Legacy: Dark Shadows

Review by Toger
March 2005

If you're under 40, skip the next paragraph because it probably won't make much sense to you ...

Okay, let me get this out of my system... when I originally heard about Legacy: Dark Shadows, I immediately thought of the late 60s Gothic soap opera, Dark Shadows. I was all atwitter! Who doesn't want a game about vampire Barnabas Collins and poor, clueless Victoria Clark? (Back when Dark Shadows aired, I made sure I was home from school in time to catch each and every episode.) Well, let me be the one to burst your bubble—Legacy: Dark Shadows has nothing whatsoever to do with the soap opera. Rats.

If it's not about vampires, then what's the game about? Private investigator Ren Silver's journalist friend, Ted, has been kidnapped while researching a story. It's up to Ren, and you, to discover who'd want to take Ted hostage and why. In playing Legacy, it was obvious the developers had a fondness for science fiction movies. Not only did the game evoke the essence of Blade Runner, but there were also hints of The Fifth Element, Johnny Mnemonic and Alien peppered throughout.

Croatia-based Razbor Studios' freshman effort opens in 1941 Stalingrad during World War II. After a short, stilted conversation between two Russian soldiers and a bit of player-controlled wandering about the trenches, you're treated to a head scratch–inducing cutscene, at which point you're suddenly catapulted almost two hundred years into the future in time to watch Ren arrive on Mars for a much-needed vacation.

Gameplay is mouse-driven, traditional point-and-click with a third-person perspective. Those who suffer from the motion sickness caused by the 360-degree panning of some games can take heart from the fact that Legacy doesn't have any panning; it does, however, include a slow scroll as Ren walks from one side of the screen to another. Most actions are accomplished with left-clicks of the mouse—directing Ren about the landscape, looking at or picking up various inventory objects, chatting up people that you meet—while a right-click will open Ren's inventory, where you can view her log or take a closer look at current inventory items. The inventory also includes three permanent objects that are essential to any private investigator: a camera, evidence containers and a handy little device that Ren uses to unlock doors.

Theoretically, a double left-click will cause Ren to run... I say "theoretically" because I could only convince Ren to step up the pace once. All subsequent efforts to hurry her along were met with the same languid footsteps she always took. (I guess she just wasn't in the mood.)

Legacy's puzzles consist mainly of using the correct inventory item at the proper time or helping various characters that you'll meet in your travels. You'll only run into two or three stand-alone or logic puzzles in the entire game.

Graphically, Legacy is ... charmingly old school. Backgrounds are nicely rendered in 2D; with the entire world displaying a bleak, postapocalyptic feel—flying cars, huge neon signs, dark and gritty landscape, and it always seems to be raining; at least on Earth it's raining. The rain effects were quite nice, especially with some of the overhead, cinematic shots or when a taxi is hovering for a landing and blowing exhaust, mixed with steam, billows into the air.

I'll admit the opening sequence wasn't especially awe-inspiring. I've not seen such pixelated character models since the VGA days. Once the opening sequence ended, character models improved. Ren does have an odd way of walking—ever notice how Barbie dolls are hinged at the hip to make their legs move?—that's how Ren walks ... it's very disconcerting at first, but I got used to it. She also does a little two-step dance when you come back from a close-up view of an object.

If you're expecting state-of-the-art graphics in all of your games, you may be disappointed with Legacy—cutscenes are motion-captured, but they're also very grainy. Some characters' lips move during conversations, while others just nod their heads as they talked. Lip-synching to speech isn't a deal-breaker for me, so I pretty much ignored that whole issue.

I did run into the age-old problem of inventory items blending so well with the static backgrounds that they were practically indistinguishable from everything else. Luckily, most inventory items can be found not too far from where they're used, so there's not a huge amount of backtracking needed if you suddenly find yourself without a necessary item.

Legacy's voice work is ... um ... oh, let me just say it—bad. Based on the credits, there are only a handful of voice actors, which would mean that they did double duty on the voices ... no big deal, happens all the time, right? Um ... to differentiate the voices, some of the actors pitched their voices so high they sounded like cartoon characters. Or they changed the voice or accent mid-conversation. Let's not even discuss the pseudo-Southern accent for one character. And then there's the issue of being able to tell when they were in a soundproof studio or when they were, perhaps, standing in a stairwell.

