metzomagic.com Review

The Lost Crown

Developer:  Jonathan Boakes/Darkling Room
Publisher:  Got Game Entertainment
Year Released:  2008

Review by Steve Metzler (March, 2008)

The Lost Crown screenshotThe Lost Crown is the third of Jonathan Boakes' paranormal-themed adventure games. Its predecessors were Dark Fall: The Journal (2002) and Dark Fall 2: Lights Out (2004). For those of you unfamiliar with Jonathan's work, he is essentially a one-man show operating primarily out of the Cornwall region of the U.K. (but he also has a base in London). His work is distinguishable from that of other developers in the same genre by two main aspects of game play:

  1. The incorporation of actual high tech ghost-hunting gadgets
  2. Subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) ambient sounds that just absolutely creep you out :-\

Saxton
In The Lost Crown, most of the action takes place in a fictitious, seaside East Anglian town called Saxton. You play the part of one Nigel Danvers (voiced by Boakes himself). As the game commences, your character has stolen some top secret artefacts from a supernatural experiment that your company, Hadden Industries, was conducting. You can't remember (or weren't privy to) the nature of this experiment. Having made your escape from the office, you took the first train from London to the most far-flung destination that you could find, slept for most of the journey, and now you find yourself here... but this ostensibly sleepy town has its secrets, as they all do. From the outset, everyone you meet seems to know your name. It's almost as if they've been expecting you. Just what in *blazes* is going on here?!

The game is done mostly in black and white, with occasional splashes of colour here and there - like flowers, a possible umbrella, and maybe even a piece of blue sky if you're lucky. Admittedly, this put me off at first. My first thought was: "Taking shortcuts, are we Jonathan?" But it eventually grows on you once you realise that it's quite intentional. A lot of the adventuring takes place at nighttime, and the black and white tones are especially suited to scaring the bejaysus out of you in those ever so dark places ;-)

The Lost Crown screenshotThe graphics themselves are for the most part well done. There's a constant fog about the place, which adds to the feeling of foreboding that pervades Saxton. In stark contrast to that, shafts of sunlight come streaming through windows, almost blinding you. The only thing that bothered me a bit was the character animations, which are noticeably stiff. But that's really the only crow you could pluck regarding the otherwise solid graphical production values.

Direction
The game is good about keeping you moving along, and reasonably certain about what tasks you are meant to accomplish next. The biggest aid in this respect is a notebook into which Nigel places key notes at the start of each phase of the game. Also, Nigel will not let you leave a location, or go to sleep at night, if you haven't done everything you're supposed to have done in that location or time frame. Some will no doubt find this frustrating, as it's not always obvious what that one last thing is you need to do to 'trigger' the game moving forward. But as long as you make sure to explore all conversation paths that are presented, and to examine *every* place that exhibits a magnifying glass icon, you really can't go too wrong. And believe me, it saves you from what would otherwise be a lot of backtracking. Ever played an old Sierra game?

The puzzles are mostly of a practical nature, and largely have to do with recording ghostly sights and sounds using the aforementioned high tech gadgets. This is a good thing, because I find that a preponderance of abstract puzzles can ruin the suspension of disbelief that makes a game like this otherwise so intense. A warning for the tone deaf is in order here though: there is one musical puzzle and one tone matching puzzle that will most likely have you scrambling for a walkthrough :-\

The Lost Crown screenshotOne other niggle I had with The Lost Crown is that there are only 8 saved game slots. But once you realise that you can't die in the game, or do something 'wrong' that would get you stuck later on, then this proves to be more than adequate. For the anal retentive among us that absolutely need to have infinite saved game slots, you can copy your saved games to new folders in batches of 8. Then just swap in a batch to play that portion of the game again. There, sorted that out for you.

Ghostly ambience
I wanted to elaborate on the sound here, because it is definitely the strongest point of the game. The usual ambient sounds from the likes of insects or birds are there in the outdoor scenes, of course. But Mr. Boakes has this inimitable way of slowly imbuing the player with a fealing of dread by injecting sounds into the background that, well... normally shouldn't be there. Throughout the game, you also have the opportunity to record many other-worldly utterances on a magnetic tape dictaphone, and these are chilling when played back, even in the light of the following day.

In contrast to the sounds though, the conversational aspects of The Lost Crown didn't do as much for me. For one thing, there was no apparent way to skip a conversation topic once chosen. So if you accidentally clicked on a topic that you already heard, you might have to wait quite a while to regain control again. And... once you had exhausted all topics with a character, very rarely did they have anything else new to say during the rest of that entire day/night. In short, I felt the conversations could have been more dynamic.

And finally...
The Lost Crown screenshotThere were a few nice Easter eggs in the game. Jonathan actually went to the trouble of making an entire spoof web site based on the fictitious town of Saxton. It's quite well done, better even than most town chambers of commerce could muster. I can just imagine people stumbling upon it not having played the game, and trying to look the place up on a map of East Anglia for a prospective visit ;-) There's also a plug for the various Darkling Room productions in a box of magazines outside a shop.

So... what's my final take on The Lost Crown then? More ambitious than Dark Fall, that's for sure. And quite a bit longer. Scariest thing I've played in a long time, maybe even since Realms of the Haunting. The game has a really neat premise, which I can't reveal (firstly, that would spoil the game for you. And secondly, I'm still not *exactly* sure what it is yet, but I know I'm in the right ballpark). The story itself leaves a few loose ends hanging around, but then, any fascinating story should keep you thinking about it at least a couple of days after the fact, right? OK, sold. Well worth it for the creep out factor alone!

See the metzomagic.com The Lost Crown walkthrough.

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Copyright © Steve Metzler 2008. All rights reserved.

System Requirements:
Windows XP (SP2) or Vista, 512MB RAM (1GB RAM recommended), Pentium II or equivalent (Pentium IV or equivalent recommended), 128MB DirectX 9.0c compatible 3D accelerated video card supporting 32-bit (true color) color depth at 1024x768, 16-bit DirectX compatible sound card, 1.2GB free disk space, 16xCD/DVD-ROM, mouse