Genre: Adventure Horror/Thriller
Release Date: May 21, 2010 (UK); June (localized versions across Europe)
Note: Originally published 6 July 2010
This review originally appeared on Adventure Lantern. Our sincere thanks to Ugur Sener for allowing Just Adventure to share his review with our readers.
Howard Loreid wakes up to find himself in a small cottage. He has no recollection of leaving the mental institution or arriving at this place. He looks around the room in a daze, trying to piece together what might have happened. Are the cottage and the bed he is lying in real or is this yet another lucid dream? A letter on the bedside table only raises more questions. Apparently, Howard has been brought here for his own protection. Who is seeking to harm him? Why is he in danger? The letter asks Howard to take a train to the town of Arkhamend. Perhaps there he will finally find some answers. Perhaps the gloomy town will finally provide an ending to his relentless nightmare.
Developed by Zoetrope Interactive, The Dark Lineage is the second and final chapter in the Darkness Within series. Starting out as a deceptively simple police investigation, the first game had explored detective Howard Loreid's encounter with the supernatural and struggle to cling to his sanity. The second installment focuses on the detective's ancestry. In a town plagued by bizarre experiments and unholy rituals, Howard tries to stay alive and discover the truth about his family. With its interesting storyline and innovative 3D engine, The Dark Lineage starts out as a promising game. Unfortunately, a series of problems ultimately keep the game from reaching its full potential.
Like the original game, Darkness Within 2 is inspired by the work of H. P. Lovecraft. Themes of insanity, hidden knowledge, and unknowable terrors appear throughout the adventure. The decrepit buildings you explore, the strange contraptions you have to operate, and the ominous sounds ever present in the background feel very appropriate. The locations are rendered with great attention to detail. The game makes good use of lighting and shadow effects to create a gloomy atmosphere.
Unfortunately, it would be a stretch to call The Dark Lineage a horror adventure. There is certainly a depressing and mysterious tone about each environment you explore. However, Darkness Within 2 lacks the tension and the sense of danger that was conveyed very effectively in the first chapter. Whether you were wondering what monstrosity could be found at the bottom of a well or trying to wake up from a hellish nightmare, the original game could create and sustain a feeling of suspense. The Dark Lineage does have a compelling mystery that should keep players interested, but it lacks the original game's scariness. Part of the problem is that Darkness Within 2 creates a lesser feeling of isolation. During the majority of the first game, Howard was alone. This sense of seclusion greatly augmented the atmosphere. After all, there is something spooky about entering a house all by yourself after you have just read a journal entry about all the dark and mysterious things that took place in the building. In the second game, Howard has more opportunities to talk to other characters. While this may be appropriate given the game's story, it does take away from the atmosphere. The eeriness gets significantly diminished when you enter an abandoned building immediately after talking to a friendly innkeeper.
A second issue is with the animations. At several key points in the game, you will be presented with images that are clearly intended to be scary. Yet the graphics seem to fall short during these moments. The animations that are supposed to be frightening look a little too cartoon-like to be anything but mildly startling. Howard's heavy breathing and exclamations are not a substitute for inadequate imagery. It is a shame that these few animations don't deliver in a game that otherwise boasts beautiful graphics. While continuing the storyline from the previous game, Darkness Within 2 introduces several new features. The most prominent change is the new 3D engine. The original Darkness Within was a point-and- click adventure game played from a first-person perspective. Moving the mouse changed the direction Howard was facing. It was not possible to move freely through the environment. Instead, the locations were divided into nodes. Players navigated between the nodes using the mouse and interacted with various objects. This system has been discarded in Darkness Within 2.
The 3D engine used in The Dark Linage gives players significantly greater freedom of movement. The WASD keys are used to walk around the environment. Howard can jump over obstacles and crouch to take a closer look at objects on the ground. The left mouse button is used to interact with objects. Howard can open doors, pick up inventory items, or use various devices. In addition, several larger objects can be pushed or pulled. For instance, Howard can pull a chair to access drawers or push away a cabinet that is blocking his way.
At the surface, the features of the 3D engine help enhance the gameplay experience. It is initially entertaining to have the opportunity to truly look at every nook and cranny of a room. The idea of moving larger objects to reveal clues is interesting. However, the actual implementation in The Dark Lineage leaves something to be desired. Sure, many rooms contain pieces of furniture you can push or pull. Unfortunately, you rarely gain anything from your redecoration efforts. Moving furniture does not necessarily help you solve puzzles or spot inventory items. Similarly, crouching down to see the floor or jumping on top of things to investigate higher surfaces is usually fruitless. Of course, since the occasional puzzle does require you to find a small hotspot on the floor or move an object out of the way, there is an obligation to perform these actions in every room. In the end, what should have been great features lead to unnecessary tedium.
