Lighthouse: The Dark Being

Posted by Eran Cohen.
First posted on 19 July 2009. Last updated on 04 January 2014.
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Lighthouse: The Dark Being
It is a dark and stormy night.
Lighthouse: The Dark Being
The journey begins at a lighthouse in a parallel universe.
Lighthouse: The Dark Being
Complex machineries must be deciphered and activated.
Lighthouse: The Dark Being
A wind chime sways delicately in the breeze.
Lighthouse: The Dark Being
It is no surprise that the desk is always cluttered.

Edward George Bulwer-Lytton was a notable English writer, politician, and nobleman in the 19th century. While his political career spanned decades, he was best remembered for his literary works, such as The Last Days of Pompeii, Pelham, and The Coming Race. His writings, however, had often been criticized as overly dramatic, extravagant, and florid. The opening to his novel, Paul Clifford, had set the now infamous exemplar,

"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."

Lighthouse: The Dark Being begins on a similar dark and stormy night.

Upon arriving home, you find an excited message on your answering machine from your friend and neighbor, Professor Jeremiah Krick. He is a scientist who lives with his baby daughter, Amanda, in a nearby lighthouse. He studies inter-dimensional travel and has discovered a portal to a parallel universe. In his message, he urges you to come over to help to investigate a mysterious sighting from the portal. Once near the lighthouse, however, you suspect that something is amiss. Jeremiah is gone, the electrical power is out, and Amanda is left alone crying in her crib. Suddenly, a strange, manlike creature appears from the portal and kidnaps Amanda. Determined to bring Amanda and Jeremiah back home, you go through the portal and into the strange, mysterious world which awaits you.

Lighthouse: The Dark Being is a first-person, point-and-click adventure game published by Sierra On-Line in 1996. Prior to installation, the game performs a system check to verify that it complies with the minimum system requirements. If it does not, a message will be displayed detailing the problems and suggestions for resolving them. Once verified, installation will commence.

The game immediately sets you in your living room. You may walk around, listen to your answering machine, and retrieve various items from your desks and drawers. Here, you can familiarize with the game's navigation interface and inventory handling. Walking through the front door, keys in hand, towards your car triggers the game's title sequence. When this is over, you will find yourself in front of the professor's house.

The game plays entirely from a first-person perspective in a slideshow format. It means that your viewpoint of each location is limited to preset images. Neither scrolling nor panning sideways is possible. For most locations, this fixed view is adequate, but there are some locations where a view from a different angle may prove more helpful in solving a puzzle or finding an inventory item.

The game is largely linear. There are some optional paths along the way, but they all converge at a point or another. Story progresses in a predefined path, and it cannot be changed. There are also no alternative endings, regardless of the choices you make during gameplay.

Navigation utilizes arrow shaped directional cursors that are displayed on screen. They are quite large, thus eliminating the need to hunt for them all over the screen. There are, however, a couple of quirks with this navigation interface. First, in what is atypical for an adventure game, the cursor does not highlight when hovering over hotspots. The consequential invisible hotspots can hinder gameplay significantly. Fortunately, a patch of the game later released adds an option for a highlighting cursor as well as a built-in hint system. Second, the directional cursor is too pixel sensitive. Since main screen is rather small, there is often no place where the cursor stays neutral (that is, a cursor which does not indicate any movement or action). A few pixels off the exact spot will yield a different cursor leading to an undesired action (for example, pointing back instead of right). This is not a critical issue, but it can sometimes cause confusion and needless backtracking.

The game screen is divided into the main screen and the inventory bar. Most of the screen in the center is the main screen, where exploration takes place. To be exact, the main view of the current location is displayed in this part of the screen, but whenever you perform a specific action, such as opening a drawer, a small window pops up to show the action being carried out. When this is finished, the window is closed automatically. However, I find the popup windows to be a little annoying.

Underneath the main screen is the inventory bar, which is always visible. The game menu is accessible by clicking the lighthouse icon on the bottom left. Recently picked or used items are displayed along the bottom middle. Clicking on the handbag icon on the bottom right opens up the inventory to display previously stored items. Once an item has been used, it is automatically removed from the inventory. Thus, there is no option to use the same item again, even if such use makes sense. When the handbag is opened, all items in it are displayed on screen at once, to the point of obstructing the main screen almost completely. Like the popup windows, I find this to be rather distracting. Instead, I prefer a scrolling inventory bar.

