The Lost Crown: A Ghost-Hunting Adventure
First posted on 01 June 2011. Last updated on 30 January 2013.
The game is available at GamersGate.
Ghosts and evil spirits had been a part of our human culture for millennia, dating back to the time of King Gilgamesh (circa 2700 BCE). Herodotus (circa 484-425 BCE) wrote about ghost stories that were carved into clay tablets by King Gilgamesh. Homer first penned stories of ghosts (circa 850 BCE) in his epic poem, Epic of Gilgamesh, followed later by Ovid and Pliny.
Today, we use séances, Ouija boards, crystal balls, and other modern-day technological devices including E.V.P. (Electronic Voice Phenomena) recorders, night light camcorders, digital cameras, and even voice recorders, all in the hope of making contact with ghosts, the supernatural, and the paranormal.
Jonathan Boakes, an indie game developer and an avid believer in the paranormal, released his first adventure game on ghost hunting in 2002 titled Dark Fall. The game attracted a cult following and prompted Boakes to release a sequel in 2004 titled Dark Fall II: Lights Out. Critical praise and acclaim on the series subsequently earned Boakes recognition as a respected developer of games about the paranormal. This led Boakes to his next game project, The Lost Crown: A Ghost-Hunting Adventure.
To research for the project, Boakes hosted a ghost hunting party on Halloween night as well as extensively traveled the English coastal regions of the east and south west. Very much an avid photographer, Boakes took countless photographs of historical monuments and locations to be used in the making of the game.
The Lost Crown: A Ghost-Hunting Adventure is a classic third-person point-and-click adventure game. The game's story unfolds over 5 days, with each day further divided into morning, afternoon and night.
The opening scene shows a hidden person sitting in a chair, watching a huge control panel with many monitors seemingly used for video surveillance. The protagonist of the game is Nigel Danvers, an employee who works for a mogul named Hadden, owner of Hadden Industries. Hadden, who believes in the paranormal and supernatural, has developed sophisticated technological equipments to detect and capture their occurrences.
Soon, one of the monitors shows a surveillance image of a train berthed in a station. Elsewhere, an incident has occurred within Hadden Industries, where Nigel has been accused of stealing confidential equipments and is forced to run from the detectives who are now chasing him. Nigel alights from a train at a remote station named Sedgemarsh, late at night. He appears disheveled, with no recollection of how he has traveled there or where he is now. After talking to the station master, Nigel finds that he is trapped by the surging water from the English coast, in the low lying fen area.
Nigel negotiates his way through the fens, the dark caves, and the isolated beaches, to discover a town named Saxton. There, he meets the town's denizens, rents an old house, and meets up with a young woman named Lucy Reubans. Nigel also finds out that there is an annual treasure hunt in town and hopes to discover the lost treasure. Yet, when Nigel and Lucy uncovers insurmountable proof that the rented cottage is haunted, they discover that they are both pawns in a chess game of a larger scheme and are closely monitored by Hadden himself. Hadden phones the cottage and advises Nigel of the arrival of a mysterious package, containing highly developed paranormal equipments that will allow Nigel and Lucy to sense what otherwise cannot be sensed, to hear what otherwise cannot be heard, and to see what otherwise cannot be seen.
You, as Nigel, must now investigate the macabre, search the dark woods, discover who has been torturing all of the town's cats, and explore the crumbling Saxton architecture dating back to the Roman invasion. Eventually, you will unravel a compelling tale that is steeped with history, both real and fictitious. While there are some good and helpful ghosts to encounter, you must also be wary of pure evil and impending death.
Installation of the game is very simple and straightforward. The settings for the game are very basic. The game automatically detects the display device in your hardware. You are given a choice to select color depth (16-bit or 32-bit) and antialiasing settings (none, 2x, or 4x). There are no provisions for volume, brightness, video resolution, or other advanced graphical controls.
You begin the game by clicking on the tarot card that first appears on screen. You then select whether or not to enable subtitles. Mouse control is very simplistic. There are only 3 cursors available. A long arrow selects which direction you choose to travel, a magnifying glass allows you to observe an object, and a short arrow with a curved tail enables you to begin a conversation with another character, to use an object from the inventory, or to simply pick up an object. The paucity of controls in the interface, however, is not a detriment to the playing of this game.
Dialog interaction in the game is easy. There is a list of questions on screen which you can ask any of the characters. Some of the questions are repetitive. Depending on the responses you receive, another dialog list may appear until the line of investigation is exhausted. When you return to the initial dialog choices, some of them may be repeated. You may neglect those choices and continue through the other choices which you have not yet asked.
I am most impressed with the overall production of the game, which is exceptional. It is clear that Boakes has spent endless hours seeking out locations across England and taking countless photographs to use as set backgrounds in the game. The architecture is typically English and typical of seaside locations around Polperro and Looe on the Cornwall Coast.
