Wanadoo's Loch Ness is a traditional point-and-click adventure set on the shores of the storied Scottish lake. And while the story doesn't have much to do with the lake's most famous resident, it's still a good-looking, atmospheric, and fun game.
The first thing you'll notice about Loch Ness is the terrific music. Music, like voice acting, is a department with troublingly few highs when it comes to games. So it really stands out that the game uses a robust and dramatic Highland-flavored score. Each chapter heading is accompanied by this vivid music, and it was so nice to listen to that it actually stopped me from plunging immediately forward. And let's just say than when a game has music you want to stop and savor, it's a good thing.
The game begins with an excellent cutscene in Chicago that frames the entire story as a flashback. Our hero is a 30s detective who has roots in the Loch Ness area. He's summoned to the Highlands to help with a series of mysterious happenings, including the disappearance of a family patriarch.
Much of the game takes place in the drafty old Scottish family castle. You'll meet the creepy old dowager of the family, though she won't be much help to you as she's virtually out of her mind with grief. There's also an exotic Indian valet, a gruff handyman, a mysteriously out-of-sight daughter and a hearty neighbor who may or may not be up to no good.
Soon you learn about a mysterious artifact of great power that long ago was split into three different pieces. Each element - actually a jewel - has been carefully safeguarded by each of three different families. Your major mission in the story is to find the jewels and recreate the artifact.
The format of the game is first person, and the engine is that same tried-and-true 360-degree scrolling, center-cursored warhorse that's served well in many recent Gallic games, such as the two Draculas, Amerzone, The Messenger, and others. As with all games made on this engine, careful exploration of each environment is an absolute must, because one missing item can cause annoying stuckness. As in most traditional point-and-click adventures, more areas both in and around the castle open up to you as you progress through the game. You'll get to explore a musty old attic, a secret study, a creepy old chapel, a mill, and several other entertaining environments.
The puzzles in the game are entertaining and intuitive. This isn't one of those brain-spraining games where you'll depend on the walkthrough to save your sanity. The variety of brain ticklers is excellent as well. The puzzles play fair with the player, and don't get in the way of an entertaining story. I must warn the reader that the game does contain a few timed puzzles, but they are actually fun and pretty forgiving, as timed puzzles go.
Graphically, the game is attractive without being spectacular. The prerendered depictions of the castle and surrounding coutryside create a lovely mood, but you'll wish they had a more impressive resolution. By the end of the game I wondered if our main character was near-sighted.
There are a few preposterous things to swallow as you uncover the secrets of Loch Ness, though nothing as outrageous as the howlers in the recent Mystery of the Druids. And as I mentioned before, if you pick up this game hoping to have a meaningful close encounter with Nessie, you're in for disapointment.
Additionally, it would be nice if there had been just a bit more attention to geographical veracity. Toward the end of the game you have an exciting excursion below the depths in Loch Ness itself, and it's pretty distracting that the game suggests the lake is quite shallow. You don't have to know much about Loch Ness to know it's remarkably deep, so deep that it contains far more water than all of the lakes and rivers in Britain put together. Playing the game makes you wonder if any of the creative team have ever been to Scotland.
All that having been said, the story is generally absorbing and servicable, if not remarkable.
The voice acting is adequate but nothing to write home about.
Considering Wanadoo is the same studio responsible for the loathsome Cryptonomicon, I'm pleased to report that if Loch Ness is any indication, the team is back on the right track. Like Road to India, Loch Ness is a mild, solid, atmospheric and entertaining bit of manna from heaven for the adventure faithful.
See: The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes
Read: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Pentium 166 MHz (200 recommended)
16 Mb RAM (32 recommended)
4 x CD-ROM Drive
3D Accelerator Video Card