Note: This review was originally posted December 18, 1995
This stunner of a game reminded me of the power of theatricality over realism. With the move in today's games toward more and more FMV, filmed actors, and real-time rendering, I think a lot has been lost. The point of a good game is to give you a unique and immersive experience, to take you to a new place, to cast a mood.
The Dark Eye casts a heady mood indeed. It uses a decidedly low-tech approach to game creation. The characters are puppets with fixed faces. Yes, Virginia, their lips don't move! And you know what? This was still one of the creepiest, most atmospheric, and most interesting games I've played.
It helps a lot if you're already an Edgar Allen Poe fan, and who (that we would want to talk to) isn't? This game is based on several of his stories, including Berenice, The Tell-Tale Heart, and The Cask of Amantillado.
The main story is a creepy pastiche of Poe, and takes place in a ... well, yes, a creepy, dilapidated mansion. Sort of House of Usher Meets the Cornbelt. Interspersed with your exploration of the main story are six "nightmares" that you enter, based on the above-mentioned Poe stories. The brilliant concept of this game is that you go through each story twice: once as victimizer and once as victim!
Again, if you're a Poe fan, this is a very giddy experience: leading your unwitting friend Fortunato down into a dark cellar toward his horrible death ... playing the nice old man who has no clue that his deformed eye has pushed his young tenant completely around the bend ... or, perhaps most disturbingly, playing the tooth-fixated obsessive compulsive husband of poor, sickly Berenice.
The interior artwork is simply marvelous from start to finish, and I must say that the puppets (designed by Bruce Heavin) are a masterpiece. With their frozen faces and expressive body language, they really raised the hair on the back of my neck. The whole experience is like a protracted Poe fever dream.
The structure and atmosphere of the game reminded me of only one other game--the marvelous and underrated Amber: Journeys Beyond. It shares that game's virtue of crisp, subdued, and therefore scary sound design.
The game has two minor flaws. First, it is the first game I've ever played in which the act of simply saving a game is confusing! Second, a lot of the voice work is done by William S. Burroughs, who was a writer, not an actor. This kind of stunt casting is a gimmicky ploy that does not pay off at all.
This is not a game for someone in the mood for codes and slider puzzles. But if you're in the mood for some blood-chilling interactive Poe action, get your mitts on a copy of this game. Play this twisted little masterpiece with the lights off. I dare you. Unfortunately, I think you'll have to find a used copy of The Dark Eye, because the game's producer, Inscape, seems to be ... nevermore.
Final Grade: A+
8 MB RAM
2X CD-ROM drive
Windows 3.1 or Windows 95
System 7.1 or higher
68030 33 MHz or faster
2X CD-ROM drive (300 k/sec)
Thousands of colors at 640x480
8 MB RAM