Billy rocking his shades...as usual
Last Half Of Darkness: Society of the Serpent Moon review
We’ve taken control of some serious badasses in our time - dudes that would take a squat on Vin Diesel, then wipe their arse cheeks with James Bond’s face. Ben from Full Throttle; Isaac from Dead Space; and of course a certain Mr Kratos. All tougher than a Pure Mathematics paper written in Swahili.
Yet all of these characters are pansies compared to Billy, the protagonist of Last Half of Darkness: Society of the Serpent Moon. Just ten minutes into his trip to Antibes, where his reporter fiancée recently went missing, Billy is bitten by a poisonous snake and confronted by a terrifying demonic apparition in his hotel room. But does he collapse shivering in a corner, or go crying off to the hospital? Does he hell. Instead, he shrugs his shoulders and has a stroll around the desolate and terrifyingly sinister town, to see where his woman has wandered off to.
You control Billy in the third-person (unlike the previous title, Tomb of Zojir, which was all first-person) as he tracks down his fiancée, infiltrates local cults and digs up all manner of suspect shenanigans. As always we’ll keep schtum about Society of the Serpent Moon’s plot, but it’s an intriguing and super-schlocky story that any horror B-reel would be proud of.
Gameplay is standard affair for a third-person adventure. For the most part you’ll be exploring the sinister and almost entirely deserted town of Antibes, picking up clues, breaking into houses and interrogating an increasingly bizarre cast of characters. The town is well drawn and suitably depressing, full of run-down buildings that drip menace (as well as slime and often blood). Just take the hotel where you begin – this place makes the Scunthorpe Travel Lodge look like the Ritz, with its rusty walls, insect infestations and bloodstained bathtub.
You’ll pass through many time-honoured locations such as the local sewers and cemetery, but exploring Society of the Serpent Moon’s world is rarely dull thanks to some atmospheric graphics and sound effects. Visuals on the whole are strong, although character models are painfully dated. Control is done entirely with the mouse and as slick as you’d expect, with inventory items appearing in a scrollable bar at the bottom.
Puzzles are well integrated into the game world, so you rarely find yourself confused by what to do next, or wondering why on earth a sliding tile puzzle is used to unlock a door. If you come across a locked door, chances are you need to find a key. You’ll have to short out alarms and force your way into houses, or work out how to distract a bartender so you can sneak past him. There’s a built-in hints system if you’re stuck, but we rarely found ourselves in trouble and it’s generally obvious what has to be done in order to proceed.
A single puzzle did annoy us to the brink of hurling our laptop across the room, and you’ll know it when you stumble across it. It’s a board game featuring crows and snakes, where the objective is to wipe out all of the snakes before the crows are killed. The annoying aspect comes from having to win it several times in a row. Just a single loss means you have to start over. Add in a number of bugs that cause the game to freeze, or make your opponents invincible, and the damn thing is even more infuriating. Thankfully the computer AI is rubbish, so you can generally stumble through this trial with a bit of luck, but it left us with a sour taste that only several super-strength lagers removed.
A very strange chap indeed
As much as we enjoyed the adventuring aspect of Society of the Serpent Moon, a major stumbling block for us was Billy himself, a bizarre character to say the least. It’s one thing to be brave, but this guy shrugs off nightmarish visions and life-threatening injuries without so much as a nervous tic. Unfortunately his unrealistic reactions regularly snapped us out of the game. The best adventures make us care about the (often flawed) person we’re guiding, through conflict and careful use of emotion – after all, if the main character doesn’t seem to care if he lives or dies, why should we? A lack of emotion is something you can almost get away with in a first-person adventure, as you yourself are the protagonist, feeling fear or anger as you’d imagine they would. But when we’re pulled out to the third person and spend the entire game staring at the character we’re controlling, it’s blazingly apparent when they’re a bit of a blank slate.
We learn little about Billy or his reporter girlfriend, and see no signs of heartbreak that she’s seemingly been kidnapped. At best he seems mildly peeved, which gives the game a lack of urgency. His excessively gravelly reverb voice doesn’t help matters either – Billy sounds like Snake Plissken after two dozen fags, which would be fine if he was some demonic hellspawn, or the secret lovechild of that movie trailer voice-over guy (spoiler alert: he’s not). Instead, it just makes him seem like some ridiculous parody, which further severs any bonds with the player.
Billy’s sunglasses also appear to be glued to his face, as he refuses to take them off even in the dingiest caverns and tombs. In fact, he point-blank refuses to wander down dimly-lit corridors, complaining that it’s too dark to see - while he still has those bloody glasses on! It’s a shame that you can’t die in Serpent Moon, because I’d happily walk the gravel-voiced nonce off the tallest cliff or into a giant blender if I had the chance.
Every horror game we review, we ask a simple question: is it actually scary? Serpent Moon certainly has a couple of good jump scares, usually a quick glimpse of a deformed body or some red-eyed creature punctuated by a crashing orchestra, and succeeds when it comes to sinister atmosphere. However, the change to third-person and the seemingly invulnerable and unflusterable protagonist takes you out of the game and makes Serpent Moon less scary than previous Last Half of Darkness games such as Tomb of Zojir. Adventure fans will still get a kick from it though, thanks to some cool little puzzles and a decent difficulty level.
Interesting choice for a midnight snack