metzomagic.com Review

Lighthouse

Developer/Publisher:  Sierra
Year Released:  1996

Review by Rosemary Young (November, 1996)

lhouse.jpgI love writing and I also love solitude. Fortunately, these two cravings of mine are a perfect match and there is no better place imaginable than a lonely lighthouse on a misty, wind-swept coast to overindulge in both

The location of this game is the place of my dreams. And it even offers the opportunity to play the character of a writer seeking solitude to indulge in his or her passion. Admittedly, the telephone hasn't miraculously vanished (I'd like to think I'd remedy this oversight forthwith), and you don't actually live in a lighthouse, but all the essentials are there. If I was ever to be presented with the opportunity to live in such a place I'd jump at it -- and I wouldn't be averse to getting entangled in a mystery or two.

Technology plus
The game opens with you in your study and, much to my chagrin, the first obvious thing to do is to check out the phone. Well I suppose it's fortunate that the writer's didn't dispense with this aggravating piece of technology because your telephone messages set you off on this first person perspective adventure that is very reminiscent of Myst with its eerie atmosphere and the emphasis on mechanical-type puzzles. If anything, Lighthouse is more 'mechanical' and the problems posed are not so much 'myst-like' as 'fog-like'.

Depending on whether or not you like mechanical-type problems will probably play a large role in dictating whether or not you will like this game. In it you will be searching a strange, parallel world where technology once reigned supreme but ultimately caused massive environmental degradation before equilibrium was restored. Your quest will be to capture or get rid of the evil creature who appears set on returning to the bad-ol' days, and along the way you will be confronted with the mechanical 'monsters' of the past.

In Lighthouse the land beyond is all cogs and levers and valves, and such things as navigational devices and flying machines. It's a world almost completely devoid of 'flesh and blood' as even the few creatures that you meet are mostly mechanical (or part mechanical) and the problems posed include fixing various gadgets, operating mechanical equipment, getting a submarine up and running, starting up a power supply or forging a metal component to repair a piece of machinery.

In short this is a game that is best suited to people who like mechanical puzzles and have some mechanical know-how, although this is not to say that mechanical inepts like myself won't enjoy it -- but maybe not quite as much. For instance, though I found many of the problems interesting and even 'solved' them after a few 'colourful' words, sometimes I was doing things I didn't fully understand.

No prompting
And you are really on your own in this game. There are no hot spots, so you have to study the game world carefully and 'click' on everything to check it out. I know some players don't like this but, personally, I think it's quite realistic. After all, if you were travelling in an alien world there wouldn't be dozens of signs around shouting 'pick me and I'll help out here'.

Unfortunately, though, this little argument destroys my next point. In this game I would have really appreciated some text prompts with a few clues in them, and I don't mean clues so helpful that they solve puzzles for you. Still, occasionally I would have liked more information about the object I was scrutinising just to give me some idea of its use so I could determine what had to be done.

Tinkerer's delight
Ultimately trial and error is the only way to go. I'm thinking it must be excellent for all the game players out there who never read a game manual but insist on tinkering around with the interface till it all becomes clear. Well, there are no manuals for anything in this game so you, in particular, will be in your element. Find a switch or a button, press it and see what happens. Sometimes though, the 'happening' occurs in another location hence this methodology requires some patience.

In fact this is a game of patience because it is so lacking in 'information' (explanatory captions). OK, so you have got the gadget up and running (we'll call it a 'grabber') now what do you do with it? Nothing in the environment is 'flagged' so you just have to try picking up everything in sight. The grabber might be tricky to manipulate but if you fail in your attempts there is no 'encouraging' prompt (ie, you failed) to tempt you to try over and over. Since nothing is 'flagged ' you don't even know if you are concentrating your efforts on entirely the wrong object. That intriguing piece of junk might simply be an intriguing piece of junk.

Difficult game
For people like me, at least, Lighthouse is quite a difficult game though it is fascinating and I'm sure that many of you will thoroughly enjoy it. It is broken up into a number of different 'environments' which you can tackle in any sequence, but mostly they are self contained. Anyway, if you miss something somewhere you can always return to collect it, although don't miss anything before you set off for the Lighthouse as you can't return home again. Try to exit the lighthouse environment via the front gate and the game assumes you want to quit.

This title occupies two CD's and after I finally got my system to read CD2, (huh, dirt on the disk, indeed, in MY tender care?) it worked like a charm installed under Win 95. The music, I thought, was excellent and despite hearing murmurings of dissatisfaction with the graphics, I was more than happy. Also, even though there isn't much speech to speak of, it isn't translated into text to aid hearing impaired players to follow the story.

Trains and boats and planes
So, did I enjoy this game? Well yes and no. I loved the environment, the story and the puzzle box, and didn't mind the mechanical problems as my ineptitude made them even more of a challenge, and this I appreciated. All in all, I had a couple of frustrating moments when the device I was using didn't do what I thought it should be doing but, I have to say I also had a couple of nightmares as well. Getting the submarine going and piloting the mini-sub left me absolutely cold. My patience completely deserted me here, although this could have been because my interest in, and knowledge of, submarines is absolutely zilch. I didn't find it interesting trying to get one to work and nor did I find it particularly rewarding driving back and forth in the train at the end of game, although the flying machines were fine.

I've been contemplating this last point for some time and, at great risk, I have to say that, as a female, although it was wonderful being able to play myself (I didn't detect any indication that the game assumed me to be a male), I still felt that Lighthouse erred on the side of 'masculinity'. PLEASE don't assume that I am saying that women can't or shouldn't pilot submarines, or drive trains, or have expertise with mechanical devices. And don't assume I'm asking for a washing and ironing puzzle either -- I wouldn't dare because I'd have ME to answer to -- however, I just felt that males who like to tinker would get more out of this one.

It's a very good game, with some fine (mechanical-type) puzzles but it is one for the experienced adventurer. Except for the submarine sequences it would certainly be on my shopping list -- I am wondering now that if I hadn't opened that darned umbrella INSIDE the house before I set out on my adventure, that maybe this bit would have gone away.

metzomagic.com rating:  

Copyright © Rosemary Young 1996. All rights reserved.

System requirements:
Minimum 486DX2/66, 2xCD-ROM, Mouse, 12 MB RAM (Windows 95), 8 MB RAM (Windows 3.1x/DOS), MS DOS 5.0+, SVGA 640 x 480 x 256 colours, Windows compatible sound card (Windows), Soundblaster Pro or 100% compatibles (DOS), ThunderBoard also supported (DOS). Recommended: Pentium 90 or better, 16 MB RAM (Windows 95), 12 MB RAM (Windows 3.1x/DOS), 16-bit Sound Card, 4xCD-ROM.