The Dark Eye

Review by Orb
August 2002

Inscape games have always seemed to me like the dadaist equivalent of adventure gaming. Never normal, always with a big fat twist at the core, every title has been fun and strange, all for very different reasons.

The Dark Eye is based on a handful of classics by the damaged horror writer Edgar Allen Poe. A few are well-known, but happily for any Poe fan, two—Berenice and Annabel Lee—are some of Poe's lesser, but no less terrifying, works. It's a malevolent game, as scary as Sanitarium, yet higher on the weird scale.

The game itself consists of three interactive pieces and two graphic novels, all held together by a haunted-house-theme hub location. Each interactive game contains two scenarios, one story each for murderer and victim. In keeping with Poe's short stories, the game sections have delicious details and surprise endings—that is, if you haven't already read the short stories they are based on. Of course, knowing the outcome of The Cask of Amontillado in advance does not make watching it any less gruesome.

The initial or tie-in story takes place at Malevolence Mansion, home of Uncle Edwin, and is played in the first person as an unnamed "Journeyer." As the mansion is explored, the player uncovers a lurid, Poe-like story amongst the relatives that dwell within the house. During exploration, once the correct story points have been moved forward and environmental items clicked on, the Journeyer moves into "dream states" that allow her to fugue or jump into the different Poe scenarios, in whatever order they are found by the player.

The titles roll in grainy black and white like an old movie, and the intro music sets an ominous tone. The art is so well-drawn that it does not look dated despite its seven-plus years of age. There are some nice historic period details in the design, which features hand-painted textures, 3D rendering and stop-motion animation of the characters. As for the characters themselves, which are hand-crafted rather than computer-drawn puppets, the most descriptive term that comes to mind is "nightmare muppets."

The player is given the ability to jump from character to character, a trademark Inscape design perk (as with Bad Day on the Midway and Devo's Adventures of the Smart Patrol, Inscape's other two underground classics). Despite the first-person interface, the game is entirely character-driven, and there are no happy endings—murder or be murdered, so to speak.

Malevolence Mansion, the centerpiece environment/story from which the Poe stories spring as dream states, with its minimalist decor is stark and creepy. All of the rooms in each scenario have bent and twisted, unnatural looks. The game's sound effects are horror-film-in-a-dark-room scary. This is heightened to the extreme while in the dream state in Malevolence Mansion just before leaping into each scenario—the bluish landscape is spotted by a creepy whispering undertone, never clear enough to make out words, yet the player knows she is not alone. The soundtrack, by Thomas Dolby and Headspace, is a class act all the way.

A wonderful, classic inclusion in the game is venerable beat author William S. Burroughs reading the two included graphic novels. His voice cracked with age, Burroughs growls out Poe's spooky verbiage with characteristic detachment.

The game saves automatically to a single slot and cannot be saved in the middle of a story. Game progress is charted on a "Phrenology Map," which highlights already-visited locations. The Phrenology Map, a nice poke at the superstition-as-science fad of Poe's day, gives the player a chance to see just how many of the game's eight sections have been completed. It also gives the ability to jump from section to section once each has been initially accessed.

The Dark Eye is actually very reminiscent of Rod Serling's Night Gallery, Serling's last great television horror ride (can any aficionado forget Stephen Spielberg directing Joan Crawford in the 1969 segment "Eyes?"). Much more so than the old American International campy Vincent Price films that threw out Poe's stories but kept his titles. It's a cornucopia of Poe's brand of horror and is very much in keeping with his style. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Inscape
Publisher: Inscape
Release Date: October 1995

Available for: Macintosh Windows

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System Requirements

486DX 33 MHz
Windows 3.1 or higher
2X CD-ROM drive
Thousands of colors

68030 33 MHz
System 7.1 or higher
2X CD-ROM drive
Thousands of colors

Where to Find It

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No reproduction in whole or in part without express written permission.