Let’s talk about British Video games (and by that again I mean, I talk, you read). They are out there, I know that. Most famously we all know Rockstars’ British (though I shamefully didn’t know that till I saw The Gamechangers), but I’m not just talking about Brits making video games. I’m talking about Brits making video games set in England that actually feel English, and not just another culture’s idea of us they’ve seen on the telly.
I’m sure there’s more out there than I know, but it’s a good segue into the topic of this week’s post. A continuation on our look at all things spooky, the British Horror-adventure game, The Lost Crown: A Ghost Hunting adventure. (Yes the names lame, but apt, so bear with me)
Written and developed by Jonathan Boakes, who has developed a number of other British point-n-click games, like the very awesome Dark Fall Series. The third installment of which I almost reviewed for this spook fest, as it is another of my favorite, and most underrated scary games.
Lost Crown is set in The Fens of East England coast, and steeped in British folklore and legend. In classic story form, you play as amateur ghost hunter Nigel, sent to track down, what else, lost treasure. But the only way to find it is to solve the mystery of the strange town of Saxton.
Now there is a lot wrong with this game, faults that would make most rightminded gamers run to the hills, faults I will get to. But I’ve already gone on record saying I’ll put up with the worst if the story grips me, and man oh fucking man, that’s where this game digs deep.
Solve the mystery, put some ghosts to rest, and find the treasure. It sounds simple enough, but with a backdrop filled with British history, and influenced by classic ghost stories like, M.R James A Warning to the Curious, Lost Crowns plot has the mentality of a Zelda fetch quest.
To solve one mystery you have to solve one or two others, just to get the context to solve a bigger one that’s really just part of an even larger one. Every location you explore has a dark past to uncover, from the station, the forest, the caves, the church, and even the home you rent. The game truly captures a sense of history, by not just being a long story for you to stumble plot point to plot point, but by subtly laying a dozen stories set over centuries; all connected through your investigation. Stories ranging from pirates, to smugglers, to WW1 bombers, to religious cults, suicidal couples, and crazed kings.
It’s this understanding of place, and depth of history that like fictional towns Silent Hill and Bright Falls before and after it makes Saxton feel real. Another part of that are the characters, beyond the prissy everyman you play as, the inhabitants of Saxton are an…eclectic bunch of people. To use the well warn example, it’s a bit Twin Peaksy in how normal yet off everyone feels, like they’re from another time. And there more than window dressing, as you actually get to know them pretty well; who they are and their pasts tend to tie in to at least one mystery and ghost around town.
So yeah the story’s tight. The ends a bit obtuse, but far from ruins it.
But on to the other stuff. The technical stuff.
To get the positives out the way, the graphics are good, not great for 2008, but good. Done in stylish black and white with splashes of colour, it does its job and creates the perfect atmosphere for a ghost story, rendering the English countryside beautifully. I didn’t find it a very scary game, more just creepy; but it has its moments and excels at building unease with minimal action. Having a, hear don’t show approach, with subtly unnerving visuals. The direction is also topnotch, with the use of fixed camera positions to make some truly gothic and unnerving angles. So even when it doesn’t look good, it looks good.
The gameplay is also your typical point n click fair; click the screen and the character will wonder over, biggest fault there is the speed Nigel moves at. Slow and steady doesn’t win shit.
The puzzles are mostly a lot of fun too, based around using actual ghost hunting gadgets, your EVP meters, night cams and whatnot, to unearth phantom clues. So any fans of Ghost Hunting shows will be at home here.
But the rest of the production is… shaky….no, a better word is hilarious- unintentionally so. The dialogue works when it needs to but is largely stilted, especially when married to some bizarre voice acting. The supporting cast come across okay, but our hero Nigel is the odd mix of wooden yet over the top, which leads to plenty of unintentionally funny moments. You will never want to hear the phrase “Nothing ventured” again.
And for some fucking dumb reason, this puzzle based game also features a very out of place rail shooter section, with some of the worst 2D ghosts you’ll ever see in a 3D game. It comes out of nowhere and is over just as quick, no other part of the game is like it. It’s the worst kind of bad, sudden and random.
Then theres the FMVs, oh the FMVs. At certain points, mainly near the end, FMVs are used to show flashbacks, and they look terrible. This isn’t Ripper or Phantasmagoria level video either, it’s straight up film student looking, and again, out of nowhere and pretty pointless. Most of what they show, like a person being killed, could just be covered in dialogue or by investigating the crime scene…which you do.There was no need for a jarring psychic full-motion-video vision of their demise. It’s the only moment in the game that made me want to stop playing, and I would have if I wasn’t so invested in finding out what’s up with this town. Lucky theres only a handful in the whole game.
Now I haven’t played it in a few years, so I’m sure there’s even more odd stuff I’m forgetting. But with all that said I still recommend this game highly. If you like a spooky ghost story, and defiantly if you have a taste for old style point n clicks.
I need to play it again before I can name it one of my favorite games guilt free, but I’ve always had affection for ugly ducklings, for the odd and the strange. And a game that is simultaneously amazing in one aspect and so bad its funny in another is just my style.