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The Lost Crown Review

The Lost Crown: A Ghost-Hunting Adventure pack shot
Developer:Darkling Room
Publisher:Lighthouse Interactive
Genre:Adventure
Platform:PC
Official Site:http://www.thelostcrown.co.uk/
Release Date:July 21st, 2008 (UK)
Reviewer:Duncan Lawson (sinna01)
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The Lost Crown is a spook themed point and click adventure game, largely set in the faintly creepy Suffolk village of Saxton. Right - before considering the games own merits or lack of them, I've already got to take exception with that premise. Having spent a decent proportion of my life in identical East Anglian locations to that of the games depiction, I know for a fact that the villages are not haunted by unexplained phantasms and supernatural spectres. No, these places are in fact haunted by the actual village residents, all sufficiently superannuated to be considered an entity as much of this world an the next. Seriously, go to the local pub sometime - a conversation with the regulars could technically be considered an act of necromancy.

Devonshire based developers Darkling Room were clearly quite smitten with the area for its rural charms and atmospheric locations however, and it is this enthusiasm for the locations and subject matter that bobs Crown along but never quite makes up for the technical and design shortcomings. The games basic mechanic is point and click, which has remained essentially unchanged for the gaming world's equivalent of centuries.

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Despite this long line of antecedents to call upon, point and click is one of the hardest mechanics to balance exactly right, and even the greatest examples of the genre are still not blameless of common sins of pixel hunting, non-sequiter puzzles, nonsensical object combination and spotty plotting. The Lost Crowns lacunae of choice is the 'unrelated event trigger', which involves such inexplicable impediments as a box being unopenable until a photograph in a separate location is looked at, or a round peg cannot be used in the clearly related round hole until a lengthy and seemingly pointless conversation is held elsewhere.

The heart of the game is in its ghost-hunting motif, which is pursues with such earnest enthusiasm that it is hard to poke fun at. None of the spectral encounters will provide any actual danger to the player, and sequences of navigating darkened rooms via the green tinted screen of a camcorders night vision have a lot more in common with Most Haunted Live than the Blair Witch. The ghost hunting is conducted through exhaustively testing any area where you hear a disembodied voice whisper 'here'. Unfortunately, so systematic does said testing have to be - cycling through various uses of a digital video recorder, voice recorder, camera, and electromagnetic field meter - that the sinister wonder of the apparition is fairly quickly depleted.

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Whether or not you'll actually enjoy The Lost Crown might come down to how comfortable you are with the term 'interactive fiction'. See, for me insisting that a game is interactive fiction is like calling your comic books 'graphic novels' - you spend so much energy trying to look all grown up and serious you only highlight the childishness of it all. The Lost Crown has absolutely set itself up to be interactive fiction in its pacing and plotting, the extensiveness of the dialogue, but most of all by what I shall call the 'brave' decision to go all Shindlers List with the graphics. The poorly animated characters and the attentively but ineptly photographed backdrops are all entirely black and white, with only one or two points of colour - a flower bobbing in the breeze, a pile or rope, or whatever else the art department felt advanced its fairly opaque agenda

Anyone who's played around with the settings on their digital camera knows that anything shot in black and white or sepia mode immediately looks pretty cool , but if your going to start actually taking such pictures they had better be pretty damn good or you'll look like a pretentious tit. The exact same principle applies to both games and movies - if you are going to shoot in black and white you had better be sure your visuals are of a sufficient standard of excellence to make sure this does not look like a shonky bid for gravitas. Unfortunately the character design, animation, and the poor staging of the cut-sequences puts this game firmly in the latter camp. Gimme 'comic books' and 'computer games' any day.

Summary

I can not help but like The Lost Crown as an earnest, home grown attempt at producing a point and click 'interactive fiction' that stands apart in its tone and visuals from the rest of the pack currently on offer. Its execution of this concept is frankly inept and it manages to fall into far more clich├ęs than it avoids, so busy is it with being alternative and grown-up. However, given the ranks and legions of atrociously thrown together tie-ins cynically constructed to ride whatever franchising bandwagon or gaming zeitgeist is passing by, amounting to little better than actual theft perpetrated over your local game emporiums counter, then The Lost Crown deserves recognition for what can be termed an honourable failure.

I for one will keep an eye on east coast amateur occultists Darkling Room - and not just because I feel safer knowing where they are at any one time.

The bottom line
6.0 / 10

Good stuff

  • Fresh take on a difficult genre
  • Simple, clean interface
  • Chock full 'o spooks

Not so good stuff

  • Below par visuals & animation
  • Patchy plot pacing and characterisation
  • Inexplicable 'event triggers'


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