Darkness Within 2: The Dark Lineage
First posted on 14 July 2010. Last updated on 07 August 2010.
Darkness Within 2: The Dark Lineage is a brilliant and worthy sequel to Darkness Within: In Pursuit of Loath Nolder. Unlike the original game, this sequel features 3D real-time graphics that supports nVidia's proprietary PhysX engine, which allows for not only convincing 3D environments with dynamic shadows and lighting but also lets the player push, pull, and throw 3D objects within the game world. The atmosphere is very spooky and immersive. The writing is superb, with a story and setting inspired by H.P. Lovecraft. All in all, Darkness Within 2: The Dark Lineage is an enjoyable adventure for any gamer who also likes horror fiction.
The sequel picks up where the first game has left off. You are Howard Loreid, a former police detective from an ancient family. Soon after the game begins, Howard is drugged, then freed from a mental institution, and informed by Loath Nolder that he must travel to the remote village of Arkhamend—where developments concerning his family legacy demand his immediate, undivided attention. Once there, Howard begins to unravel the story of the Loreids, eventually learning that the unholy machinations of his grandfather have doomed him to a terrible fate. The intricate story is expertly paced and intriguing to the end, when the player must decide Howard's ultimate fate (the game features 2 possible endings). Not all of Howard's ancestors have taken his grandfather's side, though. The many diaries and letters Howard finds gradually reveal a dark history but also moments of self-sacrifice—particularly from his ill-fated grandmother. These small touches add a great deal of interest to the story, adding poignancy to an already gripping tale of family intrigue. In other games of this subgenre, the villain is often remote and detached, serving only as a target for the player to vanquish. In this game, by contrast, the villain is richly implicated in the plot. Dead or not, Howard's grandfather as well as a more distant ancestor are very active forces in the game.
The graphics in Darkness Within 2: The Dark Lineage are excellent, with carefully detailed environments and eerie lighting effects. The spooky Victorian mansions and ancient buildings which Howard explores seem quite realistic. This is the perfect game to play all alone in the dark—preferably after the stroke of midnight. Lovecraft often describes unthinkably ancient ruins and dark forces so terrible that the human mind is simply too fragile to grasp their implications. Likewise, this game wrestles with the line between sanity and insanity, and it is not always clear whether Howard is dreaming or hallucinating. However, even Howard's most bizarre and disturbing visions contain important clues. At times, Howard's vision will become blurry, signaling his fear or nervousness. Although Howard spends most of the journey alone, he will eventually encounter a few characters later in the game. The animation of these characters, however few, is also quite good.
The music and sound in Darkness Within 2: The Dark Lineage fit the game perfectly. The music is precisely what is expected from a horror game: dark and somber, more ambient than melodic. A frantic heartbeat plays whenever Howard is scared, and faint whisperings and wolf howls added to the tension. I keep expecting to turn around and find a wolf or spirit staring back at me!
Of course, no adventure game is complete without puzzles to challenge a player's intellect. Fortunately, Darkness Within 2: The Dark Lineage is no straggler in this domain, either. Most of the puzzles are based on observation. The player will need to read journals, notes, and books very carefully to find clues about how to operate machinery, mix chemicals, and where to search for hidden items and entrances. A built-in hint system with 3 levels of difficulty enables novice players to quickly find the relevant passages in the many texts that Howard accumulates. In fact, I recommend the Standard mode (the easiest level) even for advanced players, since there is little fun in the trial-and-error clicking required to find the clues hidden in large manuscripts. Further, not all of the puzzles (such as the door with a combination lock) must be solved to advance in the game. What I most like about these puzzles in this game is that they all relate directly to the story. Even better, there are "Easter Eggs" or bonus items hidden throughout the game. My favorite is the monkey's paw, obviously inspired by the famous story "The Monkey's Paw" penned by W. W. Jacobs. Clearly, the designers are familiar with a wide range of classic horror stories. Such secrets add greatly to the replay value of this game.
Still, I have few criticisms to make about Darkness Within 2: The Dark Lineage. Some of the puzzles are quite difficult, though the hint system offers subtle clues to help the player stay on track. The inventory system is too cumbersome and difficult to manage. Howard collects a large number of items, and it is tedious clicking through all of them when trying to select an object. As well, the mechanics of combining inventory items need to be better implemented. It is not clear to me which items in the inventory can be combined, and I waste a great deal of time trying to find good combinations. Rather, I prefer that the game automatically purges useless items from the inventory or at least made it clear that they cannot be combined or do not serve further purposes. Perhaps the oddest part of the interface is the lighting. Howard can use flashlights or a lantern, but the only the latter seems useful. The flashlights are dim and have limited battery life, whereas the lantern is very bright and never burns out. Likewise, a camera is used early in the game to provide the flash necessary to activate some luminescent paint on some stones. This seems to be an inadequate use of such a device, since the camera cannot then be used to take pictures within the game for the player to consult later.
Overall, Darkness Within 2: The Dark Lineage is an excellent adventure game that I highly recommend to all Lovecraft fans. If you are not familiar with Lovecraft's work, you may miss out on many of the allusions and references sprinkled throughout the game. Still, for any gamer who enjoys intelligent horror stories, this game is worthy of a play.