Lighthouse: The Dark Being

Myst Opportunity?

The dark being is not happy to see you.

The Dark Being is not happy to see you.

Lots of people have a bone to pick with Myst, but really it was the victim of its own success. Numerous games have flocked to copy the model, a result of developers believing that people wanted to play Myst over and over again. All you needed were a constant stream of photo-realistic renders, something about an evil force, a few uninspired puzzles thrown in here and there – mostly pulling levers, lining up symbols, adjusting knobs and that sort of thing – and you’re guaranteed to score. The puzzles in Myst clones ranged from pitifully easy to mind-numbingly obtuse, and Lighthouse easily establishes itself in the latter category.

It’s a shame, for the story does show some initial promise. You are a writer recently relocated to an area on the Oregon coast. Your neighbor, an eccentric scientist, lives just down the road in the old lighthouse. Staring outside the window one stormy night, you notice how the lighthouse gets violently struck by a lightning bolt and starts emanating a blue glow. You then receive a frantic phone call from the panicked doctor, who has apparently left his infant daughter Amanda home alone for some obscure reason.

Ignoring your impulse to call 911 to report the doctor’s reckless behavior, you collect every inventory item available and speed on over to the lighthouse. This being an adventure game, of course you can’t get in. But this tiny hurdle is easily overcome, and you arrive just in time to see baby Amanda whisked through a strange portal (into what you eventually discover is a parallel universe) by a vile creature. You are confronted with your first major decision: do you throw caution out the window and step into the portal? Or do you stick around to explore the lighthouse for some information? Either choice will ultimately lead you through the portal into a quest to foil the creature’s dark designs, and into one of the toughest adventures you’ll likely ever encounter.

The experience is in many ways extremely Myst-like, with multiple locations between which to travel, each with strange and mysterious devices, machines and vehicles to construct or repair; with strange and eerie ambient sound, wind and music – and usually nary a clue as to exactly what you are supposed to be doing.

10_1Above-average graphics in fully modeled 3D portray a highly complex world which is a pixel-picker’s paradise. The mouse cursor is painfully over-sized, even at a time when 15 inch monitors were all the rave, but greater folly is the utter lack of an intelligent cursor. You know – the sort that highlights or otherwise changes shape whenever you hover over an important item, thereby absolving you of an exhausting stream of pointless mouse clicks? For a game that has such obscure inventory items as pebbles on a beach, this is a huge oversight.

Some of the game’s big pluses are its non-linearity and the availability of multiple solutions to problems. There are also several endings, each of which one should try to see (if one ever gets that far). Unlike Myst, there are other characters with which to interact or combat – interesting ones, at that. Liryl in the Temple of Ancient Machines is particularly beguiling, and the Fortress gargoyle-looking monster nearly drove me insane. In fact, the entire experience nearly drove me insane. And this, I would say, is the game’s biggest problem.

Even those who like their puzzles difficult will experience many hours of frustration. Why? Simply because just about everything is utterly non-intuitive. Completing the game will almost certainly require an online walkthrough or the official strategy guide, and both the story and visual design, while quite appealing, are nothing we haven’t already seen in past games.

System Requirements: 33 Mhz CPU, 8 MB RAM, 512k SVGA Card, Windows 3.1

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