The Dark Eye
Faulty as a game, wonderfully surreal as a story.
The Dark Eye isn’t what you might call frightening – nor is it really trying to be – but it most definitely strikes a sensitive chord and instills a sense of dread within the player. Nothing will jump out of the bushes and scream in your face here, but instead the game panders its more subtle chills through story, evolving characters and a continuous morbid feel. In a certain sense it’s like walking through a dark, twisted version of a Dali or Picasso painting – the imagery is so surreal, the narrative so dreamlike and the characters so twisted that you can’t help but be fascinated by the weirdness around you.
“A Dream Within A Dream”
Part of why the drama is so hauntingly effective has to do with the works of Edgar Allan Poe, one of the most prolific and wretchedly unfortunate gothic horror writers there ever was. Several of his finest short stories were meaningfully stitched into the game – The Tell-Tale Heart, Berenice and The Cask of Amontillado, and the game plot tying it all borrows elements from such works as The Fall of the House of Usher. Familiarizing yourself with these works beforehand can be effective, not only because Poe’s narrative is bone-chilling but also since it helps you understand what the game wants you to do.
First thing to notice is the visual style. Characters in The Dark Eye are hideous, distorted caricatures rendered in stop-motion, an artistic choice that helps push that surreal atmosphere. The voice acting is quite professional but the real chills come from the morbid clay puppets themselves – looking at their dark, hollow, eye-gauged stares it’s easy to see why. The animation is competent but most of it is woefully undone, as evidenced by character movements (or lack thereof) and cemented facial features – even when a pleading Fortunato is entombed alive, he still keeps his petrified grimace on.
The game doesn’t treat Poe’s stories in an episodic manner, but rather involves a little backdrop narrative weaving his unrelated short works together (quite ingeniously, in fact). As a nameless gentlemen out in a field, you find yourself entering a drafty old house. There seems to be no furniture here, and the walls are scribbled everywhere with nondescript handwriting. Your relatives live in this insane asylum… you first find your uncle gleefully engaged in his oil painting, when, inhaling too much of his paint thinner, you fall into a trance and enter a dreamlike state. Exploring the dream world, you find that catching glimpses of your own hideous reflection now transports you across time and space into the souls of other characters, and (conveniently enough) into other storylines.
The manner of which this is treated is quite clever, allowing you to unravel stories from the perspective of different characters in a non-linear fashion. So when playing The Tell-Tale Heart, you can play as both the soup-slurping old man or his methodical murderer. The fact that you can play as both victim and killer adds considerably to the horror, but can do next to nothing to alter anyone’s ultimate fate. There’s only one way to complete each storyline whichever character you play as, making it all a linear affair in the end.
While The Dark Eye tries to be a conventional point and click adventure, there are surprisingly few puzzles to be had. Walking around everywhere, examining items and doing other seemingly random actions will occasionally trigger the game to push the story onward. In some instances, you have to wait for some time to pass until the next phase of the story is triggered. More annoying are the bugs and random crashes, and the constant dissolving effect making the game look more glitchy than edgy. Although I’ve brushed through the puzzles without issues, a few random crashes were experienced. But when there’s pleasure to be had here, there’s quite a lot, although it’s mostly through atmosphere and not gameplay.
The characters and scenery are impressively surreal and the story appropriately dark, so if you’re looking for a more bizarre take on horror adventure gaming then The Dark Eye is something most definitely worth musing over. Although faulty as a game, there’s definitely some genius to it.
System Requirements: Intel 80486 66 Mhz CPU, 8 MB RAM, Windows 95
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