I gave some of the following comments on the Adventure Games Forum back in February of 2002, when someone asked who was playing "Necronomicon" and how they liked it. I’m probably paraphrasing some them here, for anyone who didn’t see that post.
I played the game on a PII 450 with 384 MB of RAM, QuickTime 4.0, Creative PCI 128 sound card and nVidia GeForce 256 video card. No problems of any kind with running the game. No bugs, no glitches, no hang-ups, nada.
"GET IT OVER WITH RIGHT UP FRONT" DEPT.
I hated the fact that you had to start up the game each time with Disk 1, even if ALL your current saved games were on Disk 2. So, you load up Disk 1, the game asks you which SaveGame you want to load, you select your game on Disk 2, and it promptly tells you to unload Disk 1 and put in Disk 2. Geez! As if you didn’t already know that. So, you have to rev down the machine, take out Disk 1, put in Disk 2, and rev back up again. Every time you start. That was a big pain in the *ss. I don’t see why game designers still are inflicting this on us. Come on, fellas!
OK, on to the good stuff.
CONCEPT and "GAME FEEL"
Necronomicon is an eerie game, as you might imagine from its title. The root word: Necromancy = communication with the spirits of the dead, from Latin "nekros" meaning "corpse." (Well, I warned you.) It concerns a young man at the turn of the century in America who got into trouble playing around with ancient texts related to raising the spirits of the dead. Now, he doesn’t recognize his best friend, he’s mumbling in tongues, and has undertaker types looming over his shoulder threateningly. As his friend, you are trying to find out what happened to him without ending up the same way. Also, you learn as the game progresses that you will be trying to save the world from destruction.
Most of the characters are gloomy, some are rude and short tempered, most are just plain weird. It really fits the story. You don’t know who is going to help you or yell at you to get the h*ll out. You don’t know who is going to show up behind you when you turn your back. It feels dangerous to turn down alleys or dark tunnels or open new doors. Even "safe" places have their moments of peril. There is one good sequence when you are searching this guy’s house while he is gone. When you have searched upstairs and down and taken all the inventory items you can find and you are leaving the house, he suddenly appears, blocks your exit, and angrily confronts you about being in his house! It was a masterful stroke: just when you think there is nothing to worry about, "BOOM!" Heh heh
As for the individual characters, the guy you are supposed to help is six bales short of a full load straight off from the beginning. The shopkeeper is a depressive, the seaman is a drunk, the newspaper man is a scornful cynic, the doctor is edgy as a knife blade -- someone I didn’t feel I could trust. It all just made things scarier. You are really on your own, with the outcome unsure.
In the beginning, you are given an early motorcycle (think Indian or Vincent Black Shadow, then think even earlier) to get around on. Nice little touch, but it doesn’t last. Not after the map becomes available. This nice little map comes up for sale pretty early in the game and greatly facilitates movement. I just love it when game designers put something in like that for us. Saves us from the weary slogging around the hard way. Thanks, Dreamcatcher!
The game is almost always dark. While this is a perfect fit with the genre, it makes it pretty hard to find your way around and do the things you need to do sometimes. I was both intrigued and frustrated. There is no way to change the light quality through any game "Options." You just have to poke around for matches, lanterns and torches and use them wisely, until you can figure out ways to turn on lights that may or may not be there. Like I said, it fits the style of the game, but still think they could have "lightened up" a bit, if you’ll pardon the execrable pun.
The sounds really added a lot to the atmosphere in this game. No overwhelming music. Just creaking boards, whistling wind, strange speech patterns, creatures with forbidding snarls, grandfather clocks ticking in a silent house, water dripping in a tunnel, clanging metal gates, hissing steam. I was startled more than once by the sinister or sudden sounds. This enhanced the sense of apprehension. Near the end, when you finally reach the "temple" where the bad guy is waiting, doing his best to bring about the end of the World, there is a constant background keening of voices. It got to me when I played at night. J
Mouse-driven, simple and effective. Easy to manage. No complaints!
I really liked the inventory management: a large screen with a ring of circles. As you pick up a piece of inventory, it takes residence in one of the open circles. When you want a close-up look at it or want to use it, you just click on it and it appears, enlarged in the center of the ring. No shuffling through long rows of inventory that extend "out of sight" on your screen. And when you leave a scene where an item was used and you no longer need it, it disappears from the inventory. Cleans things up very nicely. No scrolling through a long list of useless stuff and no carrying around game junk that is just there to mislead you.
There is the usual text "clue" that pops up when you run your mouse over the set of inventory. This puppy helps when you have picked up something unrecognizable. J Also, it is essential when examining the Necromancy kit that you find near the middle of the game. Who would know what that stuff was otherwise?
