Necronomicon: The Dawning of Darkness Review

Necromancy, defined by Webster as "the conjuration of the spirits of the dead for purposes of magically revealing the future or influencing the course of events", forms the plot for this adventure game based in part on the writings of American author H. P. Lovecraft. The setting for this story takes place near Lovecraft's hometown of Providence, Rhode Island, in the year 1927.

Even if you have never read Lovecraft, you have probably seen or read more recent-day works influenced by his imagination, including those by Stephen King. The story presented here expands upon one of Lovecraft's stories -- the reincarnation of an ancient civilization of sorcerers who practiced black magic long ago.

You play William Stanton, a young man who lives in this section of New England. As the game starts, William is visited by a troubled friend, Edgar Wycherly, who hands him a strange object and tells him that he has been "sentenced to death." Shortly after Edgar leaves, another knock comes on William's door. Introducing himself as Dr. Egleton, the man at the door asks that you go and see your friend, Edgar, to determine what is wrong. Simply finding Edgar is not an easy task since the people of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, are not a friendly lot. The stormy skies of the town and countryside form a foreboding backdrop of gloom as you dig for answers. Only by talking to the right people at the right times will you figure out just what Edgar is up to.

The basic plot is one of only two good things about this game. (I'll get to the other thing later.) Getting into the plot is another matter altogether. The designers added in needless roadblocks all through the game. In the very beginning, for instance, there are numerous people sitting and standing about Pawtucket. But only one person in the entire town will talk to you about anything. When you find that key person, she has very little to say. You are referred to another unfriendly person whose attitude is not much better. When you finally find someone who is more talkative, the conversation happens so fast and so softly that you can't hear or understand them. The lack of subtitles (or any settings for that matter) greatly hindered my enjoyment during play.

The game is contained on 2 CD-ROMs. Installation was uneventful and caused me no problems. The first CD must be inserted each time you wish to play, but otherwise, there is no disk swapping involved. If you have played either of the Dracula games (Resurrection or The Last Sanctuary), you will recognize the interface, which is identical in this game. The only reason to use your keyboard is to press the ESCape key, which accesses the main menu game save/load and exit. All the rest is handled with a mouse click. That would be okay if the interface worked smoothly, but it didn't. The inventory management is cumbersome and entirely too graphically intense for many systems. A picture might speak a thousand words, but I'd like a description of what I just picked up, not just a graphic of it. To make matters worse, directional cursors are too close together in many of the areas where pinpointing a specific direction is vital for your survival. I also prefer more freedom for saving games than the 8 slots provided.

The atmosphere is supposed to be dark and gloomy, but they overdid it in my opinion. Maybe it was just my monitor, but I had trouble seeing many of the screens even with the brightness and contrast maxed and playing in a dark room. The character features are fair -- the only exception being the main character, William Stanton, who is the most lifelike. Many of the others lacked portions of their teeth in some scenes when earlier they had a full set. (Very disconcerting!) Lip-sync was pretty good in most instances, but the majority of my time was spent listening to what they were saying rather than watching them say it.

The music was dismal, in the literal sense. It lacked interest or merit and I thought it was dreadful. Not to say that's a terrible thing, considering the nature of the story, but I thought it lacked imagination and wasn't overly creative. Sounds mainly consisted of the opening a drawer or unlocking a door, but nothing out of the ordinary.

The creative puzzles in Necronomicon present the second good thing about this game. More than just item-oriented, the puzzles must be solved by studying written texts and analyzing the data presented to you. There are several strange lock mechanisms, the clues for which are hidden and elaborately orchestrated. For those players who are visually or hearing impaired, they will be pleased that there are no color or sound puzzles here as such. I am not much of a maze fan myself, but I must give the designers credit where credit is due. The mazes are very creative and, much to my chagrin, they are impossible to map! There are 3 true mazes, all distinctly different from each other, and several other areas that could be considered maze-like. Negotiating those mazes can be frustrating at times, however, due to the nature of the directional cursor. Overall, the puzzles are of medium difficulty, with the only real negative being the fact that some of them are timed. At least this is all adventure with absolutely no action as such.

In conclusion, you will be disappointed if you are expecting this to be equal to either of the Dracula games. While the story and puzzles are interesting and somewhat challenging, the many other bad aspects of Necronomicon overshadow them.

-- Jeanne Muse