In this dark horror game inspired by the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, you take on the role of William Stanton, living in Providence, RI, in 1927. The adventure starts when your friend Edgar Wycherly hands you a strange object accompanied by a cryptic explanation. You then learn from Dr. Egleton that Edgar has been acting strangely and he implores you to discover the cause. From that point, you're thrown into a dark mystery as you learn of and attempt to stop the horrors surrounding Edgar.
Necronomicon features the by-now familiar game engine as other DreamCatcher Interactive adventure titles such as Dracula Resurrection, The Messenger, and Dracula: The Last Sanctuary. Unfortunately, it fails to deliver the gripping storyline and enticing graphics seen in those other horror tales. While the animation scenes are interesting, no subtitles or in-game notes are offered. In fact, many of the objects in your inventory have no corresponding description, leaving you to discover their meaning and usefulness.
The first noticeable obstacle is the darkness of the screens. Even with brightness and contrast adjusted, Necronomicon can only be played in a very dark room. Mazes can be especially frustrating due to the dark nature of the graphics, and some consist of merely panning the mouse around to discover hotspots. Puzzles range from very easy to difficult, and are solved not only by picking up objects and using them in the correct place, but also by reading text, listening to other characters, and keeping a sharp eye out for other clues.
Dialog with other characters can be difficult to hear, and with no option for subtitles or replay, this element is frustrating and unnecessary, a product of poor game design. Because of the lack of user-friendly help, you'll need to take copious notes to remember names, dates, and places the NPCs mention in conversation. Necronomicon features very linear gameplay, and progress slows to a crawl when you're unable to find the next elusive clue to further the storyline.
Graphics: Inventory screens are graphically intense, but many objects don't have descriptions. The game engine provides full panoramic views of each room, leaving ample places to hide clues or objects. Many locations are so dark you'll have to play at night in a darkened room.
Sound: The background music tries to inspire the bleak horror of the game, but lacks substance. Background noises such as wind or doors and drawers opening and closing are standard. Character conversations can be difficult to understand.
Enjoyment: The puzzles are original and unusual and draw from text within the game as well as some common knowledge. The pace stagnates when you're stuck finding the next elusive clue due to linear gameplay.
Replay Value: Death can occur during only a few select scenarios; with the linear nature of the story and gameplay and few options to deviate from the chosen path, replay is weak.
Necronomicon: The Dawn of Darkness (also known as Necronomicon: The Gateway to Beyond) is an adventure game developed by French game company Wanadoo Edition. According to the developer, the game is inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft's writing, which is commonly coined "weird fiction", is a subgenre of speculative fiction that blends themes of supernatural, myth, fantasy, and horror. Today, there is a large cult following the Cthulhu Mythos, a series of loosely interconnected fiction from Lovecraft that includes the Necronomicon - a fictional grimoire (a textbook of magic) of magical rites and forbidden lore.
The first appearance of the Necronomicon is in The Hound, a short story written by Lovecraft in 1924. It is also mentioned several times again in his later writings. The word Necronomicon is derived from a trio of Greek roots: "nekros" meaning dead, "nomos" meaning law, and "eikon" meaning image. Translated from the Greek language, Necronomicon means literally "image of the law of the dead" - or more loosely translated, "book of the names of the dead".
The game begins in Providence, Rhode Island (coincidentally, the birthplace of Lovecraft) in 1927. You play the role of the protagonist, William Stanton. While sitting in the drawing room of your old white weatherboard house, you hear a knock at the front door. You answer the door. Standing there is your friend Edgar Wycherley, looking distraught and alarmed. He quickly places a stone pyramid in your hands, instructing you to never give it to anybody, including himself, even if he asks back for it later on. He then leaves you with no explanation. Soon after, you hear another knock at the door. You answer the door again. This time, a doctor named Robert Egleton introduces himself. He wants to speak to you about Edgar and his concerns of Edgar's father. The doctor tells you that he believes Edgar is suffering from insane delirium and needs to be committed to an institution.
Edgar and his father are living somewhere in Pawtuxet, a small coastal town nearby. Concerned, you motor to Pawtuxet to try to find Edgar. You discover a somber, almost gothic seaside town that is old and run down. There are very few people to be seen there. The few people whom you meet are inhospitable and are unwilling to help you. Only Ma Brady offers you any assistance. Soon, you find yourself on a long paper chase, trying to locate Edgar and to understand why the town people are acting so strangely.
