Loch Ness

Review by Jen
February 2002

Introduction

Loch Ness is developed by Galilea, whose prior work includes Genesys, but it uses the same Wanadoo engine that's found in Dracula Resurrection and Dracula: The Last Sanctuary, The Messenger, and Necronomicon, among others. If you liked any or all of those games, you'll probably like Loch Ness as well. It's very much cut from the same cloth.

You play as a 1930s private detective named Alan Cameron who is summoned from Chicago to Devil's Ridge Manor, a castle on the shore of Loch Ness (hence the game's name), to investigate some mysterious happenings. When you arrive, the lord of the manor, a physicist named Allistair MacFarley, has disappeared, and now it is up to you to locate him in addition to your previous undertaking. Over the course of five days leading up to the winter solstice, you encounter the natural, the supernatural, and the just plain preposterous. What's up with these mysterious crystals? Why does everyone want them? Do we ever get a glimpse of Nessie?

Gameplay/Interface

Probably three-quarters of the game takes place inside the manor. You begin with very few rooms available to you (nothing worse than a door that you can't go in, is there?) but as you progress, different rooms open or close depending on what you need to do, and eventually you do get to see inside every room at least once. You also will have to visit other locations on the manor grounds from time to time, including a distillery and a chapel.

Gameplay is extremely linear, perhaps too much so. I felt as if I were practically being led by the hand through the game. If you are at a loss as to what direction to take, you can read Cameron's notebook and it'll pretty much tell you where to go or what to do next, in the form of strong hints, and you only need to do that if a character didn't already tell you where to go next. You can't leave an area until you have completed all of the tasks required to move to the next area. There are no red herrings, besides a couple of inventory items that never get used.

You can, and will, die. That tried-and-true Wanadoo timed sequence device that we all know and love is alive and well in Loch Ness. You do have plenty of time to do what needs to be done, as long as you know what it is, but if not, you can kiss your mortal coil goodbye. There are also a few other ways to die, so "save early and save often" is the watchword of the day.

Speaking of saving, another tried-and-true Wanadoo device pops up again in this game: that strange "save room" where you have to spin around and pick a rectangle to save on, and which only gives you eight save slots. I would like to see them ditch this in favor of regular unlimited saves.

Most of the puzzles are inventory-related; there are a few combination lock-type puzzles, and these are too easy—every single combination you require is listed on one of the papers that you have picked up and put in your inventory. I guess that would make those inventory puzzles, too. You don't have to think too hard to solve any of the puzzles; the cursor shows a red circle with a line through it if you don't have the correct item, and if you do have the correct item and try to use it, you get a green circle around that item. Thus, if you're stuck you can just try every item and one of them will do the trick.

One nice feature is the map. About a quarter of the way into the game you will find this, and once you have it you can look at it and click on one of the exterior locations to jump straight to it. This saves a lot of trekking around.

There is one really bad point: a positively heinous underwater maze. Not only is it virtually unmappable and tricky to navigate, but you get to the far end of it, do something small and seemingly pointless, and then must find your way back to the beginning in a timed sequence. I don't know why Wanadoo doesn't ever get the point—nobody likes mazes, and especially not confusing timed mazes that you can't map. They really need to quit putting mazes in their games. But I guess they look at it as a gameplay extender, which it is—I spent probably a third of my entire gaming time trying to deal with that damned maze.

Loch Ness comes on two CDs, and you always have to start on CD 1 and always have to space-bar through the intro to get to the load menu. However, if you have more than one drive (I do) you can put one CD in each and never have to do any disk-swapping. In fact, since I did this I really can't comment as to how much disk-swapping was involved.

Graphics/Sound

Loch Ness's graphics are lovely. They are colorful and incredibly detailed. The characters tend to look odd and their movement is rubbery, but the locations are stunning and the cutscenes are marvelous. Unlike some other Wanadoo games, none of the locations in Loch Ness are too dark. The graphical brightness belies some of the darker plot themes, a contrast that actually works very well in sort of a "what manner of decay lies beneath this shiny rock" fashion.

Movement is via node-based hops with 360-degree panning on each node. The cursor sits in the center of the screen and you rotate until whatever item you want to interact with is under the cursor. I know some people complain that this induces motion sickness, but I'm not one of them. If you are, consider yourself warned.

There is not a whole lot of music, but where music is used it is effective and dramatic. I prefer sparsity in music to repetetiveness. The sound effects are very well done and realistic.

Voice acting for the most part is better than average. Lady MacFarley, though, sounds as if she's being acted by a man in falsetto. I was glad she wasn't a big player in the game because she was purely annoying. The Cameron character's voiceovers, on the other hand, are really very well acted.

Conclusion

This is the part where I usually talk about how much fun a game is. With Loch Ness, though, I am having a hard time deciding how much I liked it. It's a fairly even mix of the good—high production quality, some fun puzzles, pretty solid story—the bad—too linear, too easy, too many timed puzzles—and the ugly—the aforementioned underwater maze. Ultimately it's just more of the Wanadoo same: it's a much better game by far than their godawful Necronomicon but not as good as the two Draculas. I'd put it on a par with The Messenger—a fun game at first but it gets tiresome toward the end. I'm giving it a marginal thumb up but only because we don't have a rating for dead average and it surely doesn't deserve the rotten egg. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Galilea
Publisher: Wanadoo Edition
Release Date: 2001

Available for: Windows

Four Fat Chicks Links

Player Feedback
Walkthrough

Screenshots

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System Requirements

Windows 95/98/ME/XP (I played in Win2K Pro and it ran flawlessly)
166 MHz (200 MHz recommended)
16 MB RAM (32 MB with Win98)
Video card—thousands of colors
16-bit sound card
16X CD-ROM drive (24X recommended)

Where to Find It



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