Last Half of Darkness: Beyond the Spirit's Eye
First posted on 26 September 2008. Last updated on 29 July 2012.
There had been a number of horror games released over the years. Among the earliest was Infogrames' Alone in the Dark (1993). It was a third person action adventure game and the first of its kind to use real-time polygons to create a 3D game world. Later games, such as Resident Evil and Silent Hill, extended this distinctive play style, and the genre grew to what was eventually known as survival horror. While games of this genre were more action than adventure oriented, they still possessed many traits of the classic adventure genre like the inventory and puzzle solving.
By contrast, Trilobyte's The 7th Guest (1993) and its sequel The 11th Hour: The sequel to The 7th Guest (1995) were examples of adventure games that were puzzles games with a horror theme but did not belong to the survival horror genre. Both games used pre-rendered 3D graphics mixed with live action Full Motion Videos. The 7th Guest was among the earliest computer game titles to be released only on CD-ROM and helped considerably to herald in the era of CD-ROM technology on the personal computer. In fact, the popular game was bundled with countless number of CD-ROM drives sold in the early 1990s. Sadly, like so many game companies of that era, Trilobyte did not survive too long.
Last Half of Darkness was also a series with quite a history of its own. The original version of Last Half of Darkness was released back in 1989. More than 15 years later, in 2005, a heavily modified sequel was finally released called Last Half of Darkness: Shadows of the Servant. Last Half of Darkness: Beyond the Spirit's Eye was the second installment in this renewed series. All the games were created more or less by a single developer named William R. Fisher (or Bill Fisher), under his own label WRF Studios.
Where does Last Half of Darkness: Beyond the Spirit's Eye fit in? The Last Half of Darkness series resembles The 7th Guest series in many ways. The series is pure adventure, and the games include many logic puzzles with a clearly horror theme. There are no live action videos, but there are plenty of pre-rendered 3D animated sequences and cut scenes.
This time, an evil force known only as the "Eye" has taken over a little town called Shadowcrest. A small introduction to what has happened is given inside the game package in a letter from a Madam Ze Hira. In the letter, she links the past events of New Orleans from the last game to the coming of the undead creatures in this game. She pleads for your (the player's) help to solve the crisis which the town is now facing, and she has enclosed a token as a payment in advance.
The game package also includes a journal from Dr. Benzor, in where he describes briefly about how his friend is becoming ill and how he suspects that he is becoming under the control of a dark force. As a scientist, he tries to find a cure but has encountered an impasse. This journal is also used as a kind of copy protection, invoked only near the very end of the game. Several tips are also given there on how and where to find items you need to solve the puzzles in this game.
The interface is very standard. Only a single mouse button is needed in most cases to examine and use items. The right mouse button is only used in the inventory located at the bottom of the screen to examine items more closely. The left mouse button is also used in the inventory to combine items. Conversations are triggered by clicking on the different choices in a simple dialog tree. The few dialogs that are there in the game are always linear, and lines are delivered in sequence after each click.
Navigating around the town can be confusing. In some scenes, you can move in several directions, and you can turn around by clicking on the right or left edge of the screen. Some of these steps have animated transitions, while others are simply jump cuts. The latter shift makes it difficult to know how far you have turned, and it is easy to lose your orientation. With few exceptions (for example, where you glide), if you move forward, you will jump to the next scene. Because you cannot turn around in many of the scenes, you must back out in the same way and facing the same direction as you enter. The size of the town is not big: it is easy to scour through the scenes from all the locales, though it may be more difficult to remember which scenes are linked together when you need to backtrack.
In most cases, you solve the puzzles simply by finding the documents hidden in some other locations that will tell you what you need to do, such as pushing some buttons somewhere in some specific order. In a few cases, you are left on your own. The puzzles are never too difficult if you know of the objectives. They are not standalone puzzles as those in The 7th Guest, but they are not as challenging either.
Is the atmosphere scary? After all, this is supposed to be a horror game. The answer depends very much on your perception and expectation. First, there are the dark surroundings, and the game is set at constant nighttime. Second, there is the background music, most of which are ambient gloomy sound bites. Last, there are the spooky sound effects, such as thunder and blowing winds. All these together aim to create a very creepy ambience. The developer even suggests that you play the game at night, with all the lights turned off and the sound volume turned up, to maximize their effects. Whether you will find the game scary depends if you are easily scared or not.
The voiceovers are very rudimentary but have a constant echoing clang to enhance the ghostly effect. In fact, there are very few voices in this game, as the town is mostly deserted. For the few characters with whom you can have a brief conversation, they only provide you with just a little information to learn about some more of the game's backstory.
The game supports a maximum resolution of only 800x600 pixels. This necessarily limits the graphical quality of the game. Most of the horror effects in the game are delivered in the form of flashes and animated sequences. The undead creatures are not very scary looking by themselves (beyond the initial shock value), thus there is never any true sense of danger that may be felt during an encounter.
The system requirements for the game are really low, and the game runs well even in outdated hardware (down to Intel Pentium III) and operating systems (down to Microsoft Windows 95). Still, when you take into account how this game compares to other adventure games developed more than a decade ago, the lack of any technical innovation is not at all impressive. What is impressive, however, is the game credit. Aside from the 2 names credited with making the music and 1 name credited with doing additional voices, the rest of the game is all credited to Bill Fisher himself. To make a game of this size and scope more or less in solo is a truly impressive feat, regardless whether this game lives up to the standard of other adventure games released in the same era.
Last Half of Darkness: Beyond the Spirit's Eye is a game that can be recommenced if you like to be scared, if you are not too hard to be scared, or if you enjoy a bit of nostalgia from old-time adventure gameplay. Otherwise, you may end up judging this indie production as a game that has been lost in time from the 1990s and is released more than a decade too late.