FBT enjoys the Darkling Room’s holiday slides.
The point of Blast from the Past reviews is you recall the game, talk about how great/crap it was, then re-play to see if that opinion still holds; but I can barely remember anything about Lost Crown other than giving up. But I always bang on about loving point & click classics and I’m a sucker for a good ghost story, so did I just give up too easily? And it’s rated 80/100 by Fortean Times, that’s good enough for me. Maybe I was too hasty. Finding evidence of the afterlife takes patience, time to learn some.
Still a Blast
After accidently-on-purpose downloading incriminating files on his boss, our hero Nigel arrives in ‘Saxton’, intending to lie low. Instead, he gets blackmailed into investigating paranormal legends about the quaint little seaside town, and discovers not only are they more than just legends, but Saxton might be the final resting place of a long lost Anglo-Saxon crown, which the ghosts don’t want disturbed…
I haven’t played anything this point and click in years. I click, Nigel walks, I point, Nigel comments. Standard stuff, but what marks this out is its real.
Rather than a digital world, we’re presented with actual photos which Nigel walks about in. It’s a bit like Dad walking in front of his beloved carousel slide projector showing holiday snaps upside-down, and it’s distracting watching someone 3D walking around a 2D static image, but once you get your eye in, there’s a depth and realism to it, and it gives it a surreal tone – the uneven cottages, bramble-filled lanes, desolate beaches, gothic landscapes and pokey streets, it’s like you’re on some local ghost walk for local people. I keep expecting to turn a corner and find The Slaughtered Lamb. But Saxton has its own locals to worry about.
As Nigel continues his stroll through the village, piecing together the place’s secret history, he uncovers various ghosties and paranormal goings on, and this is where it gets really fun. There’s some great devices Nigel gets to play with, I feel like I’m on Most Haunted. An EMF meter, EVP recordings, a night vision camera, it’s all good fun standing in a beach cave going ‘is there anyone there’ and seeing the EMF flicker or audio being recorded. And Nigel gets to stay in an obviously haunted house complete with bumps in the night. It’s so atmospheric and well observed, clearly steeped in ghostly history as Nigel finds ways to exorcise the ghosts and reveal the crown in this Wicker Man-like town.
It reminds me of Broken Sword too – city lad gets caught up in an adventure that’s far bigger than him; Nigel is like a British George in a flat-cap, he’s lost, sarky, bemused, and befuddled by it all, but doggedly keeps going because he’s also curious – as are we. And he gets a female sidekick. It’s got that fish-out-of-water charm that keeps you going.
Still, it is a slog at times, has to be said. I do struggle with the pacing and clues, and it is a bit meandering and unfocused at times. There’s so much of Nigel just slowly tramping along, slowly looking at things, slowly turning and slowly continuing, and another issue is how completely inscrutable it is. Nigel might be at sea here but I’m sunk. Its GameFAQ time. It’s one of those games that proudly doesn’t hold your hand, but sometimes you do need a bit of guidance to keep your energy levels up. There are times where its budget shows – sometimes it feels jammed together and the voices seem clipped or sown, giving Nigel the occasional air of William Shatner.
But I have to wind my neck in here - this is how classic adventure games are; I need to talk to a guy, but he’s grumpy because he wants his dinner. But his missus needs ingredients. So its off to the woods to find wild veg, then chop it, then stew it, and finally he’ll tell us something. That’s how point and click adventure games work. You’re supposed to tease your way through it, it doesn’t come to you and while it could do with some focus, that’s because I’m unfocused after years of games, even adventure games, doing the heavy lifting for me. I need to work for those ghosts, they don’t just appear. Or disappear.
I had so much fun with Nigel once it got going. It reminds me of something from Nigel Kneale like The Stone Tape or that original Central ITV production of Woman in Black, just so ‘every day’ yet bleak and foreboding. But it also reminds me of getting my head down and puzzling my way through an adventure and that sense of achievement when I aced it.
And, this was made by one guy, from “Cornwall, just off England” … The Darkling Room also created the Dark Fall series, and now I have to go buy those and everything else they’ve done. Their in-coming Glastonbury game looks awesome, but what I love is their commitment. They actually went on a ghost hunt to research this, and some of the recorded events are in the game – how’s that for emersion? And the ‘Saxton council’ website they created to support its release is not only still live, but the stuff of Blair Witch legend. It even has clickbait links. I’m actually 50/50 on if the place, and ghosts, are real.
I’m glad I gave up on this a decade ago, because now I can really appreciate it. This is a purist’s game, this is how adventure games are supposed to be – back in the day it would be subtitled ‘the graphic adventure’. Several times I thought ‘that’s enough,’ but then realise I’d not left and when I did quit, I was curious about what Nigel was going to uncover and went back, enjoying a bit of good old point and click. It’s just nice being a Nigel again.
This was so rewarding and it's done Blast from the Past proud - I've reconsidered my opinion and resolved to dust off some old point & click games. It’s a travesty this isn’t on the App Store. It kicks the ass of those god-awful ‘adventure mystery’ or hidden object games; being able to dip into this for a while on the commute would be amazing.