H.P. Lovecraft's dark tales have undoubtedly stood the test of time, proving to be just as brain-bendingly terrifying over 60 years after the author's death. If any proof is needed, then check out the following list - Alone in the Dark, Silent Hill, Eternal Darkness and Call of Cthulhu. Some damn creepy games, all of which have reduced grown men to quivering wrecks by the fuzzy green glow of a monitor at midnight. All of these games have been inspired in some way by Lovecraft's dark imagination, focusing on the kind of psychological horror that stays with you, not just for hours, but for whole months.
Darkness Within: In Pursuit of Loath Nolder was a 2007 horror adventure directly based on Lovecraft's stories, and one which managed some positive if not glowing reviews. Darkness Within: Dark Lineage is the grisly follow-up, which continues the original story in a particularly unoriginal manner - your detective protagonist has just woken in a strange bed with no memory of how he got there, and no clues except for a mysterious letter telling you to get your ass to a suitably creepy nearby town.
Dark Lineage's story is told via the occasional cutscene and a large number of books and letters, all of which must be read in order to work out what you're supposed to do next. Unfortunately the bulk of these documents actually confuse more than they enlighten, with mysterious culty shenanigans often extensively detailed with little background or explanation given. To complain would be shallow, as Lovecraft's tales were often left unexplained and the best psychological horror is usually open to interpretation. However, Darkness Within: Dark Lineage's story is regularly more bewildering than unsettling, and the events of the first game are left mostly untouched.
While the first game was played out from a fixed viewpoint, Darkness Within: Dark Lineage gives you full freedom to explore the 3D environments, just like Call of Cthulhu. You move around using the keyboard and mouse like in any First Person Shooter, and can pick up or move items such as chairs and boxes to clear paths or create makeshift ladders. It's a great way to interact with the environment, and one which should be used more frequently in adventure games.
This control scheme adds a lot to Dark Lineage's atmosphere, as you really feel like you're trapped in this macabre world, struggling to find a way out. The use of lanterns and torches to light your way through the (many) darkened segments further enhances the unsettling mood. Exploration - as well as reading and item-finding - makes up the bulk of the game, and stepping foot in a new environment is always exciting, even if they are mostly of the ‘dirty old stone and wood building' variety.
However, a complaint has to be made about Darkness Within: Dark Lineage's engine, which is so dated that this game could have come out a decade ago. Textures are basic at best, characters look like their heads have been panel-beaten into bizarre hexagonal shapes until they resemble Kryten from Red Dwarf, and worst of all, almost all locations are completely devoid of life. Fair enough, the developers may have been deliberately aiming for a feeling of isolation, but an entire town with not a single person lingering in the streets?
Darkness Within: Dark Lineage certainly has some creepy moments, although not too many that'll cast you from your seat. The occasional nightmarish segments are well handled, and some of your discoveries in the run-down, old fashioned environments will crunch your stomach into a ball. However, Dark Lineage has an annoying habit of wrenching control from you during the more shocking scenes, which softens the impact. You don't want to watch as your character peers around that darkened corner - you want to be the one guiding him there, inch by painful inch.
Although Darkness Within: Dark Lineage confronts you with a huge pile of reading material, developers Zoetrope Interactive have added a unique twist to these segments. You must underline certain passages as you read that you think contain important clues, then click the ‘think' button to see if your detective work is on the money. Documents usually contain several clues, so this mechanism at least ensures you pay attention to what you're reading instead of skimming over everything. However, sometimes these long passages can seemingly contain hundreds of important details and it can be difficult to work out exactly what the game wants you to pick out.
Luckily there's a semi-decent hint system that can be accessed on the lower difficulty levels, which points you in the right direction at times. Anyone lacking patience or fortitude will regard it as a lifesaver, as there's a number of essential items or hotspots that can all too easily be missed otherwise. Dark Lineage also keeps track of your discoveries via a helpful set of notes which you can refer to at any time.
Horror adventure fans will find a lot to like in Darkness Within: Dark Lineage. The excellent interface is well implemented, exploration is good fun, and there's enough creepy moments to distract from the confusing plot. Here's hoping Zoetrope can come up with a fresh new engine and create a more populated world for the third adventure in the series.