Darkness Within: In Pursuit of Loath Nolder
Creepy ... well it should be because Darkness Within: In Pursuit of Loath Nolder was inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft. I should say here that I haven't read anything by Lovecraft but it's my understanding that I'd have a close encounter with the grotesque or the macabre. So I can't really say how close Darkness Within is to anything Lovecraft, but I can say that it tends towards the creepy rather than the grotesque or macabre. Apart from a few small sketches and paintings depicting rituals you wouldn't want to witness, and a few pickled fish, there's nothing too messy to alarm squeamish players.
There are some frights though, and a lot of dark places. Several darkened, eerie mansions where you can make out lavishly decorated rooms in the gloom, or some are just a jumble after refurbishing stopped short. There are locked and barricaded doors, secret rooms and passageways leading to oppressive tunnels. And a graveyard and crypt ... and more. Not to mention some jolting dream sequences to negotiate your way through.
With very little respite Darkness Within: In Pursuit of Loath Nolder is a shadowy world with blackened nooks and crannies where you can't quite make out what's 'in there'. Your eyes could hurt a little but fortunately the developers have provided an option to fiddle with a Gamma Correction control. Besides Default there is Medium, High and Very High. After a short while I turned the control up to High and the creepiness was still around.
Other options include the opportunity to fiddle with sound effects, shadow effects, anti aliasing, screen resolution, panning speed, subtitles, and more. And then, as you start the game there are the Difficulty Options as well — Standard, Detective and Senior Detective — and these can be further adjusted and mixed to suit. You can get hints automatically, or on demand, or not at all. You can enable Auto-Doc Research or find your own clues in documents; you can even enable a clue counter to be sure you grab all the clues. It's excellent to have these adjustable difficulty options, making Darkness Within suitable for a wide range of players. You can even dive into the Difficulty Options whilst playing the game, get a hint if you don't have that function enabled, and then turn off the hints again. It's extremely versatile although I confess I didn't play on the hardest possible setting for long. Primarily because 'clues' can be crucial and there are a lot of documents scattered around. Enabling the clue counter was such a handy time-saver, signalling when to stop looking.
Darkness Within: In Pursuit of Loath Nolder is a first person perspective, point and click adventure game. You play the character of Howard Loreid and it begins in a mental institution with his head in a mess. It's the story of how Howard, a private investigator, got into that predicament in the course of investigating a respected colleague, Loath Nolder of the title. Nolder had travelled abroad for 5 years, returned, and was now a murder suspect. It's an anguished, otherworldly tale, of deep secrets and bizarre myths that I'll leave you to unravel as you play the game.
It's an investigative game with a difference due to a quite novel interface. You collect clues and objects as in any detective game but in this one you are able to mix and match them and come up with new clues. This you do in the 'thought window' where all the clues are listed with your inventory sitting above. Here you can closely inspect inventory items, read through the various clues and move any one, or two, or three, into the appropriate slots, select 'think' (or combine if you want to combine objects) and you might come up with a new item or a new idea.
Clues might be gathered from your experiences, a phone call or a strange smell, and others are gleaned from the numerous documents you find strewn about. How you deal with documents relates to your choice of difficulty. As suggested above you can, literally, have the game pick out the clues, or you can do it yourself, or stages in between. Because of this adjustability Darkness Within could be described as anything from quite difficult to moderately easy. Not fall-off-a-log easy because you do have to pay attention and search carefully to find items, and there are some moderate challenges that require independent thought.
It's interesting, the handling of the interface is something that, to my knowledge, we haven't seen before in an adventure game. It is a tad complicated so there's a small learning curve, but there is also a short tutorial at the beginning so it's not long before you find your way. Overall it works well and is a lot of fun although the extra complexity did bring a small hitch for me. Once, I knew where I was going but didn't have the icon on the map to travel. It was a matter of locating the correct document to add the clue. Another time I encountered a more alarming continuity problem after I was asked about a note which I hadn't seen. Howard knew about it but I didn't. I took my cue from him assuming I'd missed it in the gloom, and answered appropriately. I then ended up missing an event and talking about it afterwards as if I'd been there and done that. It was a bit of a jolt but I got over it soon enough. It didn't seem to affect the game at all.
Overall Darkness Within: In Pursuit of Loath Nolder is an entertaining trip through some dark places. For a small, independent development team the graphics are very good, especially in the old houses, and the way the game removes control from the player and jerks the camera around to signify alarm, works really well. Howard, I thought, could have had a bit more personality but I'm not complaining too loudly. The background music — or should that be noise — suited the game well and heightened the atmosphere. It's not the scariest game I've played but it's pretty creepy and well worth a look for horror fans.
Maybe the ending wasn't such a surprise but there's a lot to do along the way including a good serving of reading and plenty of intricate searching. What was a surprise was the report card you get on your playing performance just before the final credits. It accounts for how many Documents you found, how many Clues, Secrets, Easter Eggs, etc., and logs the hours it took you to get there, plus rating your overall performance. What a nice touch to end Darkness Within: In Pursuit of Loath Nolder — incentive to play again if you want to do better!
Copyright © Rosemary Young 2007.
All rights reserved.
Win 2000 / XP / Vista, 1 GHz Pentium or AMD, 256 MB RAM (512 MB Recommended for Win Vista), 1 GB free Hard Disk space, 128 MB DirectX 9.0c compatible or better video card, CD-ROM or PC DVD-ROM drive, DirectX 9.0c compatible sound card, mouse, keyboard.