wonderful Dark Fall. He also developed Dark Fall II, but that game got a bit too cute for my tastes. The Lost Crown: A Ghost-Hunting Adventure is significantly larger and radically different from either of those. Mr. Boakes certainly deserves praise for his willingness to change directions and atmospheres.
The Lost Crown calls itself 'A Ghost-Hunting Adventure' and I suppose that the title fits, but the story isnít really about ghosts. The gamer is introduced to (and plays the game as) young Mr. Nigel Danvers. It seems that Mr. Danvers has stolen some materials and/or data from his employer, Mr. Haden of Haden Industries. He has then taken it on the lam, climbed aboard a train, and accidentally managed to arrive in the quiet, extremely rural town of Saxton. Once heís there the game actually begins. One would think that Danvers would now hide, but he doesnít. He talks to people whom he has never met or even heard of, but who all seem to know him and have been expecting him. Later Danvers calls Mr. Haden to explain why he stole whatever he stole (the player never actually discovers what it was) and he learns that Mr. Haden, from whom Danvers is supposed to be hiding, knows exactly where he is and has sent him some new ghost hunting equipment. There is also some suggestion that there are two really bad 'bad guys' coming after Danvers. And somehow, during all this initial chaos that is intended as exposition, Danvers learns of and decides to find a secret treasure. The gamer may now really start doing what adventure gamers do.
If someone who is reading this thinks that seems a bit convoluted, be assured that it is. I liked a great many parts of this game, but despite what a few of my game-playing friends said, I never bought into the plot. Danvers switched vocations with painful abruptness, seemed rather matter-of-fact while arbitrarily becoming a treasure hunter, never seemed very concerned about the fact that two men were out to find and kill him, and at the end of his various quests, he accepted a strange conclusion with virtually no hesitation. From the introduction to the last line of the game, the story, as a story, seemed rather contrived.
The interface is a fairly straightforward third person point and click process. There is little that is new or unique here. Be aware that from me that should be considered a compliment. The point and click procedure has always worked well for me and I tend to get irritated when someone, for no apparent reason, attempts to reinvent a wheel that does not need reinvention. The cursor changes shape to show the player either direction of movement, 'look at closely', use inventory item, or interact. Again there is little thatís new, but the process is smooth and efficient.
There is a startup page at the beginning, but it is in a slightly offbeat format that fits the game perfectly. It sets up in an eerily pretty black-and-white scene, where 3 or 4 Tarot cards appear. They offer the usual options, but have different names. Instead of New Game, the card says 'Begin Your Quest'. Likewise 'Relive Your Past' and 'Save Your Future' stand for Load and Save. There is also an 'Options' card, but there are no options. The only adjustment that a player can make is to turn the Subtitles on or off. There are no adjustments for the various volumes or for any of the technical or visual items. Since I never understand what all of those items are when they are available in a game, I felt no loss when learning that they didnít exist in The Lost Crown. However if someone has a very sophisticated computer and enjoys tweaking a game to his personal perfection, he wonít be able to do it here. Oddly there are only eight saved game slots. A few people have been upset by this, but the game is extremely linear and the player has to do certain things in a certain order, so the few save slots never bothered me. A game can be easily saved, and a save can be easily written over.
Generally the game operated smoothly and easily. The only problem was that the cursor for direction wasnít always where it should have been. It sometimes takes a moment to find out how to go where the player thinks Danvers should be going. It is also noteworthy that my game shut down twice for no reason that I could discover. It never did it again, and I never saw the game flutter or slow, but there were two instances where it just quit. There is a patch available for the game, but I could never discover what it fixed and after those two early problems everything operated without any difficulties.
During gameplay the inventory is located at the bottom of the screen, and appears as soon as the cursor is moved there. Items are easily picked up, examined, and utilized. This is important because there are a great many items to pick up and/or use. There are also several different books and documents to read. Even more important, early in the game Nigel receives a box from Mr. Haden. This package contains 4 very important, rather clever, and often used ghost-hunting gadgets. They are very important throughout the game, and so the easily accessible inventory will be especially appreciated here. (By the way, yes, the Haden who sends the gadgets is the same one from whom Nigel is running, and the same one who has sent two thugs to kill him. And, yes, it is inexplicable.)
The sounds and the acting in the game were both rather impressive. The ambient sounds were well placed and will never distract a player. The voice acting was also quite effective. There was the usual collection of accents, but none were overdone or cartoonish. Most importantly for an older individual playing a game with no volume controls, all of the characters were completely understandable. As any experienced gamer knows, this is not always the case. A very clever and pleasant addition to this game was a special sound cue. Every time the player discovers a valuable and/or needed clue, a special chime sounds. This helps, especially on some of the more vaguely defined puzzles, to help direct the player to the next step.
I have always been a believer in the premise that the single most important element of any game is its graphics. If a player is going to sit in front of and stare at a computer screen for several dozen hours, what he is observing is of extreme importance. It is here that The Lost Crown is really impressive. Indeed, if this game is ever given entry into the category of 'Classic', it will be because of its visuals. There is a particular uniqueness to the look of this game that is unlike anything Iíve ever seen before. The game backgrounds are presented in what used to be called the slide show technique (Iím sure thereís a new term for it now, but I canít keep up with electronic buzzwords). As the gamer moves from frame to frame here, he is constantly met with truly beautiful images that are filled with specific and amazing details. This is most surprising given that the game is, oddly, presented in a black-and-white format.
