What is it?
Do you believe in ghosts, phantoms, poltergeists or other
insubstantial spirits of the dead? Nigel Danvers sure does now! Whoa
boy, let's take a step back there; who's Nigel Danvers, and why is he in
need of convincing about the existence of paranormal manifestations of
Nigel Danvers is the leading character (and your
representative) in The Lost Crown. But haven't we already got a
full review of the game on GameBoomers? Well, yes we do, but I've never
played the game or even read the review (sorry nickie) and now Jonathan
Boakes and Darkling Room (the development team has enhanced and
re-released the 2008 game via Steam.
I discovered we had a copy of the original game hanging
around (on my absent art-student daughter's work desk of all places!),
so I have played the early part of the game in both versions. So I can
say that the enhancements to the game seem to be a general
modernization of the technology to handle Windows 7 and 8, some tweaking
of the user interface to make movement a bit slicker - you can double
click on exits, and right click to skip dialog, and the integration with
Steam (there are Achievement to collect now which the earlier version
did not have). Apart from that, there appear to have been very few
changes that I could see - this may very well be exactly as intended;
the rest of the changes may be out-of-sight enhancements under the hood,
so to speak.
Is there a plot?
This is a ghost-hunting story set in the fen-lands of
Essex and Norfolk - Eastern England, but North of London. For those who
have no knowledge of the geography of this strange part of the UK, fens
are low-lands, usually drained marshes, a lot like the polders and
re-claimed plains of the Netherlands. In fact the drained lands are
often even below average sea level. They're often misty, and wet, with a
reputation for unfriendly folk and a certain madness of character. An
ideal setting for a 'fish out of water' story of murder, mystery,
madness and archaeology like this one.
Nigel Danvers begins our story running away from
something hidden deep in a building owned by Hadden Industries. He
eventually escapes London on a train, and arrives at a fen-land halt,
seemingly in the middle of nowhere, where the Stationmaster informs him
that at this time of year, he's reached the end of the line. Nigel makes
his way through the fens to a small coastal town, Saxton, where he is
made to feel most welcome... not!
The rest of the story concerns ghost-detection in an old
cottage (and other locations), solving murder mysteries old and new,
laying to rest old spirits, an amateur photography competition, animal
husbandry, a low-light video camera and other gadgets, some spelunkery,
and getting to know the strange bunch of inhabitants in and around
Saxton, not all of whom are human, alive or entirely sane.
How do you play?
The Lost Crown
is entirely mouse-driven. You usually control Nigel in the third person
- you can usually see him from a fixed camera location in the scene.
There are some segments that switch to a first person view, but they're
reasonably short and infrequent.
Getting into the game is unusual; the main page shows a
Tarot card and a coin. Click on the Tarot card to show the main menu:
Begin Your Quest starts a new game, Relive Your Past brings up your
saved games and The Options. The coin has Go Back or Quit depending on
when it is clicked. The Options has a selection for subtitles. Graphics
and sound options are handled in a small screen which pops up before the
main game window appears. The save game slots appear to be unlimited,
but I didn't need more than the eight immediately available on the first
saved games screen.
Navigation around the game scenes is easy - click where
you want Nigel to go. The mouse cursor changes image between making
Nigel move, interacting with and object or person, or just looking. The
interactive cursor usually means there's something in your inventory (at
the bottom of the screen), or something that needs to be put into your
inventory, to interact with the point of interest. In fact, your
inventory can become quite extensive; at times it can extend over three
or four horizontal pages. Thankfully, it's usually quite obvious which
object might be required in an interaction, so the old tactic of 'try
every object in my pack' wasn't necessary.
Items in the inventory can also be right-clicked upon for
a description, and in some cases, a close-up view. For example, with the
tape recordings you'll make, right-clicking will play back the
recording, and books and letters can be read.
I was really impressed by just how extensive The Lost
Crown is. Not only are there many locations, there are changes in
those locations between the four nights and five days of the story. And
at different times in the story, you can reach different locations.