On the other hand, Ren's voice work was nicely done. It was suitably world-weary, yet she was still able to make little jokes about some of the things that she saw—click on a giant sewer rat and Ren asks, "Are you nuts? Do you want that beast to eat me? I think I'll stay here." Clicking on a stick of dynamite in her inventory will cause Ren to say, "C'mon, use it. You know you want to." Plus her accent was charming, particularly when she turned the letter V into a W, thus pronouncing the Russian national drink as "wodka."

I truly enjoyed the background music. It was low-key and unobtrusive enough that when I was sitting there trying to figure out what I needed to do next, it didn't clash with what my brain was trying to do. I actually found myself humming along with Beethoven's Fifth while checking out the Ares Hotel lobby or just enjoying the serene, 2001: A Space Odyssey–like music used for the asteroid sequence.

Ambient sounds were the usual: Ren's footsteps as she traveled though the various landscapes, doors and drawers opening or closing, fans whirring, rain on the pavement and, in one location, a bird call.

And now we come to the technical portion of our program ... Legacy has several bug issues. None of them are game-killers, but they're annoying nonetheless. The biggest is that there are a couple of instances where the cursor doesn't respond to indicate an active hotspot (the cursor should glow green if moved over an active object or person.). Try finding a specific rock in a pile of similar-looking rocks when the cursor doesn't let you know you can interact with it.

A rather scary bug was when trying to name a save game; no text was displayed onscreen, which made me doubt the game had actually been saved. (It was.) While aboard the space transport, Ren disappeared completely from the game for three screens and didn't reappear until I'd completed a puzzle. (Exiting the game completely and then reloading from a previous save seemed to solve the "no text on save game" issue, but it did nothing for Ren's sudden disappearance.) And then there's the crash to the desktop that occurs every time you exit the game.

I've read various accounts of other players experiencing a crash to the desktop every few minutes or the game not playing, at all, once the install completed. Aside from an extremely sluggish install and a couple of random crashes to the desktop, I considered myself fortunate after reading about others' travails. I played the game on a P4 3 GHz with 1 GB RAM, a 128 MB video card, DX9b and XP-SP2.

There is a patch for Legacy, but I could never figure out which issues it corrected, so I left my game in its virgin state. (Based on threads in Legacy's forum, the patch does not seem to correct the "crash to the desktop on exit" bug.)

In all honesty, Legacy's story is somewhat typical for science fiction—a megalomaniac intent on achieving world domination through any means possible. The slight twist is that the domination doesn't stop at just one world or one time period. While I'm a huge fan of sci-fi, I really would have liked a much deeper and clearer story than the one presented. Although the story, and opening sequence, made a lot more sense once I'd played through the entire game, I felt that too much of the game's exposition took place within Ren's log rather than within the context of the conversations with the various NPCs or the papers and notes scattered throughout the various locations. Based on some conversation choices, there were times I felt that Ren was privy to far more information than I. Perhaps the game would have flowed better, along with increasing the immersion factor, if Ren had done a voice-over narrative similar to the Tex Murphy games.

Legacy: Dark Shadows isn't a bad game, and there definitely appeared to be a better game lurking somewhere just on the outer boundaries. A lot of the issues—older graphics engine, bad voice acting and clichéd story—are simply the trappings of a shoestring budget. While some games, like The Fifth Disciple, seem able to overcome those shortcomings and become a really entertaining game; Legacy wasn't quite able to pull that off due to its myriad technical issues. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Razbor Studios
Publisher: Tri Synergy
Release Date: November 2004

Available for: Windows

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System Requirements

Windows 98 SE or later
DirectX 8.1
PIII 800 MHz or AMD Duron 900 MHz (P4 1200 MHz recommended)
256 MB RAM (512 MB recommended)
12x CD-ROM drive (32x recommended)
Mouse and keyboard
3D card with 32 MB RAM (1024×768, 16-bit) (64 MB RAM, 32-bit recommended)
Windows compatible sound device
700 MB free hard drive space (1.5 GB recommended)

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