Despite the significant changes in the interface, Darkness Within 2 does retain some features from its predecessor. For instance, the inventory system will be familiar to those who played the original game. The inventory is accessed with the right mouse button. Items are displayed in boxes along the top portion of the screen. Arrow buttons are available to scroll to the left and right. The 'magnifying glass' icon can be used to bring certain items up for a closer view. The 'brain' icon is used to review important clues and combine inventory items. As players proceed through the game, 'thoughts' will get added to Howard's inventory. These 'thoughts' may come from discovering important items or reading key documents. The inventory screen can be used to combine these 'thoughts,' allowing Howard to make deductions about his investigation.
The idea inventory is another feature of The Dark Lineage that could have been better implemented. Maintaining short summaries of all the important clues is certainly helpful. If you step away from the game for awhile, these notes can provide quick reminders as to what you were doing and help you avoid backtracking. The thought combinations on the other hand do not work quite as well. The majority of the combinations you attempt are not accepted. You may think of ways two clues are connected, but chances are Howard will disagree. By the time you visit a few locations and accumulate a significant number of clues, trying to join items from your thought inventory becomes little more than a pointless exercise.
In addition to the inventory screen, Darkness Within 2 features research puzzles that are similar to the ones found in the previous game. These puzzles allow players to underline full sentences or phrases in documents. If the underlined portion is relevant to Howard's investigation, a new clue gets added to the thought inventory. If you don't want to bother hunting down the important lines, the game also features an option to automatically search documents for clues. However, there are a few hidden clues that can only be found if you take the time to conduct the research manually. These puzzles are great at helping players focus on critical portions of documents. They force you to catch the important details that might otherwise get overlooked.
Another player-friendly feature of Darkness Within 2 is the hint system. At the beginning of the game, players are given the option to choose one of three difficulty settings. In the 'standard' mode, hints are offered as soon as they become available. Players also have access to the automatic research button. In the 'detective' mode, hints are only offered if the player has been stuck for a while and manual research is required. The hardest setting is called 'senior detective,' where no hints are available. In the 'senior detective' mode, the game also hides the counter that indicates how many clues are available in a given document. After making their initial selection, players have the option to make adjustments during the game. The options menu allows players to change how hints are delivered and whether or not automatic research should be available.
The availability of three difficulty settings and the customization options are certainly a nice touch. However, it is worth noting that the hints you receive may not be particularly useful. While The Dark Lineage is not overly difficult, the game does have a couple of fairly obscure puzzles. You'll need to read a few documents, find the right inventory items, and rely on your deductive reasoning skills to get past many of the challenges. A few more direct hints could have alleviated some potential player frustration. Darkness Within 2 is a rather short game for a commercial release. My first playthrough took a little less than seven-and-a-half hours. The game does include a number of secrets and Easter eggs, which may provide some replay value if you miss some of them during your first attempt. You can find these by solving extra puzzles that are not essential to the story. A scorecard presented at the end of the game tells you how many of the secrets you were able to find. It is worth mentioning that the game has more than one ending as well. Nevertheless, no amount of extra content is replacement for a richer storyline with more locations to explore, characters to meet, and puzzles that matter to the plot.
The conclusion of Howard's adventure is particularly disappointing. Sure, the central storyline gets resolved and you will have an idea about what happens to the main characters. The developments in Darkness Within 2 also explain the conclusion of the first game. But The Dark Lineage does not provide answers for a number of questions raised during the course of the adventure. Granted, there isn't anything wrong with a vague ending that leaves a few things to interpretation. Every single question does not need to be answered with immaculate detail. Yet when the box itself says this will be the final installment in the series, it seems reasonable to expect a more satisfying conclusion.
Overall, Darkness Within 2: The Dark Lineage feels like a missed opportunity. Here is a game that has all the elements that could make a great adventure. There is an interesting mystery surrounding Howard and his family. The gloomy town with its dark history makes an enticing place to explore. The graphics are excellent and the interface has promising features. A couple of devious puzzles show the Zoetrope team knows how to provide a challenge. The hint system and the ability to customize difficulty options are great ways to make the game accessible to newer players. Unfortunately, despite all the positives, a number of issues significantly detract from the overall experience. The game ends too soon with too many questions left unanswered. The thought inventory and the ability to move larger objects turn into chores rather than adding depth to the game. It might explore some dark themes, but what is supposed to be a horror adventure fails to be scary. The Dark Lineage could have been a truly great adventure. It is still worth considering if you think you can overlook its issues. However, it might be best suited for those who enjoyed the original game and would like to see the conclusion to Howard's story.
Final Grade: C+
1.5GHz Intel® Pentium® or equivalent
512 MB RAM (1GB for Vista)
256MB DirectX® 9.0c compatible video card
4X speed PC-DVD-ROM
3 GB HD space
DirectX® 9.0c compatible sound card