Last Half of Darkness: Shadows of the Servants
I first heard of Last Half of Darkness in 1995 when a Quandary reader wrote (with pen and paper, no less) asking for a much needed hint. The letter piqued my interest but, of course, I wasn't able to help. Though I had internet access, it was limited back then and the growing demands of Quandary kept me busy. So this was my first glimpse of Last Half of Darkness and I'm suitably impressed. I've subsequently learned that it's been around since 1989 in various shapes and forms. This latest incarnation is considerably updated and expanded and has gained the subtitle, Shadows of the Servants.
It's a menacing, horror adventure game where a nameless evil has been inadvertently brought to a New Orleans mansion from the remote Brazilian rainforest by one, Dr Muretta. The background to the story is outlined in the manual, so I won't go into detail here. Briefly, all attempts by Muretta to rid the place of the evil have failed and, if anything, have made it much worse. Before she died Muretta sealed her laboratory and arranged to have her notes destroyed, fearing that more tampering might bring more disaster.
Now Mira, one of Mureta's two daughters, has lived with this evil nearly all her life and, despite the dangers, seeks to destroy it. Using witchcraft she has summoned numerous strangers to help finish her mother's experiment. This is where you come in. Those who have gone before clearly weren't up to the task and their sad fate awaits you, should you fail in your endeavours.
But failure is not an option, right? So do as the manual suggests, dim the lights, turn up the sound and start exploring ... if you dare. But before you do, note the piece of paper in your game box. A strange diagram with symbols and numbers written on it. Keep it safe, because it will come in handy.
There's a genuinely creepy atmosphere in Last Half of Darkness, punctuated by sudden frights as things jump out at you when you least expect it. They made me jump, sometimes even when I did expect it. The horror isn't as subtle as in, say, Dark Fall: The Journal, but it's still very effective. Along with the cracking thunder, looming shadows and eerie lighting, there are a few gruesome bits to add to the horror - a severed hand and a couple of mutilated torsos hanging from creaking ropes - but these aspects aren't overemphasised. It's all good, creepy fun.
This is an independent game so the graphics are mostly static with the occasional animation or cut scene, but they are very effective nonetheless. The use of muted, pearly colour and filtered light works a treat to heighten the foreboding atmosphere. The short cut scenes, too, are used with chilling effect. Although it's been done before, an item mysteriously tumbling down the stairs comes to mind, as well as a couple of sudden, shocking appearances. Of course the sound effects and music also add to the atmosphere and heighten the tension. Sometimes dead quiet, interrupted by discordant voices, moans, creaks, and the piercing cry of a Raven. Sometimes just the roaring thunder and flashes of lightening. There are only a few characters to interact with and they are suitably voiced. Conversations are subtitled, but there were a couple of times when distorted disembodied voices spoke and I think these too should have had subtitles as it was hard to tell what was said.
The first person perspective and mouse controlled interface makes for easy exploration. Movement is from node to node and the cursor changes to indicate exits and items of interest. If you click on an object when the cursor turns purple you usually get a text description that appears at the top of the screen. But on at least two occasions it also led to a close up screen where there was more to do. So it's important to click on everything when you are able to do so. The short, text descriptions of objects add substance to the graphics.
When the cursor turns red it indicates that there is something you can do at that spot. There are lots of items to pick up and some can be combined or manipulated in your inventory. Each item has a text description, too, so checking out what you're carrying is effortless. Most of the puzzles are inventory-based, but there are also secret rooms and compartments to find, riddles and hints in the books and scraps of paper lying around, and some mechanisms to get working, plus one board game and a familiar thimble and pea game.
Last Half of Darkness is quite open so you can wander around pretty much at will except, of course, for the locked rooms which you will need to open to progress. This 'openness' means that you can fiddle with some puzzles and work them out yourself, or wait a while and look around some more, there might be a clue hidden somewhere. And it's worthwhile returning to locations to see if anything has changed, as your actions will trigger certain events.
As well as the mansion and its creepy cellars and attics, you can explore a small part of the town, a graveyard, a tomb, and a swamp. There is also a maze to zoom around in 3D mode. It reminded me of some of the dungeons found in early role-playing games. You can die in the maze, too, but don't be frightened (the rest of the game will do that to you). And it's not nearly as tricky as it first appears anyway.
As noted above, Last Half of Darkness: Shadows of the Servants is an independent game, and a remarkably good one at that. I remember commenting to Rosemary as we played it together that it reminded me of the good old days of adventure gaming, and, given its pedigree, that's not surprising. It kept us busy with lots of things to do and think about. You explore, find clues and useful items, solve in-context puzzles, and the story unfolds as you progress. I must say that I would have liked to have learned more about the characters, particularly about the relationship between Mira and her unnamed sister, and there are some things left unexplained as I was never quite sure if Mira was around in body, or simply in 'spirit'. But this didn't worry me too much whilst I was playing, only now that I've finished am I asking these questions.
It's taken a few years but I'm glad I finally got to play Last Half of Darkness: Shadow of the Servants, as I thoroughly enjoyed it. If our reader from 1995 is still stuck please write to me again, I should now be able to help.J
You can purchase this game directly from the Last Half of Darkness website.
Copyright © Gordon Aplin 2005.
All rights reserved.