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NIGHTFALL

Reviewed by  Cynthia Gary


You are an archeologist who has been doing a preliminary survey of a pyramid in Egypt. You and your crew have excavated several rooms deep within the structure and have discovered intriguing wall paintings and carvings, a few artifacts, and several unexplained anomalies that have aroused your curiosity. However, because rich pockets of oil have been discovered beneath the pyramid, the government has taken over the dig and you have been barred from further exploration. When you go back to view your discovery for the last time, a sudden terrible earthquake collapses the entrance tunnel, and you are trapped deep inside the pyramid.

Do you scream and yell and beg to be rescued?  No, of course not!  Despite the continuing tremors, you do what every adventure game archeologist trapped in a pyramid does. You begin to explore, hoping to find another means of escape and some answers to the enigmas that you have uncovered. Thus somewhat predictably, the game of Nightfall begins. The rest of the journey however, is far from predictable.

Nightfall is a nonlinear 1st person adventure game, with full 3D navigation that can be drawn from either the software or hardware. The drawing speed can be set to any of 6 quality levels (from 'low' to 'amazing') in the preferences menu, depending on processor speed, but it is decent even when set in the middle range. You can walk forward and turn in any direction with your mouse, and you can explore every inch of a room. In fact this is recommended, because there are often floor switches that open doors or activate elevators.

Using the Caps Lock key allows you to go faster, and is very handy for jumping across a gap or swimming against the tide. If you are holding something and want to take it across the room, the Arrow keys can be used to back up, turn right or left, or go forward. And with the Shift key pressed, you can move the object closer to you, or back away from it as if you were holding it at arm's length. This can be handy when you're trying to place it on a platform, or on the floor. You can also push heavier objects by continuing to walk as you push against them. Be careful, though! Some things might push back.

Nightfall is big for a single CD game. It has an introductory level, the 12 levels which represent the 12 'Hours of the Night' through which Re, the sun god, must travel, and the mysterious 14th level, in which the answers to the pyramid's mysteries are revealed and a serious choice must be made. Each of the levels has a primary puzzle to solve that allows you to move on to the next level. There are also many secret areas to explore that can help you to better understand your journey.

The journal provides notes and drawings based on Re's journey through the night to help you solve the puzzles in each level, and you can access it at any time during the game. There are also notes scattered around each level that have been left by previous explorers. These notes, as well as the wall art, can give you important clues, and allow you to discover more information about this increasingly strange environment.

Many of the puzzles are inventory based, which means that you must find a specific object and place it where it belongs. There are also puzzles in which you must rearrange wall tiles to complete a scene, and there are different types of switches that activate interesting mechanisms. Most of the puzzles range from easy to moderately difficult to solve, but there are a few which have some very tricky logic. Fortunately if you are having trouble completing a particular level, the CD comes with a folder of pre-saved games for levels 2 through 13.

At the bottom of the screen, there are helpful icons that are used during gameplay. These include your journal, an inventory bag that holds one object at a time, and a disk icon, which (when powered by similar disks found in the environment) allows you to fire projectiles to activate remote switches or push objects away. You also have a map, which is a very handy tool and one of the neatest features of this game.

As you explore the environment, your map grows. Everything you see gets translated to the map in the appropriate colors... such as blue for water, white for marble, and gray or brown for stone. These surfaces are shaded darker if they are below your current position on the map, and lighter if they are above you. Elevators change shades as they move up and down, and if a pathway passes below another area on the map, it appears as a dotted line. Each map has a compass that shows the direction you're facing, and your position (represented by a yellow triangle) is always centered. You can easily zoom in for more details, or out to get a better overview.

It pays to look at your map often while playing. Sometimes a puzzle that you solve will trigger a change in a different area, such as a door opening or a platform rising. Sometimes the map will show you an alternative pathway, or the beginning of a secret corridor that you may have only glimpsed while exploring. Also the map itself will often form shapes that give you further clues to puzzles.

Your journey through each level of this game is a lonely one. Other than the notes from the previous travelers, and some mechanical guardians that can be very pushy (literally), there is no one else around... and the stone corridors can feel very empty. There is usually dust or fog ahead as you move along, which keeps you from seeing the far end of a corridor or the other side of a large chamber. Although some of the rooms that you enter can be rather gloomy, others have brightly colored wall art, decorated floors, and other treats for the eyes.

The sound effects in the game are minimal. You get clicks when you press a switch, a breaking crockery sound when shooting your disk mechanism, some water sounds, and low rumbles for the earthquake, doors and elevators. The squeaking of a rat means you just stepped on one... no, they don't bite, but they are noisy! You don't hear anything when you walk or slide objects around, and this general lack of sound adds to your feeling of isolation as you move through the pyramid's many rooms and hallways.

Each level does have its own mysterious musical theme, with a distinctly 'Eastern' flavor that suits the environment, but because the music loops continually, some of the themes can become annoying after awhile. Fortunately it can be turned down in the control panel anytime, just by pausing the game and bringing up the preferences menu.

You can't die in this game. You can jump from high places without getting hurt, and you can swim underwater for hours without drowning. Very little climbing, running, or jumping is necessary to solve the main puzzles. However you may have to jump from an elevator to a ledge, or grab a projection and pull yourself out of a pool, to get to some of the secret areas. Sometimes these moves can be tricky to get right, but most can be completed with a little practice and none of the movements or puzzles are timed. Sometimes you do have to quickly get on or off a rising elevator or walkway, but that's where the Caps Lock key can help.

I enjoyed playing Nightfall. I liked the freedom of movement and the ability to check out every inch of my surroundings. As the game progressed, I found myself leaping off of ledges just to see where I would land, and often discovered a new area to explore that way. However I also got stuck a couple of times, so saving is important if you are inclined to get a bit reckless.

The graphics in the game are very good for the most part, with some very lovely artwork. I especially liked the special effects created with movement... which included shaking caused by the earthquake, getting blown about by the wind, floating along with the water currents, sliding on slippery surfaces, flying with the help of a neat little gadget, and bouncing high (Wheeeee!). Most of the puzzles were fun and fairly easy to solve, but there were a few stumpers that kept me guessing for quite a while. Getting into level 14 was very tricky but satisfying, and I had a great time discovering many of the secret areas, which contained important recurring symbols, special guardians and hidden power disks.

Well, I think it's time to put on my gear and head on over to the dig once again. Who knows what secrets I may discover... during the next 'Nightfall'.

  February 2004  Cynthia Gary


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Developed (1998) and published by Altor Systems, Inc.

Minimum System Requirements:  MAC

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