As I arrive home from work, I see a package in my mailbox with WRF Studios clearly marked in the return address. Sweet! It must be Last Half of Darkness: Beyond the Spirit’s Eye. I bring it inside and immediately rip it open. I crack open the case and to my delight find some little extras included with the CDs.
The first thing I notice is that a certain Madame Ze Hira has written a letter:
“My sister mentioned your success in New Orleans, and thought you might be able to help with a similar situation here. The black world has cursed our tiny town with an infection of bloodfeeders and vampire-like creatures known as the “Guardians of the Eye”. The plague entered our gates of Shadowcrest with a bounty brought back by a local explorer, Captain Marcos. His treasure included an ancient uncut bloodstone …….”
[The success in New Orleans relates back to Bill Fisher’s first game, “Last Half of Darkness: Shadows of the Servants”. However, you do not need to have played the 1st game in order to play “Beyond the Spirit’s Eye”. But, I highly recommend checking it out.]
The letter goes on to beseech your assistance and includes a small piece of treasure attached to the bottom of the letter. A Journal provides insight into the initial transportation of the treasure to a town called Shadowcrest. A quick-start guide and some notes from the author are also included. The beauty of these extra little items is that you haven’t even placed the CD in the drive and you are already playing the game. The mood is being set from the first written word and it’s important to actually read them as they are part of the game. The game comes on 2 CDs and installed without any problems. No other technical issues were encountered during gameplay.
So, the basic premise is that Captain Marcos, in essence, stole this treasure and cursed a whole town through his greediness. Now, it’s up to you to figure it all out and release the curse. This 1st person game begins in a seemingly abandoned structure. Find a key, decipher a puzzle and a secret entrance will appear in the floor. Head down the steps and find a boat waiting for you. The boat will make its way through the swamp to meet up with Madame Ze Hira. As you enter her house, her scratchy and creepy voice immediately warns you to “Touch Nothing”. Of course, being the true adventure gamer that you are, you will pretend as though you didn’t hear and touch EVERYTHING. Talk to Madame Ze Hira and she lays down a bit more info about why you’ve been summoned and then sends you on your way to Shadowcrest to find the answers which lie in Marcos’ house. It is in Shadowcrest that the real work will begin and your heart will jump up into your throat more than once (if it hasn’t already).
Part of the success of Shadows of the Servants was the emergence of Bill’s innate ability to scare the bajeepers out of you without being cheesy. Part of this is accomplished by scattering the clues throughout the environment. When you find one, you’re automatically thinking of where and how to implement that clue. So, essentially, your mind is on the clues as you’re heading off to another location. And, then…BLAM…something jumps out at you and you find yourself letting out a gasp/shriek despite all attempts to be cool and collected. It is what Bill does….and he does it well. Now, I must say that I was bit more mentally prepared this time around after playing the first one. So, did he get me on every single scare? Nope *she admits with a satisfied smile on her face*. But, did he get me at all? Uhmm….yes. He got me alright and multiple times at that. Damn him! But, this is what you’re signing up for when you get the game. It’s similar to when you go see some horror movie and end up checking all your closets twice before you can go to bed. You asked for it!
Graphically, Bill has kicked it up a notch. The 2D backgrounds are as dark and creepy as ever, but there is a lot more to see this time and the amount of detail has increased. Each location is crisp and clear with more variance in the colors of darkness. As per the last game, the balance between darkness and light is wonderful. Light can appear in many forms. Moonlight is seen casting an overall glow or simply streaming through a dirty window. Candlelight is used throughout the game. Truly, he did an outstanding job with this. Animated 3D cutscenes have been improved as well. Animation is much smoother and more plentiful this time. The cutscenes cover anything from ghost interactions to “visions” when touching an item to seeing the correct use of an item played out in front of you.
