For the uninitiated, the new millennium has seen a good number of horror adventure game releases by small developers. Dark Fall might be one of the most famous, but others like Scratches and Darkness Within have also received some attention, in their own small way. My favorite of the bunch however has to be The Lost Crown, for ways that are difficult to explain: but let me try.
TLC makes a few concessions to the author’s previous games series: unlike the Dark Fall games, it’s played in third person. 2D backgrounds and 3D characters are nothing new, though seeing them again in 2008 might catch the eye, especially the woody character models. But the backgrounds are a lovely representation of southern England, and some of the most impressive I’ve seen in any adventure games. While I’m a fan of the first-person perspective like in Myst, it probably would have made it impossible to have some of these amazing vistas.
The design is also pretty Lucasartsian – expect to go around a lot, talk to many people, get a bunch of inventory items… the usual, really. So what really holds the game together is the atmosphere. As far as creepy adventures go, this might be one of the creepiest. Sure, you were already hunting for ghosts in other games before, but The Lost Crown really makes you wary of them. They appear very rarely, so when they do, it’s quite a moment. Some situations are genuinely unsettling, like exploring a cemetery through a night-vision camera.
I should point out, also, that the characters and story are very interesting too. The direction is not clear in the beginning, but things start to unfold soon, and you’ll get to learn a lot about the town of Saxon and the misteries it holds. This is also helped by the good length of the game: it’s longer than many adventures, and will take you a long while to complete. It’s quite the ride, and somehow it never lets go. It’s worth noting that the slow walking speed might have something to do with it, however.
The puzzles tend to be always quite logical, though there are some more annoying ones in the middle of the game. If possible, I’d suggest playing with the hints website at arm’s length. Sure, it’s better to do things yourself, but getting stuck in a game that is all about the atmosphere and discovery is not very fun. Accept these shortcomings and The Lost Crown will reveal itself as a sprawling, captivating and downright creepy adventure game.
Playing today: PC only, but it’s a relatively recent game. Even the DVD version, which is not difficult to find, will run just fine on any modern system. Take a look at the Steam release however. It is the same game, but it contains a few very welcome improvements, such as the ability to double-click on exits to skip the walking animations and skipping dialogue, which will make the game even more welcoming. And of course the usual stuff like achievements and trading cards. You can’t go wrong either way, but the Steam version is the definitive one, if you don’t mind the DRM (for the record, the disc version comes with a serial key).