Review by MMyers

"A hero's quest to fulfill a prophecy set in a valley of darkness and evil."

Vampires, a werewolf, a gaggle of ghosts and ghouls, a coterie of corpses, and a diversity of dark denizens inhabit this game from 1993 by the combined talents of Event Horizon and SSI. It's a mostly interesting heroic tale but perhaps with an even more interesting villain. Follow me now into the strange valley where it all began.....

In the manual of the game we meet a young man named Kairn, a son of the lord of Csarda. An innocent who has been dominated all his life by a violent, ruthless, domineering father as evidenced by the damage inflicted on one of his legs as punishment for not clearing a hurdle on a horse. He is not the ''real man'' his father expects or wants and is seen as weak next to his 4 older brothers. But now he has found a Hungarian girl he is in love with named Deanna and goes to the royal librarian, who's hand had already been cut off by that same father for supposed treachery, to help him woo her by giving him a book of poems. This despite the fact they both know his father will disapprove of the peasant girl. While there, Kairn notices an ancient book, steeped in bloody legends of curses, chained up.

Kairn rides to speak to his love at her house. When he gets there though he finds Deanna's father murdered and she held captive by his father and brothers. She has been badly beaten and his father proceeds to tell him how outraged he is that his youngest son would mingle with a ''Hungarian dog''. So, in front of his son's eyes he murders her with a knife and forces him to drink her blood as his brothers hold him down.

After this, Kairn wants vengeance but knows he cannot do it without power so he tells his father he wants to be the new librarian with the idea to use the Agrippa, the chained book. His father and brothers only laugh since they know the librarian is already dead. The Agrippa turns him into a vampire and plunges the valley into perpetual darkness. To complete the transformation Kairn eats the dead librarian's heart and then proceeds to murder one of his brothers through control of a minion. This first act of violence gives the local bar it's name - The Severed Head. He personally confronts his father, stops him from beating a servant girl and drinks his blood as his father tries to kill him with a sword. Yet he allows his father to live so he can taunt him as he tells how he will murder his other brothers and, eventually, him, either in the same way or by his own hand, and that he is powerless to stop him.

Finally, Kairn returns to the library to get the Agrippa and finds a coffer which contains the valley's light. Certain points of this story are important to completing the game. Not to mention it's a great story, maybe a little more compelling than our hero's.

The graphics are gorgeous as the game begins with part of the prophecy as written by Kairn's father then a light flickers on as we see our fair-haired hero standing outside a large ruined house. In one of the top windows a dark, tall form looms then changes into a bat and flies to just behind our unsuspecting alter ego as he tries to read a map by the light of a cigarette lighter. The bat changes into an enormous, cadaverous vampire as our hero realizes too late, drops his map and is enclosed by the arms of Kairn. This is all eye candy of course but sets the right mood.

As the game really begins our hero is flying freight over the cloud-enshrouded Carpathian Mountains. Kairn, at this point, has spent centuries as the dark ruler of this unchanging land and tries to bring unsuspecting travelers into the valley. Perhaps, as the manual intimates, he half hopes for release at some hero's hands though he cannot simply give up as the evil that resides in him wants to continue.

First, Kairn tries to use his telekinetic powers to bring our character's plane down; then, when that doesn't work, he sends his bats who finally do the trick. Our hero crawls out of the wreckage and we see hands reaching out for him as the screen fades since he's starting to black out. Next we overlook a misty valley and watch as a shrouded, lithe figure waves for another hulking one, with a lifeless body slung over its shoulder, to join it as they walk on, descending into the village below. Then the screen changes and blurs and very slowly we see the beautiful, supple, doe-eyed face of a young girl who smiles as she realizes we're awake.

You may have noticed I never say our hero's name. That's because you get to give him one as you introduce yourself to Dierdre, the young flirtatious female who has found you and brought you to her house.

