The Lost Crown Review
The Lost Crown can be summed up in two words -- Jonathan Boakes. The game is the latest offering from one of the most well-known creators of games of the unusual, the paranormal, and occasionally, even the macabre. The game was written by, designed by, and directed by Jonathan Boakes. The screenplay was created by him, and he provided the voices for several of the main characters. And if that weren't enough, he added a personal touch by including some of his own home movies as brief video clips throughout the game!
Following Boakes' earlier games -- Darkfall and Darkfall: Lights Out -- The Lost Crown continues the ghost-hunting adventure theme, sharing some common elements with the earlier games. Once again, Hadden Industries and its highly developed paranormal technology provide us with the tools to sense what might otherwise not be sensed; to hear what might otherwise not be heard, and to see what might otherwise not be seen.
As the story begins, Nigel Danvers -- former employee of Hadden Industries -- arrives in the small English seaside village of Saxton. He is searching for the Anglo-Saxon crown belonging to Ganwulf of Anglia -- lost hundreds of years ago -- which ancient legend describes as being associated with this area. From the time Nigel arrives, he is confronted with strange happenings, and eerie feelings of being under observation. Nigel must use all of the high-tech instruments available to him, as well as his own wits, to find the lost crown, and free the village from secrets known only to the dead.
The stage is set from the opening scene of the game -- both in terms of the story, and also the visual presentation provided by the game. All scenes throughout the game are in black and white, with only occasional, small touches of color added for "artsy" effect. This takes a bit of getting used to, and I spent the first few hours of game play waiting for Dorothy to arrive in Oz, and for everything to turn to full color. Somewhat to my dismay, that never happened. But the level of detail in the graphics -- including integrated movie clips, cut-scenes, and other effects -- is quite extensive. Even without the aid of contrasting colors, the scenes are very realistic, enhanced as they are with occasional photos and video footage embedded within the artwork itself.
The game uses a simple and intuitive third-person point-and-click interface, with transitions from one fixed scene to another. There is no panning within individual scenes. In keeping with Jonathan Boakes' design style, there are many items throughout the game that can be looked at, or in some way interacted with, and are often constructed in the most minute detail. And yet, many of these objects cannot be picked up or taken with you; and, in fact, have nothing at all to do with the game, but only serve as eye-candy.
The strongest feature of the game is the story. Most striking is how the actual and the fictitious are combined in a seamless manner. The very real history of the Anglo-Saxon kings of Anglia is enhanced with the addition of several fictitious kings, and their crowns, which possessed immeasurable powers. Very real technologies (e.g., nightvision scopes, EMF recorders) are combined with some very inventive tools and devices, to aid Nigel in his ghost-hunting. Very real towns in Cornwall, England are combined with fictitious landmarks, castles, and churches to produce the area in and around Saxton. And all of it is done flawlessly.
Nigel's ghost-hunting adventure builds upon this foundation from the moment he arrives in Saxton. As he talks with character after character, discovers books and other documents that provide further information, and explores on his own, he learns more about the various legends surrounding the lost crown, the village, and the people themselves. As the game progresses, the story's complexity grows. Bit by bit, the truth is exposed, almost in the manner of peeling an onion -- getting ever nearer to the core.
The Lost Crown provides an interesting mix of linearity and non-linearity. Early in the game, Nigel has freedom to roam the town, talk to various characters, and progress at his own pace. However, as the story develops, that progress takes much more of a fixed approach -- where activities need to be done in specific order. Until Nigel "triggers" the next step in the game by doing just the right thing (or talks with just the right person, or asks just the right questions -- in the right order), nothing else can happen. While this isn't necessarily a detriment (as it allows the story to develop in a very planned manner), there can sometimes be insufficient intuitiveness within the game itself as to exactly what the "next thing" should be.
There are many characters to interact with -- almost 30, in fact. Most can be (and, in many cases, are required to be) engaged in dialogue; and all are portrayed fairly realistically. One thing that did catch my attention, however, due to its lack of "polish", was character movement. As Nigel walks around, his movements are jerky, and not fully coordinated with the landscape around him, often giving the effect that he is doing his best Michael Jackson "moon-walking" impression as his feet slide over the ground. Actions such as reaching out to pick up an object, or knock on a door, seemed similarly stilted.
Oddly, given the number of characters who are active in the story, the town was devoid of any other humans. Other than the characters who are directly involved in interactions with Nigel, there were no others roaming the town, sitting in the local bar, or contributing to the scenery. At one point, the entire town was having a May Day "Faire", complete with rides, booths, food, etc. Yet other than Nigel and the various vendors (who were the other major characters in the game), the "faire" was empty! No one milling about, no other life in the town.
As already mentioned, there is a lot of dialogue in the game. This is one of the ways in which the story line is developed. However, given the quantity of dialogue -- and given that you may end up talking to the same person about the same thing a second (or third) time -- I would have preferred that the game provide a way to interrupt conversations or videos. But once started, they must run to completion, whether I wanted to hear them again or not.
And even when presented with 6 or 8 topics of conversations to use with a character, game play usually insisted that each of the topics be selected and engaged in, step by step -- which amounted to little more than a long cut-scene, broken into smaller pieces manipulated by the gamer. Very little had to do with the player's actual selection of a logical topic of conversation, making most of these dialogues "no-brainers". (A helpful feature that would have prevented the necessity of going back through long-winded conversations just to retrieve one small nugget of information would have been the ability to recall dialogues that had previously taken place. Alas, this ability was not included in the game.)
Along with a great story, the ambiance is further enhanced with the music and other sound effects. Often spooky or eerie, sometimes downright scary, the audio portion of the game excellently supports the atmosphere.
Most of the puzzles in The Lost Crown are inventory puzzles -- finding and using objects (often with other objects) to accomplish a specific purpose, such as finding a key to open a locked door. There are a few logic puzzles -- but none that would be considered of any significant challenge. In fact, some of those were simple trial-and-error puzzles, as no specific clues existed in the game.
There were a few minor features that were missing from the game design; their addition would have been trivial, and could have enhanced game play satisfaction considerably. One of these is that there are virtually no game options, other than the ability to display subtitles. There was no way to adjust the sound levels; I like to reduce the music level and raise the speaking levels, to make conversations easier to hear. There was also no way to control video options, such as anti-aliasing, brightness, contrast, gamma correction, or other filters provided by many other games. And the number of game saves was limited to 8 -- something I find quite insufficient. Lastly, the use of a spell checker and grammar checker could have avoided the multitude of typos and errors found in various documents and subtitles throughout the game.
To enhance the realism of the game, Boakes has developed several external Web sites. One of these -- www.haddenindustries.co.uk -- is a business site for the fictitious Hadden Industries, and supplies additional "fluff" for the game environment. Another site -- www.saxtonmuseum.co.uk -- has been constructed to provide a "Web portal" to the fictitious village of Saxton. Reading like a travel brochure, it details Saxton's geography, weather, dining, entertainment, accommodations, history, and so on. Still another site -- http://www.darklingroom.co.uk/thelostcrown/realsaxton -- illustrates how the village of Saxton was created from two very real small towns in the English countryside. These are fascinating pieces of trivia that all who enjoy The Lost Crown will want to include in their casual browsing.
The Lost Crown is a long game -- in some cases, artificially so (such as having to listen to all of the conversations -- sometimes several times -- or travel back and forth without the aid of a "quick-jump" map). Although the story began somewhat slowly, the pace picked up toward the end. I found the game to be enjoyable and entertaining, although some topics may be a bit "dark" for younger children -- hence the "T" (Teen) rating.
-- Frank D. Nicodem, Jr.