DARKNESS WITHIN: IN PURSUIT of LOATH NOLDER from Zoetrope Interactive
This is yet another point-and-click adventure in the style of H.P.Lovecraft and as far as I can ascertain it adds nothing for the cults of followers of Cthulhu and other stories to be impressed with. The settings are mainly noticeably dark rooms, even Howard's office in the Police Department isn't particularly bright (a bit like Detective Howard E Loreid to be honest), and a creepy crypt, and all about as scary as the demon that makes buttered toast always land buttered-side down when it drops.
The game starts ominously enough and first impressions are that this is going to be a super tribute to the Lovecraftian style of eeriness. I hadn't read anything about the game previously so when it installed (va Steam) and began with Detective Loreid having a nightmare which is visually frightening I was ready for some weird things to occur as I worked my way through the game. In fact I wasn't even sure it was a nightmare until Howard wakes up in his own room. This is where you, the player, take control (if control is the correct word). Searching your room (don't you just hate it when you have to search your own room in all of these pac games ?) you locate your car keys (actually one key only) and you find your book, a sort of diary elegantly named "I And My Night Mares".
Your dream has shown you the Wellsmouth Institution, a Sanitarium - what else would you expect in this story genre - a place that is soon to feature in your day-time explorations. Meanwhile you answer your mobile phoone and talk to Arthur, another detective. He tells you that Loath Nolder has escaped from the hospital sometime early this morning and that he has left you numerous messages. When you check your answerphone (for some reason the phone attached doesn't work) and discover no messages you phone Arthur back and get the lowdown on the escape. Loath Nolder is a suspected murderer who is believed to have strangled an occulist named Clark Field.
There are a couple of doors in your home and after stumbling into the bathroom and discovering you have a closet in which you keep your clothes, you make it out into the hall and eventually to the outside where the next scene is a car (presumably yours) driving past a fence and some woodlands. Now you have a map on which there are a couple of locations. Click on one of these and you'll soon arrive at your chosen destination. As you discover more clues to different places of interest so they will appear on your travel map, all regular fair for pac adventures.
In your office there are only a couple of hot spots (places where the cursor changes and allows interaction) one of which is a stack of 4 photographs taken at Loath Nolder's office. Go there and by using the quite clever mechanic you can look at the photographs and flip between them and the actual scene, moving around the office to position yourself in the place from where the photographs were taken. Manipulating the pictures on the special screen allows you to enlarge them and compare them with the crime scene itself. here you notice some subtle differences - someone else has been in the room searching but have they found what they were looking for ? Not according to your (Detective Loreid) deductions, but this isn't a walkthrough so I'm not giving any more hints. Though I will say that on the wall in Loath's office is a 5 year old calendar which dates it around the time Loath went on his weird and unusual journeys around the world, particularly Africa and Oceania - interesting!
Speaking of Hints, there are three levels of difficulty you have to choose from when the game loads up. Two of these give you Hints. These difficulty levels are as follows:
Standard - Casual gaming, some hints, autmomatic research. Detective - Standard gaming (weird that the Standard difficulty isn't for standard gamers) hints given on a timer, request research manually. Senior Detective - Hardcore gaming, no hints, request research manually.
Throughout the game, which you can sort of play at your own pace, though nothing really happens at speed anyway, you are constantly seeking hot spots and items that can be manipulated. During these investigations you find a newspaper clipping concerning a recent (okay, fairly recent) earthquake that uncovered a secret room in an old coal mine which is filled with an archaeologists dreams. You will also uncover a piece of paper filled out like a leger with long lists of numbers, letters and symbols (example: D-0304 LWQ ? 08.01 - 05.03) all of which mean nothing when you first find it, but unlike many odd objects you cannot take it with you.
A lot of the game is spent reading and remembering. You have one book in your home, already mentioned, and another in Loath's office "Wellsmoth: Myths and Legends of an Ancient Town" is interesting and helpfully useful. Reading this and discovering other things as well as solving the many puzzles - some of which are quite challenging, some are pretty obvious - will gain you achievements - Brownie points if you will.
Overall this is a fairly standard point and click adventure. It isn't bad but it isn't particularly mind boggling, scary or, to be honest, interest holding. If you have played any previous pac adventures set in and around Lovecraft's weird world then this game will hold no surprises for you. You go through the motions of maneuvering the cursor all round every location, getting frustrated when you find no or few hot spots, most of which don't progress you much further. Every piece of information and every clue is painstakingly detected but the sad thing is, is that when you finally make a breakthrough you aren't elated or delighted, you are just happy that the grind for that clue is over but with the knowledge that the grind for the next clue is about to begin. Even if you use your own imagination or brainpower you cannot do anything until you have triggered the game via it's own mechanisms. That is unfortunately the nature of the beast - the way of almost all pac adventures. I honestly enjoyed the majority of the puzzles but the theme was a little too worn to hold my interest.
By the way - The E Loreid in Howard E Loreid, is an anagram of Die Role which shows how desperate I became.