You learn of the Old Ones (also referenced in Lovecraft's writing), an ancient extraterrestrial race once lived on Earth before humans. For millennia, they inhabit the Ancient City. Somehow, Edgar has stumbled on an artifact left long ago by these beings. However, tracking down the ancient race has taken its toll on Edgar, to the point of his own insanity. Now, you must find the lost city and destroy it, before the beings can return to reclaim Earth. If you fail, the world will face a cataclysm, spelling an end to the human race.
At the core, this game plays as a first-person point-and-click adventure. However, many of the cinematic cut scenes that are in this game are shown from a third-person perspective. There are 16 characters with whom you can interact in the game. Some of the characters are admittedly bizarre. They include a corpse, a person you raise from the dead, and even a talking brain named Brain. The voiceovers of these characters (all of which are lip-synced) are generally excellent. By contrast, the appearances of these characters are very wooden. They are also animated with very exaggerated movements.
The overall production value of this game is as uneven as it is much bittersweet, in that some parts are done excellently but other parts are done very poorly. The game supports only a fixed resolution of 640x480 pixels, though such resolution is a norm for a game release of its time. Upon starting a new game, you are presented with a basic menu: New Game, Save (only 8 game save slots are available), Load, Credits, and Exit. There is no option menu to adjust system settings. The game comes with a manual that explains the main interface, including the use of the game's 8 contextual cursors.
Alas, navigating in this game is difficult despite the plethora of cursors. The directional cursor also doubles as a hotspot finder. The game uses a nodal system for navigation. At any node, you can pan around in full 360° to the left and right as well as up and down. Because the majority of the game takes place in dark rooms or pitch black mazes, the only means of navigation is by blindly locating these hotspots. Fortunately, there is a map which you will acquire early on in the game. Once you have been to a certain location, you can click on the map and be transported to there again immediately. This saves a lot of time from walking or riding a motorcycle to get different locations. The game makes use of 38 items that are stored in the inventory. Once an item is used and is no longer needed, it disappears from the inventory.
The pre-rendered graphics in this game are generally excellent. Most scenes have a muted color palette, befitting the Lovecraftian theme. Despite the low resolution, they are effective and clear. The game oozes atmosphere and lends a lot of tension, particularly when you inch your way along the many dark, dank tunnels that are deep underground.
The ambient sounds in this game are effective in some scenes but irritating in other scenes. There is very little in the way of instrumental or musical scores. The introduction has a small percussion score with a strong beating of drums. In almost every outdoor scene, you hear a monotonous drone of a howling wind, similar to the sounds of tumbleweeds blowing through a ghost town in old western movies. As you progress through the underground tunnels, the sounds turn to an effective chilling, eerie, and mysterious score. By contrast, the scores playing to the end credits are disco music that is totally inappropriate for the time period of the game. The many sound effects in this game are well done, including the sounds of dripping water, howling wind, crashing waves, cries of seagulls, and grating stones.
Gameplay in this game is overly linear. You cannot progress in any way unless every task has been done in a predetermined and strict order. For example, at the start of the game, you cannot leave your house until you have spoken to Edgar and Dr Egleton and have obtained a number of necessary items. To this end, you know you have done all the tasks correctly if you can leave a particular location and continue onto the next location. As well, other characters will not speak to you unless you have found the items they need from you. In other words, if you ever walk off the white line, the game comes immediately to a crashing halt.
My biggest gripe with this game is its puzzles. The game has 13 or so major puzzles, but the nature of most of these puzzles is both irritating and abhorrent. Opening doors and lock mechanisms are logical and can be easily solved with careful observations taken previously throughout the game. The numerous maze puzzles, however, are played in complete darkness, with only a directional cursor to help you. Worst yet, there is no logic at all involved in finding your way through these mazes, and it is not possible to map your progress given that you easily get disorientated while panning around trying to navigate. Further, these mazes are full of death holes which you can fall through and die, often unexpectedly. Some of the puzzles are also timed, with a very short timer. The final puzzle is a timed puzzle for which you are given no clues to its solution throughout the entire game. I distinctly abhor the trial-and-error approach which is often the only viable strategy to the puzzles. As you can die many deaths, it is imperative that you make your game saves regularly, lest your progress will vanish in an instant.
In sum, Necronomicon: The Dawn of Darkness is a game that I can neither recommend nor condemn. There are a lot of zeniths to savor in the story, but the nadirs come in the form of too many mazes, timed sequences, and illogical puzzles. The premise is enticing, but the execution is flawed. For me, the good points more often outweigh the bad points on the balance for the game.
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