Darkness Within 1: In Pursuit of Loath Nolder Review
Man, whatever happened to horror and adventure games? There’s just something about sitting down, relaxing, and taxing your brain over a title that slowly guides you through a story. Myst and The 7th Guest are two of the most famous from an earlier era when graphics replaced the old text-based titles like The Lurking Horror, mixing then-groundbreaking visuals with plot and complex puzzle-solving. These types of games were slowly replaced by survival horror with more of an action focus, such as the Silent Hill series. Though excellent games, these generally did not engage the mind like their earlier kin, favoring instead gore and terror; though of course you can’t deny the plots of many of them were stellar. But some of us bemoan the current era, and we’d like to see some of the old school flavor return, which brings us to Darkness Within 1: In Pursuit of Loath Nolder.
Darkness Within 1: In Pursuit of Loath Nolder was one of a number of end-generation horror adventure games released in the last decade, coming after such titles as Phantasmagoria, which was designed by the legendary Roberta Williams of the “King’s Quest” series. It was first finished in 2007, went through some problems in publication, was picked up in 2009 by Iceberg Interactive, and now it’s on Steam as of 2014 – which is the version we’re looking at here. Based on some of its predecessors, your task is to discover various clues surrounding a mystery. You take the role of Howard Loreid, a policeman in the imaginary town of Wellsmouth, who begins digging into the mysterious disappearance of a well-know PI named Loath Nolder, who murdered a local man named Clark Field, who was deeply involved in the occult. Darkness Within follows an H.P. Lovecraft-styled plot with an emphasis on psychological terror and anticipation all within the confines of this basic idea. As Howard Loreid, you find the clues surrounding the plot, piece by piece, and root out the mystery behind Field’s disappearance and the entire town of Wellsmouth. No spoilers here, so feel free to keep reading.
So now that we got that out of the way, let’s talk details. After selecting your difficulty (with lower settings giving clues and master setting giving none) Darkness Within 1: In Pursuit of Loath Nolder takes a first person perspective with your mouse functioning as your field-of-view, enabling you to look around at any space you’re investigating. Moving forwards, to the right, and so forth is only possible if an icon appears in the screen indicating direction, which you click on to move. Thus, you don’t have free-range of any area, only the spaces you’re allowed to access, provided you don’t need to figure something out first. You can also right-click to easily access your inventory of various items, but can only use one at a time, exiting the inventory screen as you hold onto the item. As such, no problems with the controls, they’re quite fluid and simple to use. In addition, within your inventory is your collection of clues. This is critical to how the game works.
As you navigate around town, Howard will slowly piece together what happened to Clark Field and Loath Nolder, but unlike a game such as The 7th Guest, the puzzles in Darkness Within 1: In Pursuit of Loath Nolder are largely situational. There are the occasional few to figure out with strange gears and occult objects to put into place, but most of it is based on situation. What that means is, for example, finding the location of a certain house might require looking around an office, using a letter opener on the back of a painting based on a prior clue, and discovering a secret letter, things like that. Most of the game is built around this kind of play and can often involve a ton of reading through journals, books, and the like. If you’re running the game on the master setting, don’t expect things to be intuitive. That’s one of the great things about it, it feels real for the most part, and you can easily trap yourself within the plot as though you were experiencing it. Turn off all the lights and play this on a big-screen monitor, and get ready…
Now let’s move on to the presentation. Graphically, Darkness Within presents a fine atmosphere via most of its visuals. The Clark Field mansion with that damn creepy well in the basement, the moths around lights, the pits of despair, the one thing they got spot-on with this is how everything looks in terms of environment. Since most of what you see is location from the perspective of Howard, that works great for the majority of it. However, since this was supposed to be updated for Steam, after going through the whole thing you’ll be asking “really, well what exactly did you update?” This is especially irksome when you see any human figures, because they’re clearly dated in their design. Some of them look no better than Play-Doh mannequins, and it quickly squashes the mood. Luckily you only get to see other human figures infrequently, but often it tends to be critical moments when it just looks awful.
However, thankfully the sound makes up for at least some of this. The majority of it is incidental: whispers in the dark, creaking far in the distance, and other such things, with only occasional music at key moments. This serves to create a splendidly horrifying atmosphere, and there wasn’t a single problem with any of this aspect. It would have been nice, however, if they really took the time to update some of the visuals to accommodate some of these effects, because when they’re mixed with some of the human figures, your horror quickly turns into humour (with a British English spelling even).
Overall, though, in spite of some minor issues Darkness Within is a very engaging title, with plenty of secrets and puzzles for hardcore gamers to discover, which is further encouraged by a pretty stellar plot. But there are some other issues to note that relate to the title as a whole, which we felt best saving for the finale here.
On the lower setting, clues are sometimes too obvious, and since there’s no real difference in the game, go for the glory and try the master setting. Great, we love a challenge, but the caveat is that in spite of the fun via difficulty, it can be very irritating for the wrong reasons. It’s one thing to investigate a room, digging in drawers and such to find items and clues. It’s another to read pages upon pages upon stinking freaking pages of journal entries. Seriously, God, being a fast reader that really, really got on my nerves. Let’s explain further.
It’s because, unfortunately, in spite of the interesting story, in order to gather the clues to unlock various locations, you have to spend your time underlining through everything. That’s how Darkness Within works. Instead of coming across a clue and the game deciphering it for you and solving it after perhaps a little challenge, you have to do almost all of it. This is done by underlining passages in things to find clues. The problem is that there will be at most two to four clues per reading (which sometimes is very long in the first place), and there really isn’t a way to know what they could be most of the time without just underlining the whole damn thing. You can only underline a few lines at a time, click the “Gear” icon, and then see if there’s anything of worth. If not do it again, and again. Once you have your clues, you have to spend time thinking about how they might relate to each other, put them together in your thinking screen, and then click the icon to see if anything comes out of it. Instead of being an awesome puzzle, it’s often just frustrating and annoying. Just do it for me damn it I already found the clues right? Sometimes, in disgust, you might end up trying things randomly until you get something, and what’s the fun of that? The point is sometimes Darkness Within 1: In Pursuit of Loath Nolder is a bit too real and intricate for its own good in this regard, to the point of annoyance. I remember one time saying to myself, “Wait, you mean to tell me that’s what I had to combine to figure out the location of the blasted house I could have found by looking in a phone book in the real world?”
But hey, this guy can deal with that, the story was interesting enough that the challenge wasn’t so bad, sometimes. But here’s the big thing. We already went over how the supposed updates to the game are barely evident, in fact I’m still trying to figure out what they even were. But hey, whatever, let’s skip that, because there’s something more important. Darkness Within has an occasional, irritating glitch that comes in two forms. One, sometimes the game will actually crash at key moments in the story, and if you didn’t save for a good while before that happens, get ready to enjoy it all over again. Second, even worse, if you decide to minimize the window, say to check your email or something for a quick break, sometimes when you come back to the play screen the game will be frozen or you won’t have any control over your mouse. Shut it down, and then start again, but, oh wait, I didn’t save it yet because I didn’t have to. After awhile I started to save at every damn place just in case the thing bugged out. That was the biggest problem. It was difficult to figure, but it seems the glitch happens primarily whenever you’re looking within a book of some sort or whenever observing anything in the close-up screen. Normal movement around a location, nothing, no glitch, but whenever you click on something to look closer, the glitch occurs. At times, it was possible to get out of it by clicking like mad, which would lead back to the movement screen, whereas other times you’d be stuck in limbo and have to start the game over. Twice I had to come back a few days later because I just lost about two hours or more of play. Fix that, whatever it is.
In spite of this, Darkness Within 1: In Pursuit of Loath Nolder should please most fans of horror adventure games, if there are any left out there. The plot was interesting, and though the ending will definitely leave you wanting to the point of “wait, what, wait a second that’s it?” being your primary reaction, at least the build-up to the finale is generally rewarding with only a few issues to note. That glitching, though – seriously, fix it. A real bummer. There’s a sequel out there of an originally planned trilogy, but it might be awhile before this guy decides to pick it up, because it took a few months to complete it and a few times I wanted to punch my PC to pieces.
- + Classic Horror Adventure
- + Smooth Controls and Interface
- + Excellent Atmosphere and Story
- – Updating of Graphics Seems Scant
- – Upper Level Tedious for Casual Gamers
- – Occasional Glitches That Ruin Play