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The Dark Being
Developer:Sierra On-Line
Publisher:Sierra On-Line
Release Date:1997
Article Posted:April 2006
System Requirements

(Please note that this review is based on the 2.0 version of Lighthouse: The Dark Being. The original version of the game did not include some of the features noted, such as optional cursor highlighting)

The Oregon Coast, 1996. Yellow light beams from the lighthouse as the storm rumbles overhead. Suddenly the beam vanishes, usurped by a shower of electric blue that flares and crackles with energy, then settles into a steadily pulsing glow.

A writer moves to a remote house within sight of the lighthouse. He is hoping for the peace, seclusion and scenery to stir his imagination. In time he befriends the scientist, Professor Jeremiah Krick, who lives at the lighthouse with his baby daughter, Amanda. The author never suspects the danger in Professor Krick's experiments until he receives a panicked phone call from the professor, urging him to come to the lighthouse with all haste. Something horrible has happened…

Thus begins the story of a parallel world, a world once ravaged by technology used for profit without regard for nature, a world which clawed its way back to life and a philosophy of technology working with nature... A world in the power of the Dark Being, who has no compunctions, whose origins are unknown, and who has in the portal technology the pathway to a new world: ours.

Players are presented with a twofold quest: To rescue Professor Krick and his infant daughter, and to prevent the Dark Being from entering our world. In exploring the parallel world, to complete these objectives, players discover the tower of a genius inventor, a temple of ancient machinery, an island fortress, a wreck deep within the sea, and finally the volcanic lair of the Dark Being itself.

The story is fairly minimal, existing mainly to provide a reason and a goal for the player's exploration of the parallel world. The plot also has some noticeable holes. For instance, players at one point will discover a teleporter that can take them back to Oregon. No explanation is given as to why the Dark Being has not found and made use of this device, given the creature's apparent intelligence.

The acting on the part of the CGI characters is generally poor. The voice acting is not much better either (although the voice of the Professor narrating his lab notes is delivered slightly more effectively). A notable exception is found in Liryl, the lone guardian of the temple of ancient machines. Crippled and dependant on the temple's machinery, Liryl is a genuinely sympathetic character and better voiced than the others.

The game features only a few characters players can interact with. Moreover, the conversations with these characters are limited to a collection of brief monologues on their part in response to mouse clicks. As such, the deficiency in voice acting is not very often noticeable. Despite all the acting problems, I do feel that the story of the main character's arrival at the Oregon coast and befriending of Professor Krick would perhaps have been better portrayed as a CGI movie than in the form presented in the game, that of a written journal found near the beginning of the game.

The sound and the graphics manage to create a distinct atmosphere, even though it is not as immersive as it could have been. The game’s atmosphere does, however, manage to evoke a world that is recognizably alien, yet also familiar in its themes, especially that of technology and exploitation of natural resources without regard to sustainability or consequences. This is a world much like ours – its people are human, technologically-oriented, and, for some reason that is never fully explained, and only remarked upon once, even speak fluent English. Thus, aside from the surface storyline, this parallel world also serves as a mirror and warning for our own.

This ecological theme is exemplified by the two inventors, Professor Jeremiah Krick and the inventor that he meets in the parallel world. Both are clearly brilliant men, who recognize each other's talents. They also see the outward signs of each other's concerns and, not knowing the causes, wonder whether the other is not mad. They serve as mirrors for each other, providing a Frankensteinesque message about not seeing the dangerous effects of one's work, perhaps by being too close to that work to see the greater effects, and hiding from the attention of outside observers.

The interface is simple and entirely point-and-click, driven by mouse movements and single clicks of the left mouse button. Movement is node-based; to move from a given point, one moves the cursor to the appropriate area of the screen, at which point the cursor will change into a directional arrow, and a single click will move or turn the character in that direction. However, in my opinion, these directional arrows are sometimes poorly placed, appearing in unobvious or inconvenient places. In addition to this, there are no movement animations to segue between nodes (with the exception of the rail section towards the end of the game). The view simply switches from one image to the next. This deficiency makes movement around the game world more disjoint than it should be.

There are, however, a number of clips depicting certain actions, such as the use of inventory items, the operation of the various machines, and passage between the major locations of the parallel world. These are well-rendered and generally well-animated, and in some cases quite lovely. Strangely, while some of these can be skipped by a simple mouse click, others appear to be uninterruptible, a seemingly arbitrary inconsistency that can be frustrating at times.

Interaction with the world is similarly controlled by mouse movements and single left mouse button clicks or drags. This works considerably better than the directional arrows. Items and active areas are generally fairly easy to spot, even though there are a few that are difficult to see. The inventory is simple and clear, with large, informative icons. Clicking on an item selects it, the cursor changing to a copy of that item's inventory icon. That item can then be used by clicking on an active area, although I found this to be occasionally complicated by directional arrows appearing in inconvenient places.

