Darkness Within 2: The Dark Lineage review
Games inspired by the work of horror author H.P. Lovecraft often fail to live up to their potential, but Darkness Within 2 starts promisingly enough. Detective Howard Loreid, driven mad by the events of the first game, awakens in an isolated cabin. A mysterious letter plunges him into a full-on investigation as he attempts to unravel a tale of strange deaths, paranormal experiments and dark forces beyond human comprehension.
DW2 replaces its predecessor's 360 degree still environments with a first person 3D engine, which is an unusual choice for a point-and-click adventure. The scenery looks boxy in places but there's an excellent sense of atmosphere, from creaking old shacks to a town permanently shrouded in mist and snow. Sinister music and sound effects help ramp up the tension. Environmental textures and use of shadow and light are effective but the rare bits of character animation are stiff and marionette-like.
A key part of DW2's story and puzzle structure involves reading, and lots of it. You'll spend a long time paging through old books and letters, using a pen to underline sections you want Loreid to think about in order to obtain any idea of what's going on. The texts are well written but looking for hidden clues distracts from their narrative and makes the whole experience rather tedious. You can enable an auto-research mode, which can highlight clues for you, but that immediately negates one of the game's main challenges.
If these conceptual puzzles seem unnecessarily tedious, at least they're not as fiddly and obtuse as many of the physical ones, which involve plenty of hidden hotspots and objects stashed in unexpected places. Other, less frustrating, puzzles reminded us of Myst, with jigsaws, codes and combination locks. The ability to think about clues and inventory items is an interesting addition; an interface allows you to combine thoughts and objects to come up with new solutions.
Perhaps the game's greatest flaw is its completely linear plot. The story runs along on rails and presumes that you'll do everything in the right order. Even if you don't read a certain book when you're expected to, the game will still act as though you have, providing clues and comments that refer to things you haven't done yet. This completely shatters any suspension of disbelief.
DW2's plot is faithful to the stories that inspired it, with strange cults, ghouls and the subterranean remnants of monstrous pre-human civilisations. However, it feels like a pastiche designed to do nothing more than demonstrate the designers' comprehensive knowledge of the subject matter. All the right elements are there, but nothing of any great interest has been done with them. Combined with mediocre graphics and a plot that's so linear as to completely ignore your actions, there's little to seriously commend DW2 to fans of either Lovecraft or adventure games, despite its chilling atmosphere.