Be aware that the game is not done in the harsh, crass, 'hard black and pure white' of many of the new graphic novels. It is done rather in the classic, rich, and highly detailed technique used by classic charcoal and paper artists. And the lack of color is enhanced by the addition of some very minor, and very vivid, color. Iím aware that this doesnít seem to make much sense, but be assured that it works. A black-and-white scene of a garden takes on an entirely different mood if just few of the flowers are bright blue or pink. A common street presented in black-and-white is much warmer if a lantern is glowing with a warm amber color. And that same street becomes oddly dangerous if the traditional British phone booth is colored its normal bright red.
Not only does the application of very little and very specific color add to the impact of the game, but each frame of this game also has some special movement as part of the background. A frog leaps into the water, for no reason except that frogs do that. A dragonfly (that is prettily olive in color) flits around, simply to flit. Cats are all over the place. There are at least two ĎMoonriseí cut scenes that are as beautiful as anything that Iíve ever seen in a game. Unimportant, but somehow really special things, simply occur. And when they do, they add unique and pleasant elements to the game.
All in all, it seems strange to write that an old-fashioned looking, black-and-white game with strangely applied colors, winds up creating significant visual impact, but that is exactly what happens. After just a few minutes of play, the gamer will be thoroughly entrenched in the colorless colored world of Saxton and its environs. Itís an entertaining place to be.
It must be noted that the people in the game donít always look as good as the scenery. There are a great many characters with whom Danvers must either interact or to whom he must speak. All of the characters, including Danvers himself, walk with a stiffness and apparent awkwardness that got a bit wearying after awhile. They also walk at one, and only one, speed. The player can double click to moves things along, but that doesnít always happen, and when it does, the game dissolves to the next scene. Danvers doesnít run. I fear that if Danvers were on fire, he would simply stride in wooden, somber, gloom to the nearest body of water, and then slowly walk into it. None of the characters moved around very fluidly.
The other problem with the townsfolk is that while they all sound fine, their words are seldom (perhaps never) coordinated with the animation on their faces. They speak, and the player hears words, but there is often no connection between those two statements. This problem is exacerbated once the gamer learns that there is no way to skip these conversations. It seemed unreasonable that after listening to a long exchange between Danvers and his new friend, if I were careless enough to click on the wrong spot I had to hear it all again.
As is usual, an adventure game review must eventually discuss puzzles and problems. These items in The Lost Crown are always fun, always interesting, and often very unique. The only difficulty is that many of the puzzles cannot be categorized. There are the usual numbers of keys to find. There are a few combinations to be discovered. There are several 'use the stuff in the inventory' puzzles. There is even a Ďshoot-Ďem-upí style arcade puzzle stuck in the middle of things. However a great many of the gameís puzzles require the player to carefully read various notebooks and journals as he finds them, to apply the things that he has read to the use of the modern gadgets, and then to speak to ghosts. If that sounds tedious and dull, it isnít. These processes are actually quite different and rather entertaining. Here too the linearity of the game helps. The gamer canít get too far lost or too far ahead of himself simply because the game wonít let it happen. There are a few timed puzzles, but they cause no real difficulty. If the player fails to complete a timed puzzle correctly or in the allotted time, he is simply placed back at the start of the puzzle. No gameplay is lost. All in all, the puzzles are generally exactly the kind that an adventure gamer plays these types of games for. They will be enjoyed.
Before concluding this, a few other points must be made. If someone is the type of player who constantly seeks 'more bang for the buck', then The Lost Crown is for him. I say that because this is an extremely long game. I never count hours when I play, but I spent three good weeks on this game, and still hadnít quite finished it. There is a lot of play here for the purchase price.
I should also note that this game is billed as 'A Ghost-Hunting Adventure'. And I have seen it referred to, and advertised as, "the best horror-adventure game in years". So I must state that the game is absolutely not frightening. Scratches was scary. Barrow Hill made me jump a few times. Both of the Last Half of Darkness games were creepy. The Lost Crown was, at its moodiest, simply rather eerie. I assure anyone that this game can be played in the dark with the earphones on and the volume up. The player need have no concern about abruptly knocking over his cup of coffee. A player will not jump or jerk in fright. The game is not a horror game.
Finally, I canít say much about it lest there be accusations of ĎSpoilerí, but the conclusion isnít especially conclusive. If it's what I fear it is, I do so hate being set up for a sequel.
And that, as they say, is that. The Lost Crown: A Ghost Hunting Adventure is an interesting game. The plot is adequate, but not in any way special. The sounds and voices are between average and very good. The game is visually unique and rather stunning. Perhaps most importantly, there are enough puzzles and problems, with enough variety, to satisfy the most particular of adventure gamers. Is it a great game? No. Is it an entertaining game that is well worth the cost? Absolutely. When Mr. Boakes releases his next game I may not throw a special party, but I will be among the first in line to purchase it. The Lost Crown provided some excellent entertainment, and perhaps thatís all any gamer has a right to expect.
© May 2008 Mark Hasley
Developed (2008) by Jonathan Boakes and Darkling Room. Published by Got Game Entertainment.
Rated: T for Teen 13+ (alcohol reference, blood, mild language, violence)
Minimum System Requirements:
PC: Pentium II or Equivalent (Pentium III or Equivalent Recommended); Windows XP (SP2) / Vista; 512 MB RAM (1 GB Recommended); 16X CD/DVD-ROM Drive; 128 MB DirectX 9.0c Compatible 3D Accelerated Video Card, Supporting 32 Bit (true color) Color Depth at 1024 x 768; 16 Bit DirectX Compatible Sound Card; 1.2 GB of Free Hard Drive Space; DirectX 9.0c; Mouse and Speakers
Where To Buy This Game:
Walkthroughs or Hints: