The Lost Crown

Review by Old Rooster
April 2008

"Five Days in a Twilight Zone"

Atmosphere. How about a little trip to a backwater coastal village enveloped by fog and rain, full of secrets—both present and past, populated by unusual folks—both present and past!

Jonathan Boakes, the creator of the famed Dark Fall series, is a master at creating a sense of quiet dread. Here, with his magnum opus, we have an achievement far surpassing the detail, complexity, and length of his previous publications.

In this third-person, point-and-click adventure, you play as Nigel Danvers, a bit of a bumbler and twit. For reasons that evolve during the story, you travel to Saxton, a sleepy town on the eastern coast of England. As you find a place to stay and gradually get acquainted with the locals, you discover that the legends surrounding the village are even beyond the norm of what one might expect in an area know for pirates, lost ships, and treasures.

The townsfolk are, indeed, peculiar. On the one hand, they seem brisk, rather unfriendly. Yet, on the other hand, everyone knows your name and seems to know you were coming. In a theme that reminds a bit of the Broken Sword series, you meet up with Lucy Reubans, another visitor, who helps you with your inquiries.

"This Fog Hides Many Things" —Journalist

As with most adventure games, Nigel is quite a nosy fellow. He's curious, inquisitive, pokes about where he is sometimes not particularly welcome. In the course of this, he soon becomes acquainted with legends of ghosts, treasures, and all of the drama one might expect to accompany such stories.

The Lost Crown is one of the more visually unusual and yet arresting adventure games I've played. Essentially, it's done in black and white with dashes of color. The effect, accompanied by beautiful and detailed settings, works well and is really quite stunning. Further, care is given to environmental effects—rain, trees swaying in the wind, even NPCs.

Character depictions are effective, although there is a stiffness to movements that some, particularly those holding up Crysis as what a game should look like, might complain about. Yet, from an adventure gaming perspective, The Lost Crown does very nicely. Indeed, a 128 MB graphic card is required, which demonstrates the effort put into this game engine.

"Do Not Fret, My Boy. All Will Become Clear." —Nana

Nigel (you) can play the game with only the mouse. Icons demonstrate movement direction, interact (take, talk), use, and magnify. You'll soon be able to move to a ghost hunter's desk showing collected items, a photo album displaying paranormal photos, and an EVP file where you can play accumulated audiotapes.

Well into the story, you'll be given a map of Saxton showing books, secret locations, possible treasure sites. Still later, you receive a shipment of electronic devices, which we'll detail below.

Of course, you'll converse with residents, often many times. "Can I ask you something else," is a line frequently used in conversational trees. Unfortunately, the length and repetitiveness of these encounters detracts from the pace of the game, and you're not able to skip past these dialogues once started. The oft-repeated instruction, "exhaust all lines of questioning," can lead to frequent exhaustion!

Still, the rather small cast of residents is interesting and reasonably well scripted and played. Several cast members play several parts, with the game creator, Jonathan Boakes, playing Nigel. Most of the members contribute to howls, grunts, whispers, and wheezes. I must say these howls and wheezes, along with other ambient sounds, lend to a very ghostly atmosphere.

Again, though, the flow of the story is not as tight as I would have liked, with the meandering taking away from sustained, or at least continually compelling, interest.

"It's Best Not to Disturb Them That Sleep" —Mr. Russet

I love to get packages in the post. Well into the game, Nigel receives a treasure trove of "ghost hunter" devices from his enigmatic boss. These become, in many ways, the essence of the game, sometimes with the story secondary. They also account, in many respects, for video card demand. Let's take a look at them.

  • A night-vision camcorder. You'll often use this first-person perspective, green-screen camcorder to view and record paranormal activity not seen by the naked eye.
  • EVP dictaphone. Everyone needs one of these! Electronic voice phenomena (howls, voices, other eerie sounds), not typically audible, can be recorded, saved, played back.
  • EMF meter. Of course, we need to record electromagnetic fluctuations.
  • Digital camera. Still pictures can be taken, saved, viewed again.

In many ways, using these exploratory devices is where the fun really begins in the game. It certainly is at least a gimmick I've not seen before—reminding of the control room camera contrivance in The Experiment.

"If You Stare into the Abyss, the Abyss Stares Back into You" —Nigel (cf. Nietzsche)

As Nigel weaves his way through this 30-hour adventure (my time; Nigel takes five days), he's presented with changing tasks or missions. Obviously, without giving anything away, the story presents ghosts, treasure, even a lost crown! Yet there is more—other complications, both present and past. You'll need to discover these for yourself.

Using his ghost-hunter devices and limited wits, Nigel will need to click on every pixel on most screens, engage in each conversational opportunity (sometimes over and over again), and be sure to solve all puzzles. If not, the game design won't let you move on, which is fine, even though it's sometimes frustrating. What did I miss, for heaven's sake!?

These puzzles are rather standard adventure game fare—collecting plants, deciphering codes, opening locks. Thankfully, they're only occasionally challenging enough to warrant advice from others, with inventory items typically present just when you need them. Your ghost-hunter devices are needed for many of the solutions, offering a nice change of pace from the usual. Unfortunately, the game only offers eight save game slots, a definite disadvantage.

"Uneasy Lies the Head That Wears a Crown" —Henry IV, Part 2

Atmosphere. Jonathan Boakes is a master at creating atmosphere. With lovely yet creepy visual settings, a story with secrets and ghosts, spine-tingling ambient sounds, The Lost Crown presents a tale sure to attract and basically please most adventure game players.

But is a spooky atmosphere enough? It would be if the story was tighter, the game shorter, the wandering and backtracking not so time-wasting. About halfway through, I got bored and had to walk away from the game for a few days. Thirty hours is just too much of a good thing. In spite of the novelty of using ghost-hunting gadgets and wondering about the story resolution, I often got tired of repeated conversational trees, hearing histories of the village, watching Nigel's slow walking.

Although falling short of our Gold Star award, The Lost Crown still is a highly recommended adventure game, one of the best of the last year, and should be enjoyed by those who like the Barrow Hill kind of exploration.

What I Liked Most About The Lost Crown

  • Compelling and involving atmosphere;
  • Different yet quite lovely graphics;
  • Gimmick of ghost-hunting equipment;
  • Interesting story and characters;
  • Effective use of ambient voices and sounds;
  • Sensible puzzles, often using paranormal equipment.

What I Didn't Especially Like About the Game

  • Too long, too dull, and often tiring;
  • Frustrating backtracking and conversational trees;
  • Uneven voice acting. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Darkling Room
Publisher: Got Game
Release Date: March 2008

Available for: Windows

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System Requirements

Windows XP/Vista
128 MB Direct X 9 compatible graphic card
DVD-ROM drive
1.2 GB free hard disk space

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