Thursday, May 8, 2014

Diary Entry #29: Lovecraftian Adventures in the Wanadoo Dominion

The Necronomicon itself, getting
ready to bite anyone who touches
it. By the great Crystal Mielcarek.
             After hours of trying to get Riven: The Sequel to Myst to stop crashing on Vista and scoffing at the dreadful load times of the PS1 port, I've resolved to play Riven on my Windows 95 computer at some point in time. The issue is that my older PC is in my mancave, a place that's become more of a storage unit than anything else. Instead, I tried out Necronomicon: The Dawning of Darkness, a Myst-alike by Wanadoo Edition. I recently acquired another Wanadoo PC game from around the same time called Chicago 1930, which looks like Fallout 1 with gangsters. Promising stuff.

             I once wrote a shortish essay about how Lovecraft treats traditional supernatural elements like ghost, which ultimately concluded that while Lovecraft's distinct rogue's gallery reflects many elements of conventional supernatural horror, the actual use of these stock creatures is so limited that any in depth analysis yields no real patterns of interest. Not exactly the most successful research ever, but it did allow me to read a ton of HP Lovecraft, an author I now deeply appreciate. Some of my favorite games are inspired by his works, including Call of Cthulhu: Shadow of the Comet and Eternal Darkness. Let's just hope Wanadoo can cut the mustard.

William tries to comfort Edgar, who has
a pretty great 3D hairline.

             You play as William H. Stanton, a guy who lives in Rhode Island. At the game's start, Stanton's friend Edgar comes running up to his house. He gives Willie a strange object, refusing to elaborate on its purpose. Edgar appears to have problems with his sanity due to his research into the occult, a common Lovecraftian trope. Necronomicon is obviously based on The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, Lovecraft's only novel that takes much more time describing random buildings than it does building much suspense.

             Initially, you do not have a fast travel map. Motorcycle is your main method of transportation, and while its only used the first thirty minutes of the game, the little cutscene of you riding is pretty fabulous.

             When you try to visit Edgar's house early on in the game, a doorman continuously answers and tells you to leave, getting more and more threatening if you knock repeatedly. On around the eighth or ninth attempt, he decks you, leading to an automatic game over.

             The local market owner is pretty creepy looking. As a matter of fact... is the local newspaper writer. And even worse...

...this disgruntled local who manages to have the ugliest ear, nose, teeth, and left eye of any game character ever. While all of that was intentionally made to look ugly...

...the revolting hair on some characters is totally insane. With a wiry head of hair and cascades of strange 3D textures for a beard, this guy is pretty damn amusing.

I can't tell whether the trees are gorgeous
or absolutely putrid, but one things for sure:
only in 2001.

             The first hour of the game is all wandering back and forth through the same two areas, but you quickly gain access to a strange abandoned ranch. This leads to the first of the games two underground areas, where the bulk of Necronomicon's puzzles are located. 

             After an annoying torch puzzle, I quickly ran into this beastie. He appears for about three seconds, never to be seen again, but that sort of lends to its creepiness a lot more. Just like in Lovecraft's writings, withholding a full description of the unknown leads to a more jarring effect. If I had to stare at this thing for more than a brief moment, I'd probably wind up thinking it's really, really dumb like you do.

             I reach a strange laboratory, which leads to me making a strange mixture of various chemicals. I inject the chemicals in this syringe... order to bring this talking brain to life. He reveals quite a bit about the malevolent force below Providence, although it doesn't go into too much detail. 

             Eventually, you get a mummy to talk using magical alchemist powers. After speaking with him, there's a jarringly quick smattering of cutscenes, which leads to:

...Edgar's death by your hand. The scene is actually rather strange: Edgar reveals that he's been overtaken by an ancient consciousness and Stanton guns him down almost instantly. This is where Lovecraft's novel ends, but the game keeps on rolling.

             After committing cold-blooded murder, you meet the librarian. I wouldn't wish those eyebrows on my worst enemy.

             The librarian makes you read from the Necronomicon and other various esoteric tomes, a feat that drives most Lovecraftian "heroes" to madness. 

             Some investigative work reveals that some points in the slave trade and homes of occult sects make a giant Star of David across the Atlantic Ocean. This leads you to the second underground dungeon, a place filled with the game's most visually striking moments. Here's some images: 

             The last picture is the one I keep contemplating the most. As William dashes towards a giant underground pyramid, he runs past this nondescript man. Where did he come from?

             I don't really want to go into too much detail about the remainder of the game, but I can tell you there are two separate endings and a few goofy puzzles remaining. The puzzles are more creative as the game draws to an end: pushing buttons and running through corridors to beat a time limit, a gorgeous maze area with absolutely no gimmick other than that it's huge, and a timed button pushing section that determines the fate of the Earth.

             Necronomicon feels like a sleazy European adventure game because it's just that. Goofy voice-acting, bad 3D characters, and absolutely no sense of pacing are the norm. Compared to how brisk the investigation portions play out, the dungeon areas feel far more Myst-like, throwing puzzle after puzzle at you in rapid succession. It sounds like a recipe for disaster, but honestly, I'd rather play a trashy game that's fun and unique than some million dollar game that brings little new to the gaming landscape.

             I've been investigating bad European budget titles for a while, ranging from Two Worlds II to Cursed Mountain on Wii. Perhaps someday I'll make a more in depth post about some of these, but for now, I'm thinking about playing Law & Order: Legacies or more Record of Agarest War 2.

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