Annoying neighbors --
everybody's got at least one. In Lighthouse, a mouse-driven Myst-style
game, you answer a phone message from your neighbor who has been called
away on important scientific business. You enter his house and try to
comfort his infant daughter Amanda, who is wailing off and on like a train
whistle (pay attention here, a train comes into the story later).
Suddenly, a greyish creature -- the Dark Being (DB) leaps through a vortex
into the baby's room and abducts her. Soon you too will be swept into an
enticing alien world on a mission to rescue your neighbor and Amanda and
outwit the diabolical DB.
Lighthouse was produced in 1996, and in many ways it shows its age. The
viewing area doesn't fill the entire screen. There are few cutscenes, and
there is no 360-degree panning. The cursor barely glimmers when it passes
over a hotspot. The game is chock full of mechanical puzzles and pixel
hunts, plus a nightmarish train track maze, and an (optional) black and
white sliding tile puzzle. There is a multi-step puzzle that can't be
solved until you find a certain inventory item -- with no obvious way to
know that you need an inventory item. In another puzzle you only know
you've succeeded if you happen to step away from the machine at the right
There are robotic arms everywhere, some with non-precision controls.
There's a miniature maze revealed through partial glimpses while
descending a shaft in a pod-like elevator. Inventory items are not
labeled, so discovering their function involves guess-work. (The item that
I thought was a needle and thread turned out to be a curiously-shaped
I admit that, under normal circumstances, I would have abandoned this game
about halfway through and gone on to an (easier, newer, slicker) game.
However, I was playing Lighthouse with a gaming partner who owns a Mac
(it's not so easy to find games that are playable on both platforms) and
my partner kept me playing and plotting and screaming to the end.
When the agony was over, my partner confessed that she had given up and
simply followed the walkthrough after applying a patch that wiped out all
her previously saved games. "Using the walkthrough was a kind of revenge,"
she said. I think she meant revenge against the game, not me. We agreed
that Lighthouse ended too tamely -- we both wanted to eviscerate the DB.
We wanted to watch as he bled and pleaded for mercy. Fortunately, the game
lets you operate a mechanical device that (until you find the right
setting) tortures the annoying neighbor who got you into this in the first
place. Poor little Amanda spends the bulk of the game sorting rocks (so
THAT'S what babies are good for!).
Why does Lighthouse make the top thirty on Gameboomer's Recommendations
(Twisty List) every year? Well, on one level the game is a kind of
Mechanical-Puzzle Wonderland. Eliminate the usual applications for
entrance to graduate schools of engineering -- if you can finish this game
without cheating, you should earn automatic admission. Yes, there are
folks out there who thrive on this stuff.
And even if the puzzles leave you cross-eyed and quivering, the world
pulls you in, manipulating without mercy. There is a sweetly pitiful
caretaker in one location who can barely speak. Who wouldn't yearn to
relieve her loneliness? In an underwater shipwreck, you discover evidence
that others have tried valiantly to stop the DB and failed. Now all hope
is gone. Brokenness consumes this world, calm before impending doom.
The final encounter with the DB begins where he can be observed but not
touched. He chuckles maniacally. More than anything, you want this evil
creature stopped. You get on an underground train and circle endlessly,
trying everything to defeat him. You fail and finish the game trapped
forever in a dying world, surviving on nothing but fish. The wistful
beauty of the surroundings helps reconcile you to this outcome. Perhaps
you can find a way to cook the fish.
Lighthouse has several possible endings. Most of the endings are merely a
paragraph of text explaining the game's outcome. The "best" ending is more
elaborate, and seems to be setting up for a sequel. In the event that a
sequel is made, I will, of course (despite everything) buy and play it.
I'm still hoping someday to flambé the DB.
Non-engineers: 2.5 BAAGS out of 5
copyright © 2003