With a heavy nod
to M.R. James' horror story "A Warning to the Curious," Jonathan Boakes returns
to the videogame scene, his XXv productions now joined with Darkling Room. With
more help (some from Shadow Tor Productions, which will be discussed later) and
a bigger budget, Boakes tells the story of Nigel Danvers - who may or may not be
the same Nigel from Dark Fall - who has
fled from London after stealing top-secret documents from his employer, Haden Industries.
These documents are proof that Haden is involved with paranormal experiments. (Details
are sketchy; it's never fully explained. They sure are important though!) Knowing
that he is pursued by two of his employer's agents, and knowing that they will
not treat him well if caught, Nigel takes a train into the country and winds up
in Saxton, a quaint and calm fictitious harbor town in eastern England.
Hadden is a step ahead of Nigel. He knows exactly where Nigel is. But instead
of capturing and reprimanding him, Haden decides to give him mission: Research
the local spiritual activity and locate a lost Anglo-Saxon crown, purportedly buried
somewhere in the region.
Left with no
choice, Nigel suits up with the proper ghost-hunting gadgets and gets to work.
He consults and develops relationships with the locals, travels through the
Fens of England, and learns about its lush folklore and history. Along the way
he befriends young psychology student Lucy Reubans, who then assists him in his
As they delve
into the mystery, of course, its sinister protectors begin to reveal
An inexperienced ghost hunter with a "playful, spooky nature." He is
clearly a reflection of Boakes himself. A man of mysticism and the
supernatural, he is idealistic, determined in his goals, and oddly at ease with
the threat of imminent danger. His oft-repeated motto is "Nothing ventured,
A local girl of 26. She lives in her hometown of Saxton while on break
from her schooling. She places all her faith in science and logic. While her
outward demeanor is cheerful, she hints at being haunted by a dark event in her
past. After experiencing inexplicable paranormal phenomena, Lucy feels
begrudgingly obligated to help Nigel in his adventures.
The Lost Crown's presentation differs greatly from its
predecessors in several ways, namely that 1) it is now viewed from a 3rd-person
perspective and 2) that it revolves more heavily on character interaction. This
idea is a warm welcome for those who tire of the previous labors of picking up
the events of the story after the fact. Although the plot is still similar, it
is much more hands-on this time.
While this is
nice, characters are almost entirely one-dimensional, which will be a
disappointment to players expecting a story driven in this respect. The
characters do little more than assist the player in exposing more of the plot.
The two leads are endearing enough for the player to root for them, but their
personalities are pretty shallow and static. For instance, Nigel is strangely
calm given his circumstances, and he is far too comfortable with certain turns
of events as the game goes on.
voice work has always been wobbly, but since it was never used in great amounts
in previous games it was hard to give too a hard time about it. While The Lost Crown isn't terrible in this
respect, certain inflections, phrasings, and choices of words can get
questionable. Plus some lines of dialogue are re-used in different
conversations, showing cracks in the otherwise lovely reality of the game.
The innovation of
flesh-and-blood characters was very much welcome, but Boakes still has a ways
to go in order to make them truly compelling.
That said, there
are still some fantastic scenes in the game. Fully developed characters are not
at all necessary to create the scares and quirks that really sell this game. Mr.
Gruel, for example, is the proprietor of Saxton's antique shop. The thing about
Gruel is that he only speaks through his puppet Jemima. It's a detail that
really brings home a sense of general unease about the town. There also some
interesting friendly ghosts who you'll encounter along the way. One bittersweet
scene involving the ghosts of two children in an isolated church is
particularly memorable. None of these characters are deep, but they prove to be
excellent tools in propelling the story and mood further.
Graphically, The Lost Crown is a triumph. The
majority of the world is in black-and-white, however a vivid rush of color is
added to some sparing detail in nearly every shot?from the sheer blue of the
country sky to the bursting pink of garden flowers. Add in hints of motion,
such as rolling fog or a frog jumping into a pond, and the atmosphere's beauty
is cemented. These cinematic shots are based on photographs taken in locations
such as Cornwall and Devon, which were then digitally edited to fit into the
style of the game. The passion that Boakes shows for these sorts of locales is
admirable and contagious. And when darkness falls, these idyllic pastures
effortlessly become some of the scariest videogame settings in recent memory.
the character models are disappointingly stiff. They don't look bad when
static, though still far from great, but they animate atrociously. Nigel's
slow, robotic turns and body movements will aggravate all but the most patient
The puzzles are,
well, more of the same, with the addition of interacting with townspeople.
You'll be fixing fuse boxes, memorizing lock combinations, reading up on symbols
to make use of them, etc. It might be a bit easier this time around, if only
because most puzzles have their solutions hidden somewhere in the same area,
whereas before you had to jaunt around from one end of the game to the next in
order to discover certain things.
By far the best
aspect of the gameplay is the ghost-hunting, wherein there is offered the most
scares and entertainment. One particularly memorable instance is when you bug
the house you've rented in order to sleuth out the spirits. It's pretty
chilling to discover that ghosts have been around the entire time you've stayed
there. You'll be taking advantage of night-vision goggles in crypts and
graveyards, using electromagnetic field meters, digital video cameras, voice
recorders, and the like. It's nifty and fun and really the biggest thing that
differentiates Boakes' games from other point-and-click adventures.
The Lost Crown is a great deal longer than its
predecessors as well, taking weeks to complete instead of a few days. It
actually does have a grander scale and ambition, but there is much artificial
lengthening to be criticized. Nigel, of course, moves too darn slow. Luckily
there's a double-clicking fast-forward option to skip through most terrain, but
it's still a nuisance. There's also the dialogue trees, which stretch out far
past their welcome and cannot really be skipped.
In the end, The Lost Crown is, like the others, a
fantastic but flawed labor of love. Despite poor 3D character models, the
background environments are wonderful. Despite many generic adventure game
puzzle tropes, there are wonderfully original ghost-hunting puzzles and
worthwhile scares. Despite the underdeveloped characters, the story and ambiance
are compelling enough to make up for them.
A sequel, The Lost Crown: Haunting of Hallowed Isle,
has been in production for some time now. Release dates are as yet unknown.
Boakes' has stated on Twitter that it's still definitely being worked on.