The game is based upon solo exploration. However, you do get to talk to a couple of characters. Ok…so only one is alive, but does that really matter? Please…I’ve had conversations with worse. One thing that is not present and would be nice to see in future installments is flexibility in the dialogue. Right now, dialogue consists of clicking on 2-3 questions provided. Then, you get to listen to the other character talk for a while. Of course, you’re getting a lot of useful information to the story, but it would be nice to have some options. True, the game is not really based around having conversations so this is likely more my personal preference. Voices are good and have the prerequisite creepy sounds but at times can be difficult to understand due to the reverb effect. For most dialogue, text has been provided to alleviate missing out on important information. But, this feature is not used 100% throughout the game so you may miss a sentence here and there.
As for the spirits you do get to see, there are most certainly two different styles used here. Some of them are more fluid in their movements. Others look like you’re seeing the dead body as opposed to the spirit within – their acting is wooden. There is no lip synching at all, but I can only imagine the work involved to get that coordinated. One character even has her lips sewn up. No need for lip synching there. While you may want to see these spirits graphically live up to the great backgrounds, they appropriately serve their purpose which is to scare you and otherwise contribute to the overall atmosphere of the game.
Music does not play a big part in the game. It is the ambient sounds that take center stage. At times you’ll walk around in complete silence. At other times, a spirit’s laughter or bumps in the night will play with your subconscious. The ambient sounds do the job in creating an atmosphere where you will be looking over your shoulder. Of course, that leaves you wide open for what is in front of you…waiting to pounce.
While you won’t be able to do much with most of them, there are a lot of items in every location to look at. And, there are more locations than ever. In Captain Marcos’ house alone, there are a ton of areas to explore. While there are the standard rooms, there are hidden passages and balconies that lead into courtyards. Courtyards have hidden doors and secret locations as well. This is likely one of the major reasons to get stuck (which I did) in the game. You simply have missed a doorway somewhere.
The town has more to offer than just Marcos’ house. There is a wharf, warehouse, the local bar, and even more hidden tunnels. There is a map available, but you won’t get it right away. You’ll have to explore Marcos’ house pretty well before you get access to all the other areas. Once you have the map, however, you will be able to jump back and forth to all the locations as you find your clues. Of course, all the places you visit in the game are places you would NEVER explore in real life. You couldn’t pay me enough. That being said, it’s easier to feign bravado in a game. Speaking of walking, navigation is simple. You have a simple arrow as a cursor. It will turn red when som thing can be interacted with. If you’ve picked the right inventory item, the cursor will shake. An “X” cursor along with text denotes exits and entrances with an “eye” rounding out the group for examination.
The inventory is located at the bottom of the game screen and can be scrolled through. Left clicking on an item located in the inventory will allow you to use that item. Right clicking will provide further examination. The main menu can be accessed at the top of the game screen where you can save, load, or exit the game. There are 10 save slots available, but honestly, you likely will not need that many. Game Options include music volume, ambient sounds/voice volume and you can change the transition mode by turning the fade on or off.
As for the puzzles, Bill has continued his tradition of providing interesting and diverse puzzles. There are inventory puzzles, logic puzzles and cryptic messages abound. But, you’ll also get to play hangman and a memory game where you have to watch a sequence of electrical currents and click to match the sequence you just saw. While the diversity of the puzzles will maintain your interest, the difficulty level seemed to be less than Bill’s first game. I remember being stumped quite a few times, but I got through pretty easily this time. My only true downfall was not noticing one specific door and therefore ended up wandering around for quite some time.
While the storyline is more in-depth than with Shadows of the Servants, I wanted more. I really liked the story and I did “get it”, but I had questions. I may have missed something, but I wanted more detail about the transition the town went through. I also wanted more information about Madame Ze Hira and how she managed to stay alive. And, why she couldn’t rid the town herself since she seems to be so connected to the occult. Or what was the deal with the skeleton sitting in some sort of medieval contraption in the center of one of the rooms. What happened to that person? Perhaps some animated flashbacks could have filled in some of the gaps.
Overall, Beyond the Spirit’s Eye was truly an enjoyable experience. Bill’s talent for creating horror adventure is still in full force and we’re happy about that. The thrill of being scared is why we visit haunted houses, go see the latest horror flick and the reason why we will sit in front of our computer for hours with the full knowledge that we’re going to jump. If you haven’t already, jump on the bandwagon and get the game. Your racing heart won’t thank you, but I’m sure Bill will.