The game's graphics range from very good to excellent. The world is better looking in the parallel universe, where it has certain dreamlike, surreal qualities. Even in there, however, the graphics seem unpolished for some locations, failing to deliver the grandeur of the area and its surroundings. The parallel universe thus feels smaller and less wondrous than what it initially appears to be. The fact that the game world is navigated through entirely as a slideshow (thus not truly node based) probably contributes to this feeling of confinement. A freely roaming game world may deliver the intended sense of true scope of the landscape, though this is likely not possible technologically at the time of the game's release.

Animations are used selectively in short cut scenes as well as background scenes that are otherwise static. Only a few items in the background scenes are animated. There are no swaying trees, though the ocean is always animated wherever it is visible. Still, these small visual touches add to the sense of reality of the game worlds—a wind chime swinging delicately, a bird hovering outside a closed window, or a fire crackling in a fireplace. The animated drawers and cabinets are especially well done: they are never empty, just like in real life. As you sift through the miscellaneous items to find the desired item, the unusable items are animated in such as a way as to give you a feeling of rummaging through the pile.

Repeating musical stanzas comprise the in-game music. The tone and mood change as you travel between your own and the parallel universe. In your own universe, the music has a more dramatic, down to earth tone that still manages to evoke a sense of the mysteries lying ahead. In the parallel universe, the music has a more abstract, relaxed, and dreamy tone that gets darker toward the end. Though the stanzas are short, they are never boring or tiresome, and they contribute to the game's atmosphere. Sometimes, there is a short gap (about a second or so) between the current stanza fading out and the next stanza fading in. This silence, albeit short, is quite noticeable, though it does not interfere with the overall immersion of the game. Sound effects are realistic. From a clattering of some bolts and nuts in a drawer to the gentle lapping of the ocean waves, everything in the game worlds sounds as it is expected. Verbal interaction with game characters is sparse. For most of the game, you will roam around in solitude. Voice acting, where present, is good.

The puzzles are well integrated into the game. They are very logical, serving the story well and adding credibility to its unlikely premise. The puzzles range in difficulty from medium to difficult. For a puzzle early in the game, there is even a hidden automatic solution. The puzzles are of a wide variety, including slider and maze puzzles in addition to inventory puzzles. The game seems to have an unexplained fondness for bizarre locks that are ubiquitous. While the locks themselves are imaginative and challenging, the task of unlocking yet another lock gets tiresome pretty quickly. The reward for opening a lock can sometimes be disappointing, unworthy of the effort you may have spent. For instance, there is a large lock which, after much fumbling with levers and handles, simply releases a small disc. The disc contains tidbits of back story about the parallel universe and its inhabitants, but this information is not necessary to complete the game. The game (after installing the patch) features a built-in hint system that is accessible through the game menu. In general, the system is helpful in understanding the goal of the puzzles or shedding new light on the their inner logic or background. There are, however, some instances when the hint is only a single sentence long ("There is no help for this screen.").

The latter part of the game, until the very end, is a large maze that neatly integrates all other kinds of puzzles. It is an exciting sequence to play. You move around it in some sort of a subterranean drill, exploring its darkest corners in a race to save Amanda and Jeremiah from the Dark Being.

Although the story is admittedly unoriginal, it has enough mystery in it to keep you curious about what is going to happen next. It also develops slowly in crescendo until the climatic ending. The ending wraps up any loose ending and concludes the story. It is relaxed, calming, but also clich├ęd. I have expected more, perhaps some deeper understanding of the parallel universe or intriguing informative tidbits to ponder over, even some unanswered questions, paving the way to a possible sequel in the future.

All in all, Lighthouse: The Dark Being is a decent adventure game. There is a sincere effort invested in it to try to deliver an entertaining gaming experience. Beyond the few faults and a lack of polish, the game makes for a particularly challenging brain teaser even for experienced adventure gamers.

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