One exception to this system, albeit still effective, is item combination and examination. When an item is the basis for an item combination, has another item that can be parted from it, or can be used on itself, clicking on it will cause an inset to appear in one corner of the screen containing a detailed view of the object, typically rotating. In this inset the object can be viewed and interacted with - in some cases a part of the item can be separated from the parent to produce a new inventory item, in others the item can be combined with another, and sometimes the item has an intrinsic use. Item combination is achieved by clicking on the first item so that it appears in the inset, then selecting the second item from the inventory, and finally clicking on the part of the inset view on which the second item should be used.

In some cases items that appear in insets can also be used on active regions of the world. In this case, simply click on the item in the inventory a second time. The inset will disappear and the cursor will take the form of the item selected.

While the interaction system is in general good, there is one flaw: by default there is no indication that the cursor is over an active region or a collectable item. The in-game menu does offer the option to enable cursor highlighting, but this highlighting is, in my opinion, not obvious enough – the contrast between the lit (indicating that the cursor is over something of interest) and the default state is not great enough. The inclusion of color in the lit cursor, or at least a greater contrast, might have improved this greatly and made this a much more useful feature. In addition to this, the lit cursor is sometimes subject to a glitch which leaves it lit when taking an item. This can be rectified by moving the mouse onto another active region and then off of it, or to a directional arrow and back again. Nevertheless, such a glitch should not be present in a final release.

The puzzles are nicely though-out and are generally appropriate to the location. Most are fair and quite interesting, but some of them are difficult. A few of the puzzles do seem to be a little obscure, with their logic or goal not clearly apparent, and these can at times be frustrating. Furthermore, there are some cases in which one can fail the puzzle for unobvious reasons. The safe puzzle is a good example of this problem. One can seemingly enter the correct combination without the safe unlocking if the values are not entered in just the right way.

The game does include a built-in help system in the main menu. This operates on the basis of the screen at which the player left the game, providing pre-defined hints for that screen. While at times useful (for instance in providing the method to clear the tumblers in the safe puzzle), this help is not sensitive to the state of that screen, and thus the same help will appear for a given screen regardless of the state of any puzzles to which it might refer. For example, the puzzle box is a series of logic puzzles which can be found early in the game. When looking at the puzzle box, the hint provided pertains primarily to a particular puzzle in the sequence, regardless of which puzzle the player is working on at the time. Furthermore, I found that the hints often pertained to a step or puzzle other than the one with which I was having trouble at the time.

The majority of the puzzles are inventory-based, involving the use of the many strange and interesting artifacts that are to be found in the parallel world, as well as a few that are found on our side of the portal. A number of the inventory puzzles have more than one solution, and while I have found one item that can be left behind irretrievably, another item can be found later in the game to replace it. Similarly the exact path that the player takes between locations is not entirely linear. While the first three locations are predetermined, the overall path is up to the player. In addition to this, solving every puzzle is not necessary to finish the game. While there is only one main ending (barring a few endings in which the player loses), the exact details do differ depending on what the player does in the final scene.

Worth noting amongst the inventory puzzles are those that involve the assembly or repair of the various machines that are to be found strewn all along this quest. Many of these are fairly simple, such as opening a device and replacing a single part, while others are more complex, but all are interesting to some degree, and make for an engaging form of puzzle.

Only one slider puzzle is present, although it is possible to bypass it, and there are two small mazes. One of these mazes is slightly complicated by the fact that available directions are not always easy to determine, but since there are few possible ways to move in this case this is not an overwhelming problem. It is, however, possible to exit this maze not having found the item that is sought, not realizing that the item held by the submersible is in fact an intermediate item.

Note-taking is by and large unnecessary, although there are a few numbers and symbols that would be wise to jot down.

It is possible for the player to perform an action that results in the loss of the game. In one of these sequences the player is allowed to try again, seemingly indefinitely, without reloading a saved game, while in others a failure movie is presented, and the player is returned to the main menu.

The graphics are good for the time, and the locations show a good degree of imagination. Especially the machines found throughout the journey are well designed, if perhaps a little too similar to our technology. However, taken too far, the alien aspect could have made the operation and purpose of these machines too obscure. The balance struck in this game, while not perfect, is not bad either.

In summary, Lighthouse: The Dark Being is a game of puzzles. A solid dose of puzzles is the main strength of this game, providing interest and enjoyment and a good challenge. Lighthouse is a fun game, but lacks considerably in the areas of story and acting, and, to a lesser degree, atmosphere.

Final Score: 72/100


PC System Requirements:
MS-DOS 5.0+
12 MB RAM (Windows 95)
8 MB RAM (Windows 3.1x / DOS)
SVGA 640 x 480 x 256 Colours
Windows Compatible Sound Card (Windows)
2x CD-ROM Drive
Keyboard, mouse, speakers