Reviewed by Mark Hasley
Several hundred years ago, some Scottish clansman created a now famous prayer that reads:
"From ghoulies and ghosties and long leggety beasties, And things that go bump in the night, Good Lord deliver us."
Virtually every literate person on the planet has heard at least part of this prayer, but Iím fairly sure that very few people realize how perfect this old rhyme is when used to discuss a brand new PC horror/adventure game. Last Half of Darkness: Tomb of Zojir is chock full of ghoulies, ghosties, and long leggety beasties. It also has a thoroughly entertaining story, rather effective graphics, and a large number of cleverly placed and well-executed puzzles. If someone likes adventure games, and enjoys being a little bit frightened, this game has everything that person might want. Itís a really enjoyable game.
This is the third installment in the Last Half of Darkness series. The first two (Shadows of the Servants and Beyond the Spiritís Eye) were both entertaining games, but this third chapter, in what I hope will be a longer series, has a polish and some details that make it much better than the first two games. Each of the first games was fine, but this one simply has more of what an adventure gamer is looking for.
Before beginning my usual process for writing a review, I need to mention two details that I seldom discuss. The first is customer service. Many a gamer has spent hours on the phone, or days at his Email account, waiting for a game developer to answer a question about simply loading and starting a new game. That happenstance will not occur with this game. As it worked out, I needed to download a new 'codec' in order to get this game going. This was complicated by the fact that I had (and still have) no real idea what a 'codec' is. What I do know is that when I Emailed WRF studios, I almost immediately had an answer that described what to do, as well as where and how to do it. Even better, each of the responses was in understandable English and actually answered the problem. Note that all of this occurred within the span of an hour or so. And a few days later I received an Email simply asking if everything was operating well. I bought my game from WRF via the Internet and was just a regular run-of the-mill customer, but I received excellent service.
The other unique point is about the Logo at the beginning of the game. The game takes a bit of time to load, but the first thing that rolls into view is this dimly lit greenish chunk of wall with WRF etched into the ivy-covered stone while an eerie soprano voice wends through the creepy darkness. I promise that one glance at this logo and the player is perfectly aware that something well thought out, effectively detailed, and just generally special is at hand.
The story is a rather basic tale. The gamer plays as the character of the proverbial stranger who, for no clear reason, has come to find, and return to their rightful positions, a series of bloodstones that used to surround and guard a tomb, but which have been moved or removed by various adventurers. It seems that the removal of the stones has led to the possibility of the entrance of some sort of evil into our world. It also is learned that anyone who has handled these stones in the past has died an ignominious death. In other words, the player, as an un-named stranger, must find these death-dealing stones and return them to their proper places or the entire planet will be engulfed in an evil doom. Every adventure gamer has been there and done that before. Of course the story canít take place in New Jersey or Minnesota. It takes place in the deep dank swamps of Louisiana, because in those swamps there can logically be old moldering mansions, eerie aboveground cemeteries, mysterious underground crypts and passageways, an ancient temple, and lots of snakes, and all sorts creepy-crawly things. The one thing that the story does have, which is becoming more and more rare, is an actual conclusion. There is only one ending here and the player will have no doubt that this particular story is finished. If it seems that the story is not very unique, I might agree. It is the execution of the story that makes the game so impressive.
The interface is about as simple as an interface can be. The game is played in the third person, and the player is the ubiquitous 'stranger'. Virtually every movement and action is controlled with the mouse. The cursor becomes all sorts of things, depending on what is possible in a given frame. Anything that can be looked at is delineated with a purple eye. Anything that can be utilized and/or acted on is shown by a red arrow. Movement directions (forward, back, enter doorway, exit, etc.) are rather helpfully shown with the actual words. Again, there is nothing new or surprising here, but the game functions smoothly and without difficulty, while the ease of play allows a player to be immersed in the tale, not the playing technique. The only other control that might be used is a spacer bar, which will allow a player to skip some of the conversations or to go by a cut scene.
There is an inventory at the bottom of the screen, and it is readily accessed with a left click. Items are picked up and used or moved by clicking on and holding the item. An item can be carefully examined (or a document may be carefully read) by a simple right click. If they are about to be used in the correct spot or they are about to be correctly combined, the item vibrates or jiggles to tell the player that he is doing the correct thing. There is also a map that changes and grows as the game proceeds, so that the gamer can click from point to point rather than having to walk back and forth a lot. This map is always a welcome addition to any game, but it wonít be used a great deal here because the game is fairly linear and the 'stranger' neednít go back and forth very often.
Once the player is done viewing that aforementioned gorgeous Logo, he arrives at a fairly simple startup page. Here the player can start a new game, save a game, load a saved game, adjust options, view the credits, or simply quit. The options too are fairly limited. The player can adjust the volume, alter the game speed, turn the rain & fog effects on or off, and turn transitions on or off. Obviously this is not a particularly sophisticated interface. Again let me restate that the beauty of all this simplicity is that it works. I got lost several times and missed several items, but without exception the fault was mine. The materials and items I needed were right where I should have found them. I simply got careless. One clever detail that should be mentioned is the fact that the game comes with several printed items. These include a facsimile of a 'Lost Journal', a postcard with notes on it, a strange old-looking parchment-like document, and DVD. At some point in the game all of these items, including the DVD, must be used to solve one of the many puzzles. It really is a clever combination of electronics and what in other games might be considered junk. It also comes with three plastic spiders that really add to the mood, but arenít needed for the game. If you read some of the comments about the game on the Internet, these spiders have really bothered several people, but they are not at all necessary.
