Legacy: Dark Shadows
Set in 2138 Legacy: Dark Shadows presents a menacing conspiracy against a background of a bleak, dystopic future reminiscent of the film Blade Runner. Flying cars soar between tall buildings lined with garish advertising screens and the rain rarely ceases.
But the game begins many years earlier in Stalingrad, in 1941. During the interactive black and white introduction you are briefly given control of a character who makes a discovery in the Russian trenches as war rages all around. The scene then changes with good effect to grainy, old film footage before the title appears and suddenly Ren looms into view in glorious colour as her space ship descends to land on Mars.
As you take control of Ren you learn she is on vacation and has nothing to do other than be a tourist. You spend a little time doing touristy things before Hacker, your friend and colleague on Earth, contacts you to tell you that another friend, Ted, a journalist, has gone missing and you must return home to investigate.
How Ted's disappearance ties in with the conspiracy and the enigmatic introduction you will uncover as you investigate.
Legacy: Dark Shadows is a third person perspective adventure game in the classic tradition with some first person perspective close ups. It reminded me favourably of Nightlong: Union City Conspiracy in both setting and gameplay. And it continues that more recent trend of featuring a strong, intelligent and resourceful female character like April Ryan in The Longest Journey or Kate Walker in Syberia. Interestingly, they all have a similar appearance.
Ren Silver, is a former cop turned private investigator. The world that she inhabits is dark, mean and metallic (as she says at one point, only the rich can afford stone for building). But the old world of stone buildings still exits and you will get to explore a part of it in the radiated forbidden zone complete with mutant rats and spiders. You will also return to Mars and visit an asteroid before your investigation ends back on Earth where it all began.
Ren carries a gun and she does need to use it on occasion, but I'm pleased to report that there are no fast-paced arcade sequences and quick reflexes are not required. The obstacles to be overcome are largely inventory based but there are four relatively easy logic puzzles including a small Sokoban-style (box pushing) test and a pipe-connecting puzzle. Legacy Dark Shadows is a game where you can make good progress by finding items in the gameworld and thinking about how they may be used and what you are trying to accomplish.
There are other characters to talk to and some you will need to help before they will help you. The dialogue is not overly wordy or confusing, it's just enough to keep you on track. I particularly liked how you could click on non-essential items in the game environment and Ren will give a description or make a comment. This, for me, does two things. Firstly, it complements the graphics and says this is a real, physical location and not just a pretty background. Secondly, it allows something of Ren's character to come through and we can learn a little about her personality and attitudes and care about what happens to her.
As you might have figured out by now, Legacy: Dark Shadows is a mouse controlled adventure game. In most locations you can left click on the screen or an exit and Ren will walk to that spot. Double click and she will run. A right click brings up your inventory where you can examine items you have found and in some cases combine them to make a new item that might be useful for getting you out of a tight spot.
Ren's inventory also permanently contains three items every good investigator needs, a camera, evidence containers and a really useful scrambler device for getting past electronic locks. I was only ever held up for any length of time when I forgot about the scrambler and was trying to find other ways to move on. Oh, and I should mention the one inconsistency that also held me up briefly. There is one item in one location that you must use on Ren. At all other times you cannot use anything on Ren as she is not recognised as a hotspot herself.
Your cursor is a small arrow that glows green when there is something you can interact with such as an item you can pick up or direction you can move in. This became slightly problematic in the small air-duct maze on the asteroid where all the locations had a greenish glow. Another feature of the cursor is the small menu that pops up when you can interact with something or someone. This allows you to look, talk or take depending on the context. Generally hotspots are easy to find and show a short text description when the cursor is over them. Speaking of text, you can enable subtitles and adjust other settings in the options menu. There are ample save game slots though the earliest ones remain at the top and you have to scroll down through them to get to your latest saves. No big deal but it would have been more convenient if the order had been reversed.
The graphics in many of the locations are dark and muted as you might expect given the setting of the game. Ren stands out as a strangely under-dressed young woman with tight-fitting clothing that looks like it has been painted on. I'm not sure if it was some sort of futuristic uniform or space suit but everyone else seemed to dress normally and no explanation is given for her appearance. Being the main character she has a more natural range of movement than the minor characters who are less detailed but there was still a slight 'awkwardness' at times in how she moved. To that extent the character graphics are not as sophisticated as some more recent adventures and the game could have benefited from a few more close-ups, especially in conversations. So too the voice acting of some minor characters could be better but don't let this put you off. Ren herself is very well-portrayed and her slight Eastern European accent, I think, is quite endearing.
From a story perspective I thought that we could have learned more about the bad guy and his motivation but he too is only a minor character. Perhaps that was deliberate to maintain the mystery. I would also have appreciated learning a bit more about Ren's background and her relationship with Hacker and Ted within the game.
However, despite these criticisms I had a lot of fun playing this game and it is the gameplay that is most important to me. I liked how the story is slowly uncovered as Ren's investigation proceeds rather than being propelled along by cut scenes. I liked the small details and Ren's wry comments such as when you look at a drawing of a scantily clad woman on a box on an old railway cart and Ren says, "they didn't transport women in these boxes, did they?". I liked that there were lots of things to do and it is the doing not the watching that keeps me involved in a game. On top of that I liked the gentle humour that came through despite the grim setting.
Legacy: Dark Shadows is a good, solid, first up Sci-Fi adventure game that shows that Razbor Studios have a lot of potential and I hope that they create more games. I also hope that we may see Ren again in a sequel sometime soon.
Copyright © Gordon Aplin 2004.
All rights reserved.
Win98/98SE/2000/XP, Pentium II 650, 128MB RAM, CD-ROM drive, Mouse and keyboard, 1024x768 SVGA high color (16-bit) DirectX compatible video card with 32MB RAM, Windows-compatible sound device, 1400MB free hard drive space, Microsoft DirectX 8.1
Recommended System Requirements:
Pentium III 1200, 256MB RAM, 3D accelerator card (DirectX/Direct3D compatible) with 64MB RAM, CD-ROM drive, 1400MB free hard drive space, Microsoft DirectX 8.1