Wading Through The Mist
It’s hard not to develop at least a mild fascination with ghost stories and the unearthly legends of the people who’ve long passed on from this world. Such tales – particularly if they are well-delivered – can raise the hairs on your neck and send chills down the spine. The Lost Crown: A Ghost-hunting Adventure is steeped heavily in the folklore intrigue of the spirit world rather than the full-on gore and flesh eating creatures found in horror games, but it still delivers a winding story full of scary moments and interesting twists. It’s a creepy game that dabbles equally in aspects of ghost-hunting, searching for ancient treasure, and old fashioned detective work. If you’re into ghosts, you’ll love digging into this haunted adventure mystery set on the fog-laden coast of England.
After stumbling across records of paranormal research at work and making off with copies of the sensitive documents, Nigel Danvers seeks refuge from his pursuers in the small town of Saxton located on England’s eastern shores. All is not what it appears in this sleepy village populated with eccentric characters, plenty of folk legends, and a dark history of haunting memories. Danvers soon becomes drawn in by local stories of hidden treasure and the town’s ghostly inhabitants, and he sets out to recover Anglia’s last Anglo-Saxon crown while documenting paranormal activity around the area. The story is much of what makes a point-and-click style adventure game sparkle, so we’ll leave the rest to the imagination and discovery. It’s safe to say our protagonist will make some unusual acquaintances and stumble into many bizarre and eerie situations on his journey over, under, around, and through the Saxton landscape.
One of the unique and rather odd aspects of The Lost Crown is the game’s visuals are almost entirely black and white. In stark contrast, very subtle and meager amounts of color are used sparingly to accentuate minor details like budding flowers, a few pictures, tinted glass, bloody fish carcasses, and so forth. Quite often only a hint of color will be given to a single element in an entire screen, and in some cases you can travel for awhile without encountering any color at all. This is a bit odd initially, but it fits the mysterious and spooky atmosphere remarkably well.
Even with the extreme black and white presentation, nearly every graphical aspect in the game is impressive. There’s a very high level of photorealistic detail in the environments and settings. Each location is highly realistic, and many are based-on actual places in the real-world. The great variation in visual settings keeps the exploratory component of the game from getting stale since players must traverse through caves, beaches, forests, buildings around the quaint town, and beyond. Just as you’ll begin to get tired of a particular area, the next will present a whole new interesting locale to explore. The only graphical setback comes from the character animation and detail. Each person in the game looks decently convincing until they start to move and talk. The stiff movement and turning animations and strange eye and mouth reflexes make the characters look like motorized wax museum figures. It’s a flaw that players shouldn’t find too difficult to overlook, but it’s unfortunate when compared to the excellent scenery.
Using only the mouse, players will control Danvers primarily from a third-person perspective through most of the game. The view sometimes switches over to a basic first-person perspective when using the night-vision video camera to search out ghostly phenomenon in dark corridors. There’s nothing particularly special about the point-and-click controls; if you’ve played an adventure game on the PC, you’ve seen them before. You’ll click on locations on the screen to move Danvers over to investigate hotspots where you can gain information, interact with puzzles, speak with people, or use inventory items as you move from one area to the next in search of clues to progress the story. Double clicking speeds things along, which helps greatly when backtracking through the same areas repeatedly. Aside from waiting for ugly and sometimes slow character animation sequences to conclude, they work well enough. Also, a function to fast-forward through conversations you’ve already had would easily shave a few hours off the time players spent trolling around for clues.
The game takes place over the course of several days, and each day is broken up into different sections with a list of specific plot-related objectives to complete before being allowed to move on. Initially, certain areas of the town and surrounding area are closed-off, making it easier for players to focus on scouring small areas at a time. It keeps the game from getting overwhelming. There are some moments where the key to the unlocking path ahead is buried deeply in a cryptic puzzle, and this can lead to moments of frustration as you’re forced to retrace every corner to find the single important detail you might have missed the first time around. It’s a fault that’s not uncommon with adventure games, though some may argue overcoming these barriers is part of the fun. Others will simply have to seek aid from a walkthrough. The puzzles themselves are varied and interesting. They range from collecting the proper herb ingredients and chopping them up to help make a stew to deciphering arcane symbols on strange millstone monoliths in the dark woods.
Many of the actions required to progress the story elements are intuitive. You’ll have to talk to characters to gain information, search out secrets in documents and elsewhere, gather certain items for use later on, and document evidence of the town’s ghostly inhabitance, among other goals. Though it’s not difficult, the latter is particularly fun as it lets you utilize a handful of sweet ghost-hunting gadgets to track down the otherworldly beings dwelling in the dark reaches of the town. When you run across suspected hot-spots for paranormal activity (they’re pretty clear from the spooky sounds and obvious activity), you can use a digital camera, a night-vision video camera, a multi-camera surveillance rig, a handheld tape recorder, and an EMF reader to collect evidence. Yes, it’s just like the show Ghost Hunters on the Sci-Fi Channel, and it’s pretty awesome.
The Lost Crown has a great, creepy atmosphere, and the presentation is one of a kind. Dark shadows, spectral figures, near constant mist, and chilling sounds are bound to give most folks an uneasy feeling about playing the game at night in a dimly lit room. Of course, that’s partially the point. If the developers could have paid closer attention to character animations and movement, the game could have an even greater impact. As is, it’s like playing a stunning, immersive adventure game with a bunch of crummy puppets. Thankfully, the many high points propel things forward to keep players from tripping up on this setback. Adventure fans would do well to add this one to their collection, ghosts and all.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.8 Graphics
The unusually slick black and white presentation with stunning photorealistic environments is impressive. The character animations are not. 3.4 Control
Standard point-and-click fare. Room for improvement in terms of movement speed and lack of ability to fast-forward through lengthy discussions you’ve already had. 4.2 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Chilling atmospheric music and freaky sound effects ramp up the spookiness. 4.0 Play Value
The peculiar nature of the plot keeps you guessing while the lengthy quest if fulfilling and elaborate. 4.0 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.