As for using items in inventory, you approach the place where you think you want to use something, then select it from inventory. If you have selected the right item for that locale, it will appear in front of you on the screen, circled in green. You can "hose around" an area, which is especially helpful if you are trying to hit a lantern in the dark with your match or lighter. Sometimes, you can’t see the torch, but when the green circle lights up, you click your match or lighter and Let There Be Light, Baby! If your inventory selection is not correct, the inventory item does not appear on the screen, so you know right away if you are wasting your time.
No items in inventory are combined together and there is no manipulation of inventory items on screen. It is primitive in that sense: you just find stuff, pick it up, and use it later.
Well, I got real tired of the nearly-deserted town in the beginning of the game, I must say. But even that fit the story. It is like the town is dying because of the evil influence of these guys who were manipulating the dead. Most people are unwilling to talk, none will open their doors when you knock; they just to yell at you to go away. After a while, the hot spots on the doors disappear, letting you know that there is no point in continuing to knock. I really appreciated that "clue" that it was OK to move on without fearing you’d miss something.
There is a variety of environments, but not one of them would I call "cheery."
There are a couple of bright interior scenes, but for the most part, the game environment contributes to the sense of gloom.
Some people may be more irritated than I was at all the wandering around in town at the beginning, but to me, that felt real as well. Most crime investigators don’t get all the answers they need from a witness at the first go-round. They come back again and again to each character, as they collect more data and have new questions to ask. After I adjusted to this "real-life" style of gathering information, it didn’t bother me as much. The game is quite realistic in that sense.
DYING, and SAVING GAME
In light of the inherent danger in communing with the dead, you must expect to die if you aren’t careful. And you can, in a number of creative ways. The SaveGame sequence is, thankfully, easy to do. There are only 8 slots to save in, but hey, we’re here for adventure aren’t we? Its enough. Also, you get a small screen capture when you save, so it is easy to see which game you want to reload. All the saves are automatically dated, and this shows below the screen image to help you even more. So, you can just reload the latest chronologically, if that is your modus operandi.
There aren’t that many "puzzles" as we think of them in adventure gaming. Many times, you approach a device that looks like it will be a puzzle, but all you have to do is click on it enough times and you’ll achieve the proper outcome. The only exception I remember is manipulating the large pentagram-based machine out in the field. That involved some thinking and some investigation of inscriptions on inventory items. There was a good sequence where you had to combine a lot of things in order to summon a spirit, and that puzzle really WAS fun. There was a doozy of a puzzle at the end of the game, though, and to make it more difficult, it was timed. I never encountered any clues that would have told me what order of codes to follow to initiate the final sequence, so it took a lot of guessing and failing the timed sequence (and having the world destroyed repeatedly) before I began to catch on and get it right.
There were two mazes in the game. The one at the end was a pretty standard one consisting of wandering around in some stone corridors much like a mouse in a maze. You had to push the right buttons on a series of barred gates in order to make your way through. It was a head-scratcher but it was mercifully short and not a particularly onerous one. I kind of enjoyed it. The second maze was earlier in the game, and was three dimensional. There was no way to "map it" as you explored, and countless ways to get lost in dead ends. I’d like to find the people who designed it and make them sit down and watch 400 hours of non-stop horrible Hungarian TV reruns while sailing on very rough seas in a small boat after having been made to eat several large plates of haggis washed down with castor oil. Seriously, this 3D maze of theirs was so un-fun that it hard for me to think of something worse that I can remember encountering in a game. What was the point? All things like that do is make a game longer without making it more fun or interesting. If you play this game, I suggest a WT at this point is the best approach. ‘Nuff said.
There was a third "maze-like" scenario involving a large room filled with shelves that were full of urns that all held ashes. You had to select the correct urn from among the dozens, in order to get the right ashes to use in a conjuring later. You have no way of knowing if you have the right ashes or not until you finally think to look at them in your inventory. Only one set of ashes has a clue that tells you it is the correct choice. How we are supposed to know this in advance is beyond me. This was a tedious exercise since there were no solid clues to tell you which ashes to seek. Again, it was a long, random process that could have been written better.
The game has two endings: one where the world ends and one where you save the world. Both are nice cut scenes. There is even a bit of a post mortem by the main character that wrapped things up. Pretty satisfactory.
Overall, I’d give this game a pretty good rating, if you like eerie games. It was a good game with a few irritating spots, but generally quite fun. It would not make my Top Ten list, but probably would end up on the backup list just because it is beautifully rendered throughout and the atmosphere and style of the game so completely suited the context.