Review by Old
In the fall of 1999, Gathering of Developers, one
of my favorite publishing houses, made a brave and controversial
overture into the adventure/action genre with Nocturne. Touted
originally for its, at that time, high-spec engine, the game was
one of the early titles to use what we are now more generally acceptinga
third-person approach to adventure/action. Admittedly, there is
considerable killing (a la Resident Evil), but there
is much, much more to Nocturne than the famous billowing
raincoat of "The Stranger," our enigmatic hero and monster
hunter. Nocturne is not just another pretty face. Let's revisit
this wonderful game.
The World Is a Dark Place
As the back-story goes, in 1902 a secret government agency, known
as "Spookhouse," was formed to combat unpleasant supernatural
anomalieslike vampires, werewolves, hackers, and assorted
demons of the night. Research is carried on, including weapon development,
but primarily Spookhouse sponsors "wet" field work. Into
this setting comes the Strangera mysterious, quietly effective,
and deadly super-agent assigned to four distinct quests between
1927 and 1935.
The quests, or novelettes, each have 4 to 11 chapters and are playable
separately. They include the following.
- Act IDark Reign of the Vampire KingThe Stranger
and his half-vampire associate, Svetlana, travel to Germany to
retrieve an artifact, having to deal with a few little obstacles
along the way.
- Act IITomb of the Underground GodStranger and another
associate, Hiram, who feels "grave danger" (he's right!),
start with a thrilling train ride and end in Texas, to find if
the dead truly walk in Redeye (they do!).
- Act IIIWindy City Massacre"There's been some
peculiar activities in Chicago." (This is new?) "The
Mafia is employing the Undead." A German scientist helping
Al Capone forms the backdrop for what develops into quite a "fragfest."
- Act IVThe House on the Edge of HellSet up by a chilling
history from Doc Holliday (Stranger's equivalent of Bond's "Q"),
our hero is confronted by incredibly difficult and frightening
encounters, largely in a possessed mansion, reminiscent of the
Bates pad in Psycho.
It is best to play these in order, for purposes of character introduction,
but due to still rather high hard disk space requirements, I found
it preferable to load them one at a time.
How Is Nocturne Set up and Managed?
Installation is smooth, with at least 500 MB free hard disk space
required. Recommended specs are much preferred to minimum, although
there are some adjustments allowedeven a software mode! I
found running 800x600, 32-bit was fine, with infrequent slowdowns.
Teen or mature settings, as well as sound and control options, are
These controls, allowing gamepad or mouse/keyboard combination,
are what we have grown to know and love with such titles as Alone
in the Dark 4 and In
Cold Blood. Primarily, you'll be using four movement
keys, a draw weapon key, and a fire/pick up/open/converse key. That
huge overcoat stores inventory. Quick and regular save/load is available.
All in all, controls work nicely and, although movement isn't as
fluid as a first-person perspective, it's about as good as it gets
with this third-person, three-quarter view approach.
The shifting camera angle may lead to a rare case of blindness
in corners, but this engine handles the great majority of the game
effectively. Which brings us to the question of ...
How Does Nocturne Look and Sound?
From the famous billowing raincoat to breath mist on a cold day,
graphic quality is outstanding. There is a lack of facial/mouth
mannerisms, which may bother some. Cutscenes are rendered in-game,
with a motion picture level of detail and realism. The overall atmosphere
is done in shades of grey, fitting for the themes of the ministories.
Voice acting, especially of the jaded Stranger, is superb. Ambient
sounds, from the gentle rush of a gas streetlamp to footsteps, to
the approaching moan of zombies, all contribute to the tension and
terror. Music is presented much as it may be in horror films, giving
a crescendo of warning when an attack is imminent.
"I Don't Like People, and I Hate Monsters" The
Some have thought of Nocturne as a shooter, even a Resident
Evil clone. This trivializes the carefully constructed set of
novelettes available for your hair-raising pleasure. The game brings
back, for this old guy (who could use some hair-raising), memories
of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, as well as other
classic black-and-white horror films. Another memory is evoked of
an old radio programThe Shadow ("What evil lurks
in the hearts of men? Only the Shadow knows.").
There is exploring; there are keys and levers; you need to wend
your way through dark and foreboding graveyards, castles, and towns,
talking to residents, gathering information. Of course, there are
fiends of every description along the way (think X-Files).
I'd like to be there when a "sentinel" first happens upon
you as you play. This hideous, foul-smelling thing will be glimpsed
scurrying to meet you around the next corner. Yet, except for some
frantic moments, this is more of a quiet, tension-building, bump
in the night, adventure thriller.
We've given a brief overview of the four short stories, and we
encourage playing them in sequence. There is shooting, a lot of
it in story 3 especially, but it seems secondary to the unraveling
of the mysteries sending you to Texas, France, and Chicago. Weapons
are fun and fancy, featuring auto-aim, flame-throwers, a gun-mounted
lantern. But don't buy Nocturne expecting Quake. This
is as much an adventure as an action game.
Is Nocturne Fun and Recommended?
The mysterious Stranger, an antihero for whom one forms some admiration
and attachment, will hopefully appear in further stories. Interestingly,
what Acclaim Studios has tried to do, with limited success, in resurrecting
the comic-book licence of Shadow Man, Virtual Reality has
nicely pulled off by creating an agency (Spookhouse) and a protagonist
(Stranger), along with a colorful supporting cast.
From the helpful manual to sound, graphics, story, and play, Nocturne
is one of the best adventure/action (horror) games I've played
in the last two years. Games like this make major strides in reinvigorating
the sometimes static adventure genre, as well as the frequently
boring and redundant action world. Writers and developers are realizing
the value of story, atmosphere, puzzles, NPC conversationsoverall,
richness and creativity in productions, which can border on being
an art form. From my perspective, Nocturne crosses that border
as a cross-genre production of depth and quality; indeed, a gaming
work of art.
Games Nocturne Brings to Mind
- Resident Evil seriesdue to the presence of zombies;
- Alone in the Dark 4perhaps the game Nocturne
is most like;
- Blair Witch seriessame engine; not nearly the same
- In Cold Bloodstory quality and engine efficiency
- Clive Barker's Undyingabout as scary as Nocturne,
What I Liked the Most
The overall and individual stories are nicely done, even compelling;
graphics and sound are stunning; gameplay is varied and long.
What I Liked the Least
System requirements are high (though not so much by today's standards);
there are occasional bad camera angles; rare frame-rate problems
Release Date: October 1999
Four Fat Chicks Links
PII 200 (PII 400 preferred)
64 MB RAM (128 MB preferred)
500 MB HD space (1 GB preferred)
3D card if using acceleration
Where to Find It
Links provided for informational purposes only.
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