We are now at the point where I can discuss all the elements that make this game so much fun. The things that the player sees and hears are what make the game work so well. The graphics make no attempt at any sort of photorealism, but they work because of their stylized eeriness. Most of the scenes are in a slideshow format, and everything is dimly and weirdly lighted. However none of the scenes are static. There is always some sort of realistic movement that adds to the overall effect. There are lots of burning candles and flickering electric lamps. Large moths and other insects flitter through many scenes. Flights of birds appear and then disappear with great rapidity. Moonlight in this part of the swamp seems to be of a rather ghastly green color. There is virtually no bright sky or well-lighted area. It is a gloomy game. Not only is it dark, but there is a great deal of fog drifting through, rain pouring down, lightning flashing brightly, and dark clouds covering up the sun or moon. To add to the eerie gloom, every horizontal or vertical surface is covered with foliage, creeping vines, or cobwebs. The entire game is spent wandering through dark, dank, wholly unpleasant places. The graphics arenít necessarily the best artwork I have ever seen, but the combination of all the scenic elements does provide some of the best atmosphere that Iíve ever experienced.
Of course, all of the scenery works because of the sound track that goes with the game. The soundtrack is frighteningly excellent. There is not a lot of music, but what music there is always fits the scene perfectly. There were several times when the music started my nervous reactions well before an actual event took place. There are a lot of sounds, and the sounds are the kind that will set a playerís teeth on edge. There are the usual 'swamp sounds' of owls, frogs, insects, and bats. There are the sounds of thunder and rain. And over all this, there are the supernatural sounds of creaks and moans. There is one particularly evil laugh that was also in both of the other Last Half of Darkness games, and which absolutely lifts the hair on the back of my neck. Not only are there lots of creepily effective sounds, but every once in a while, in an absolutely reasonable context but with no warning whatsoever, something abrupt happens. A crow flies through the scene, a ghost or beast appears, or something living in a tunnel talks. Whatever it is, the player will jump when it happens, and then he will giggle because he knows he should have seen it coming. This is one of the few games that Iíve ever played where I actually bothered to get out my headphones and use them. The sounds in this game really add to the experience.
There is little that can really be said about the voice acting here, because virtually none of the people in the game are really people. There is one gypsy who is beautiful, young, and sounds normal enough. Everyone and everything else in the game both looks and sounds somehow supernatural. It is extremely difficult to explain how, but all of these visual and aural elements blend to form a very entertaining collection of frightening moments. It should be stated here that the fear is never gross or graphic. There is no blood or gore. All of the 'scary parts' are like the scary moments in the Funhouse at a county fair. The player will jump, and look behind his chair a few times, but heíll enjoy the experience.
The other element of this game that really works is the puzzles. I have become a real sucker for games where the puzzles fit perfectly into the context of the tale. Tomb of Zojir has lots of these well-fitted problems. There are a goodly number of inventory puzzles, and the gamer will find himself picking up and using all kinds of things with which he has never dealt before. There are lots of papers, notes and journals to read. There are several different kinds of puzzles that must be solved in order to find a particular antique key needed to open a particular lock that guards another kind of document or puzzle. There are at least two rather unique things that are almost, but not quite, slider puzzles. A few of the puzzles are random, which rather complicates the ability to ask for help. There are none of the dreaded mazes (although the old passageways and crypts are almost a maze unto themselves), and I never found a spot where Ďthe strangerí could die. There were several puzzles that seemed extremely simple and, as there should be, there were a couple that appeared to be extremely difficult. There are a few 'red herrings' that work cleverly and set the player off in directions that he knows he shouldnít go. The important thing about them was that every puzzle fit into the context of the game perfectly, and every one of them was fair and reasonable. A couple of the answers required some real thought (and one of them required some help from a website), but I never once felt cheated, and a few times I had that moment where, after I figured out the correct answer, I felt fairly stupid for having taken so long. All in all, the puzzles in the game were many, varied in type and difficulty, and generally quite entertaining. As a further bonus to the game, once the player has accomplished his ultimate goal, he is given a secret number, and can then go back to the developerís website and download a rather clever casual-type game that seems to have endless levels of play, and is perfect for someone who lacks the time or desire to get wrapped up in a longer and more complex mode of play.
Thatís really all that need be said about the game. It is well conceived and quite well written. It has quality, if not cutting-edge graphics. It has a thoroughly entertaining combination of story and puzzles. Most importantly, the entire package is presented in a way that looks, sounds, and feels so wonderfully frightening and creepily fear-inducing that any gamer will be jumping out of his seat or checking to see if something is behind him, while at the same time giggling slightly at the way the game has gotten to him. The game is a masterpiece of mood and atmosphere. Itís a really fine horror adventure game that has all of the good things, and none of the overdone bad things, that sometimes come with this type of game. Indeed, at the end of Last Half of Darkness: Tomb of Zojir, the only disappointment I felt was that it was over. I missed all the "ghoulies and ghosties and long leggety beasties". I liked the game a great deal and wanted, and still want, more.
© August 2009 Mark Hasley
Developed (2009) and published by WRF Studios. This game will be published in North America later this year by Tri Synergy.
Rated: T for Teen 13+ (alcohol and tobacco reference, blood, mild violence)
Minimum System Requirements:
PC: Pentium IV 800 MHz Processor; Windows XP \ Vista; 128 MB RAM; DVD-ROM Drive; 32 MB Video Card; DirectX Compatible Sound Card; 3 GB of Free Hard Drive Space; DirectX 8.0 or Higher; Mouse
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