There are a few sequences when you are up against time:
you have to fight off some spectres during one night, and you have to
dispel some 'clouds of darkness' at others, and these sequences have a
timed element, but one that I didn't find particularly difficult.
Obviously, your mileage may vary here, and some of these sequences and
others (especially at night) did get my heart racing and the stress
Any other novelties?
I must admit that I've never tried ghost-hunting in the
real world, so I've no knowledge of the types of technology such
investigators might use. However, the devices provided in The Lost
Crown make sense to me if you're going to be looking for spectral
figures and listening for things that go bump in the night. Once you
have access to the devices, you can use them almost anywhere, but you
will get audible hints that you're in a location where something is
going on that you could usefully record, one way or another. You don't
have to find every location, but there's a Steam achievement or
two if you do.
Whilst we're on the subject of Steam achievements, let me
say that there are plenty. Some are an inevitable part of completing
elements of the story, others are obtained by finding optional extras.
Clearly these weren't in the original game, so they are definitely an
enhancement to the original game.
The most outstanding novelty in The Lost Crown
(apart from the unusual twist with the fate of the eponymous crown) is
the graphic design of the game. Almost every scene (maybe even every
single one) is a black and white photorealistic scene (most are derived
from photos of places around Cornwall, Southern England, where Jonathan
Boakes is based), but with something in the scene in a vivid single
colour. For example, there is a heath-land scene outside town where the
bulk of the image is the usual black and white tones, but the sky is
that vivid blue of a hot English summers day, with a few scattered
cotton-wool clouds. If that sounds false or fake, it really doesn't look
it; the effect is striking and memorable, whilst at the same time being
reminiscent of how some people describe their dreams.
There are many things about Saxton, its population, its
history, and its environs that are odd. That pretty much sums up the
purpose of The Lost Crown. However there are a few things in the
execution of the game that just detract from a perfect score. The
principal amongst these being Nigel Danvers (and others) modes of
speech. Since Nigel is to be heard most often (as one would expect from
the leading character in a game), this very stilted pattern of speech
becomes quite distracting. In fact, I used the subtitles to make it
possible to skip the spoken word as much as possible. My apologies to
Jonathan Boakes if this is how he speaks (he's the voice actor behind
Nigel Danvers), but there it is.
The only other thing I would have changed about this game
is the amount of wandering around I had to do. There are some welcome
occasions when the game automatically transfers you to a particular part
of Saxton for the next part of the story, but there are also parts of
the story when it's absolutely clear that you need to be somewhere else,
and for that somewhere else to be on the other side of Saxton
completely... and you're going to have to go through every location
between here and there just to get there: a fast travel mode of some
sort, under the player's control, would have been quite a boon. After
all, Nigel does eventually have a map of Saxton.
The Lost Crown
is an elaborate game with a lot going on. It takes time to get through
it all, and the Steam achievements are by no means a fore-gone
conclusion. Though some are gained by unavoidable progress through the
story, but once you've finished the story I'm not sure you can get back
to pick up the other achievements unless you've been very careful with
your saved games.
Oddities of movement and speech aside, I think The
Lost Crown is an excellent game from 2008, which still stands up
admirably against any 2014 contender in the point and click adventure
genre, in particular for the multi-strung bow of a plot, and the way it
leaves you in constant doubt as to whether the person you're talking to
is real or not. This is definitely a keeper, and if the rest of the
Crown Quadrilogy (the next one being the soon to be released The
Last Crown: Blackenrock) promised by Jonathan Boakes and Darkling
Room Games is of this standard, it will be a mighty achievement.
What do you need to play it?
OS: Windows Xp, Vista (7 or 8
Processor: 1.5 Ghz (3.0 Ghz
Memory: 1 GB RAM (2 GB RAM
Graphics: 128 MB DX 9.0c compliant
videocard (256 MB card recommended)
DirectX: Version 9.0c
Hard Drive: 1200 MB available space
Sound Card: DX 9.0c compliant
(I used a home-built 64-bit Windows 8.1 PC running on an
AMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual 5200+ processor, with 6 GB RAM, and a Sapphire
Radeon HD4670 512MB video card, with on-mother-board, built-in sound