most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human
mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of
ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant
that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own
direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing
together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of
reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go
mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and
safety of a new dark age”.
So begins "The Horror
in Clay", the first part of The Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft.
While the story itself is not the basis of The Dark Lineage, the
Lovecraft style inspired Darkness Within. And the “piecing together
of dissociated knowledge” will indeed lead Howard Loreid to dark places
and unnatural vistas.
I didn’t play the first
part of Darkness Within, and by all accounts it would have helped.
The plot is elaborate to say the least, fanciful and fantastic, and
somewhat confusing as a result. You will pull the gist together as you go,
but knowledge of the first will likely help the pulling, or help pull it
Anyone familiar with
Lovecraft will know that we are in the realms of willing suspension of
disbelief. If you are looking for realism, look elsewhere. That said, the
plot should come together, and even allowing for my lack of part 1, I
thought The Dark Lineage was too convoluted for its own good. I
kind of let it wash over me, rather than trying to keep on top of it, and
focused on what I could see and do instead.
Which is often rather
good, especially in the second part once you reach The Gate. The settings
are well drawn, having a period look about them, and the 3D environment (a
change from the point to point mechanics of the first game) means you can
wander almost at will, and get down and dusty poking about.
While there is much to
poke at, and to pull and push about, much of it is neither necessary or
essential, and will more often than not reveal nothing of value. However,
I don’t want to be able to only find or open or examine things of
relevance, and I like wandering about in a fairly open landscape. So I was
happy enough with the exploration side of things.
I was far less happy
with the inventory management and what went on within it.
The tale of
The biggest culprit was
the Howard's Mind component, where you can try linking information and
items to make other items or intuitive leaps. Mostly it resulted in
nothing, to the extent that I stopped trying. Certain items obviously had
to be combined, so I faithfully dragged them to the brain and clicked the
little gear icon to make them as one. But short of that I didn’t bother.
It was way too messy and generally completely unnecessary.
I also wasn’t enamoured
of the underlining aspect of documents and texts. You can choose to turn
this off, so it wasn’t a big thing. But if you play with it on, you can
choose to underline what might be key parts of a document, and then click
the little gear icon again. If you are right, the text will be retained in
the “thought” part of the inventory, much like a journal. From there you
can subject it to the brain combination I spoke of earlier should you want
to, or you can simply review what you have learned.
Near as I could tell,
much of what was “key” in the sense that it would end up in the journal
was not required in order to progress in the game. If I didn’t underline
the right bits, it didn’t stop me from continuing (although there were
points where having marked something seemed to be required to trigger a
progression). Combined with the fact that you could underline all of it if
you wanted to, it again seemed overly complicated.
But it did take away
the need for pen and paper, and not everything you read can be carried
with you. Plus it served as a summary of what was going on, and was rather
useful in that regard.
A variety of difficulty
levels is available, which is where you get to decide how you deal with
underlining. On the easiest setting, all the key information can be
revealed automatically, but you still have to find the relevant documents,
and you can always resist the temptation to press the “auto research”
button. You can also turn on or off the “clue counters”, which tell you
how many key pieces of information there are in a document. On its hardest
setting, you are on your own, and you won’t be told how many pieces of
information you have to find.
A further setting
enables you to set how hints operate. They can either be off, can be
triggered when progress is slow, or they can be available all the time.
This level of
customisation is a big plus. Whatever you might think of the mechanics of
the underlining, you can choose to deal with it in a variety of ways, and
the hint system (although sometimes not that helpful) gives you a level of
control over how you play the game.
The madness from the
The Dark Lineage
is not a hard game, but there are some hard puzzles and conundrums.
Out-and-out puzzles are far more prevalent in the first half of the game.
In the second part, I can only recall one – at that point it's
predominantly inventory based. Most are well designed, although purchasing
a particular item left a bit to be desired, and I have no idea where the
clues were for one puzzle. Hot spots can occasionally be quite small, and
won’t show up at all if you aren’t close enough, making crouching at times
Cut scenes are
scattered throughout the game, and will result in the game taking control
of Howard until the scene is finished. You can’t skip these scenes, but
you can skip through dialogue. There aren’t many characters to talk to,
but some of them have a LOT to say, so being able to read ahead was
You use WASD keys to
move around, and you can’t map movement to the mouse, which always
irritates me. You control your field of vision with the mouse, and left
clicking interacts with the world. Right clicking brings up the inventory.
There are two different
outcomes, although you can trigger them in three different ways, and the
game felt like it ended, rather than it was resolved. There was a
conclusion as far as Howard is concerned, but the tangled threads and
convolutions were not sufficiently dealt with given all the detail
involved. It was a little unsatisfying, although I was quite tempted to
join Howard in one outcome.
The end also produces a
score, which includes things like the hidden clues you found (you can
discover what they are for yourself). There are also quite a few Easter
Eggs in the game, and things to find that will increase your score but are
not essential to the game play.
disappointingly, The Dark Lineage isn’t very horrifying. All the
pieces are there - the ambient sound, the darkness and the settings - but
it's at best unnerving, and only occasionally. Which on reflection is much
like the Lovecraft pieces I have read, so perhaps it is entirely
Speaking of which,
ambient sounds are excellent, and I especially liked the scrunch of
walking on snow. So too the music does its part to help the unnerving.
All in all, Howard’s
excursion into his shadowy lineage kept me entertained for a goodly
period, but to me it didn’t quite hit its mark. I couldn’t help thinking
there was a great game here, that was ultimately undone by some overly
convoluted game mechanics, a messy plot and a flat endgame. Which was a
shame, because I am always up for being roused from my placid ignorance by
a terrifying vista or two.
I played on:
OS: Win XP Professional
Processor: AMD Phenom 9500
Quad Core CPU 2.2 GHz
Ram: 3.25GB DDR2 400MHz
ATI Radeon HD 3850 512Mb
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