Dark Side of the Moon

Developer/Publisher:  SouthPeak Interactive
Year Released:  1998

Review by Gordon Aplin (January, 1999)
dsom.jpg Luna Crysta, the moon at the heart of this game, is a dangerous place. It's a 'frontier' mining colony controlled by the Brave Hope Corporation; a place where hard won fortunes in the mines are easily lost in the Brave Hope casino. A place where greed, power, corruption and exploitation rule; this is Luna Crysta's dark side. And you are on board a space shuttle that is about to land there.

Claim your inheritance
In this first-person perspective adventure from SouthPeak you are Jake Wright, named after your uncle Jacob who died on Luna Crysta, leaving you his mining claim and a mystery to solve. How and why did he die? Suicide is the official line from the Brave Hope authorities, but knowing your uncle as you do that doesn't seem plausible. The mystery deepens as you investigate. Why are some people interested in your claim if it is worthless, as the authorities insist? Why do the Cepheids, the indigenous inhabitants of the moon, docilely work themselves to death to extract the valuable minerals for someone else's profit? What is the secret of Luna Crysta that your uncle discovered? To answer these questions you will need all of your wit and resourcefulness. You may also need some help ... but who can you trust?

The story is intriguing, thoughtful and intelligent (written by Lee Sheldon who also wrote the excellent The Riddle of Master Lu) and the whole game is well-designed in terms of the obstacles to your progress and the solutions to overcome them. It is possible to die, but you are immediately restored to a point just before you made a mistake so that you can try a different tactic. The puzzles are pure adventuring where you must explore your surroundings thoroughly, converse with other characters, and find and use items in appropriate locations. There are a few sequences where you have limited time to act, mainly involving alien creatures that prevent your progress in the caverns. Don't worry, reflexes aren't needed here. If you have what you need (though you may die a lot determining this) it's easy to get past them, if not, then you can turn around and run away until later. I should also mention one other timed sequence in the ore processing plant, but once you work out what you must do there is plenty of time to do it and I never felt under too much pressure here.

Video Reality
The game uses SouthPeak's Video Reality technology as in their earlier game, Temüjin, which means that the full motion video sequences are incredibly clear, but are played out in a relatively small action window. The rest of the screen is taken up with your backpack and scrolling inventory bar; a Video Digital Assistant which allows you to receive messages, playback conversations, automatically map your location and read scanned documents; a figure representing yourself so that you can 'wear' items of equipment such as boots and goggles; an options menu for saving and restoring, etc.; and finally, the space beneath the action window is used to list your selection of conversational responses at appropriate times. Unfortunately, apart from your responses there is no text to accompany the conversations and although you can replay them in your VDA I would still prefer a text option as I had to play back a couple of scenes several times to be sure I understood what was said.

Navigation around the game world is easy with none of the difficulties that were encountered in Temüjin. Your cursor changes to an arrow in the action window to indicate when you can move in a particular direction and you can generally halt the flowing movement at any point to look around, or you can pan around even as you are moving. The whole process is seamless and has none of that 'tacked on' transition look. You can pan 360 degrees by moving your cursor over the 'lightbars' at the sides of the screen and in some locations you may be able to look up and down. The cursor usually highlights when you can interact with something in the game world, although you shouldn't rely on this totally. I was stuck for ages in one area as the particular object I needed to interact with didn't cause the cursor to highlight, yet I was able to use an inventory item on it.

There is a fair amount of disk swapping at times as the game is contained on six CDs and you can pretty much explore where you like, particularly towards the end of the game when you have opened up most locations. Fortunately, you can cancel a request to insert a new CD if you decide to change your mind, and the game will start with any disk in the drive.

Food for thought
Despite its deep-space and dark mining colony setting, and despite Pink Floyd's claim to the contrary, Dark Side of the Moon is not all dark. (Argh! I promised myself I wouldn't make a reference to Pink Floyd and there I've gone and done it!) It has none of the 'remoteness' or alienating aspects that are often a characteristic of many science-fiction games, this one is closer to 'home' than we might care to admit. The story is engrossing, serious, yet with a lighter side. The characters are interesting and not everyone you meet is unremittingly evil, but all have their own agendas. Even your character, Jake, has to make a few moral choices. The acting in the conversation sequences is generally pretty good and the music is suitably appropriate to the particular location you are currently in ... even the deliberately horrible muzak in the outfitters and the administration reception area.

The small game world window and the disk swapping are my only complaints with this game. On the whole, though, I thoroughly enjoyed Dark Side of the Moon. The puzzles are quite challenging and well-integrated into the story and the game's underlying themes won't be lost on thoughtful players. rating:  

Copyright © Gordon Aplin 1999. All rights reserved.

System requirements:
Pentium 166 MHz processor (or better) Windows 95 or 98, 32 MB RAM, 8X CD-ROM Drive, 16 Bit Windows Compatible Sound Card, 2 MB Video Card, 150 MB of free Hard Disk space (250 MB recommended) Microsoft Compatible Mouse, DirectX 5 or better