What you see for most of the rest of the game is a screen that's so big you have to scroll down using your mouse to see the rest of it. It's composed of a 3-d overhead view of you and your surroundings from an angle at the top of the screen. Below this is your character's portrait, a picture of your knapsack to show how much stuff you're carrying and a picture of your character in a coffin to show your health status (the picture changes to a skeleton as you lose health points). A bigger picture of him is below this to show what you're holding or wearing or if you're aging (because of a creature of the night) or cursed by fire and brimstone (by the Agrippa). To the right of this is a wooden cabinet to show what items you have, pictures of your right and left hands and what they're holding, icons of your hands in a throwing motion (so you can throw the object your holding of course), icons to access for a map of the valley and a copy of the prophecy. Below this is a mirror that shows blessings, curses or any other influences and below this is a status area showing the weight you carry in pounds and information on a blessing or curse you click on in the mirror.

Everything is accessible by mouse clicks. To use something from your inventory you just move that object from the cabinet to one of your hands and click that hand to use it. Or, move the object to the full body portrait on the lower left to wear it.

You have to fulfill the prophecy and as you do, each part will change from dark red to light gray. You'll have to fill in the map of the valley yourself by listening to the local gossip at The Severed Head and talking to other characters then afterward the place will appear on the map and you can click it to travel there. More maps will be shown as you explore different mazes like: The Hedge Maze, The Catacombs, Crazy Frank's Caverns, The Mausoleum Inner Chambers and Sinkhole Caverns and you'll have to make your own map of The Dark Forest.

You'll see other exotic places like Kairn's fortress, the 2 villages, a monastery, a swamp and, of course, a cemetery.

Along the way you'll meet vampire women who don't try to bite you but simply inflict wounds, bats, glowing white ghosts, shades that look like black blobs, skeletons, moving statues of warrior women, topiary creatures who look like big green fuzzy worms, a werewolf, will-o-wisps that look like big stars, zombies, a banshee that appears as a woman then a band of light that surrounds you and wolves. Killing these last creatures left me with a sick feeling after playing the PC game Wolf but if you want to finish you don't have much choice.

You'll also meet a menagerie of characters ranging from gypsies to an ill young girl and another caught in a trance to a man transformed into a tree to a wrongly accused hanged ghost. Most of these characters will need your help in some way and generally give you some information in return though mostly it's just to complete each part of the prophecy.

As far as the graphics are concerned, the best parts are both the beginning and end. During the game it's when a certain important action occurs and a little window pops up to show you a close-up of things like: the werewolf's transformation, Kairn's transformation into a bat, a one-armed rotting corpse rising from water's depths to ferry you to an island, you using a winch to open a portcullis or trying to pry open a rusted door, being attacked by the banshee, nailing Kairn's coffin closed, opening the valley's light on Kairn or seeing the voluptuous beauty of the local gypsy girl as she reads your fortune.

The final battle with Kairn is beautifully rendered but doesn't have you participating. I guess the makers wanted you to be able to fully appreciate their graphic artistry. Though I really didn't mind by then as you will feel you really earned it since it will take quite a while to complete this game. I took 2 weeks to figure out all the puzzles and you do get to do some damage to Kairn personally before the end, if you get that far.

As for the music - it wasn't bad and certainly started out well in setting a suspenseful mood but become somewhat repetitive as the game went on. The sound effects were hit and miss. Sound effects like: the vampire women crying out as you pour holy water on them or the werewolf growling sounded noisy and unclear. This may have been do to my sound card as I had more than a few problems with its performance when I used to play this. I should also mention there are no voices in this game. All talking involves windows showing a given character's face and what they're saying.

Another problem I had with this game involves helping free Kairn's father's and brothers' souls. It seems strange to help them considering they were mostly responsible for this whole affair in the first place. In fact, helping them takes up a large part of this game.

In the end this game's an old-fashioned horror story and is kind of like the old Dark Shadows soap opera in that there are so many different storylines going at once. It's well-crafted though I would have liked the chance to be Kairn. His doomed hero turned villain seemed an even better character to explore. If done right it could have made a great prequel in the same way that the new Star Wars movies could have if they'd had slightly better actors.

If you like the more well-traveled approach to horror then this game is for you. It pulls out all the stops, just don't expect any big surprises.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 12/20/02, Updated 12/20/02

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