The game features a cast of almost 30 characters whom you can interact with. The characters are actually 3D rendered models of Boakes and his production crew. Boakes models himself for the leading character, Nigel, from physical looks and features, right down to the voice for that character (as well as others). Other crew members are used to model other characters as well as their voices. Boakes has also added a personal touch to the production by including some of his own home movies as brief video clips in the game. The voiceovers are typically English, lending some authenticity to the period, location, and setting to the game. Boakes has chosen not to hire professional actors for the voices, and he and his crew can hardly be faulted for making their own contribution.
The overall plot is sound and exceptionally well written. The game never reveals too much too quick, always dangling that proverbial carrot in front of you to continue playing and keep you interested.
The game is created using the Wintermute Engine. The engine gives the flexibility of mixing real-time 3D characters and 2D backgrounds. The game supports a native resolution of 1024x768 pixels.
The game's music and sound effects are superb. The background music is mysterious, chilling, and haunting, which complements perfectly the theme of the game. The sound effects are very realistic, from the neighing of a horse to the chirpings of sea gulls to the gentle lapping of waves against the shore.
The special effects used throughout the game are also worthy of a mention. The continual wafting of the sea mist across the beach and town is incredibly realistic. The appearances of ghosts and paranormal entities forming on mirrors or in open spaces are superb. A particularly creative special effect is the use of night vision. If a location is too dark to enter, Nigel will say, "It's too dark to go in here." He will then turn on his night vision camcorder, and you will see your way around through the green hue from the camcorder.
A large of the special effects in the game is the color, or rather lack of. The game is basically in black-and-white, with varying shades of grey. Within each scene, there are splashes of color scattered throughout, such as a few flower petals, a dragon fly in the fens, or a patch of blue sky. I am not sure what Boakes' intentions are here: whether or not the black-and-white palette conveys an aura of yesteryears (as in the era of black-and-white television). Boakes may have tried to give the impression of the old days from a bygone era. Ghosts only ever seem to appear at night or in dim surroundings, which may be another reason for the lack of color in the game. I personally believe that the black-and-white motif helps to add to the mystery and the atmosphere of the game.
The game features many well integrated cut scenes, especially at the end of the day when Nigel goes to bed and dreams of nightmares. These cut scenes are done very well and bridge gaps in the story to give it a flowing continuity.
There are some 8 major puzzles to solve and some 168 inventory objects to find in total. Some of the puzzles, such as navigating around the churchyard at night or playing the right tune on the organ are quite challenging. Other puzzles are much easier. None of the puzzles are so difficult, however, that you will simply give up and quit in frustration. All the puzzles can be solved using logic and a bit of ingenuity as well as taking careful notice of clues presented to you. Thankfully, there are no puzzles that can only be solved by trial and error.
The game is very linear, wherein important events have to be triggered and tasks have to be done in a strict order. Unless these critical goals are accomplished, you cannot progress onward in the game. For example, when you leave the church in the still of the night and head back to Saxton, Nigel will either say, "I have not got enough information yet." or "I have got everything I need now." You will not be permitted to leave unless you go back and find the required objects. Similarly, if you are looking through a building for clues, you will be prevented from leaving unless you have secured the required information.
The game has a number of minor flaws. First, even though the character models and the voiceovers are nearly flawless, lip-synch is nonexistent at worst and bad at best. Second, the movements of the characters as they walk are, for the most parts, poorly animated. Nigel, in particular, looks as though he glides over the terrain like a hovercraft. Last, and perhaps the most annoying fault, is how slowly all of the characters walk everywhere. There is a lot of walking and exploration in this game, and the speed at which Nigel strolls across the beach or along the Coast Road is akin to a sloth taking a break over a 10-yard dash. Not infrequently, you will find yourself waiting impatiently for the characters to painstakingly reach their destinations.
This is a huge game, almost of epic proportion in length. There is a good 35-45 hours of playing time here. The game is fairly realistic in its approach to modern day paranormal investigations. Although paranormal skeptics will likely find fault with the game's underlying premise, gamers who are willing to suspend their beliefs will find the game enjoyable. I do not recommend the game to younger gamers who may be prone to nightmares. Parental guidance is also advised for the young and preteens.
In sum, The Lost Crown: A Ghost-Hunting Adventure is an exceptional game that fits perfectly to the niche taste of adventure game fanatics and history buffs. The game features excellent graphics, music, and sound effects as well as engaging storytelling and gameplay. The ending of the game leaves open for the possibility for a sequel, and I sincerely believe Boakes already has this in mind. I have thoroughly enjoyed this game and can definitely recommend it without hesitation or reservation to mature gamers who may fancy in going on a ghost-hunting adventure of their own.