Review by N3Burgener

"An amateurish product that doesn't outshine its limitations."

The Lost Crown: A Ghost-Hunting Adventure is the latest from Jonathan Boakes, a man well-renowned within adventure gaming circles for his previous work on the Dark Fall series. Given the amount of enthusiastic previews and reviews for TLC, I had high expectations; however, the actual game proved utterly disappointing. The pacing is incredibly slow, even for adventure standards, the characters are completely flat and shallow with some of the worst voice acting I've ever heard, and the plot lacks all form of intrigue and compulsion. There are a few shining moments within this sea of murky brown, but the whole package is mediocre, at best.

[The Premise]
TLC is, for the most part, a traditional point-and-click adventure game – you navigate the entire game with the mouse. Scenes are constructed from third-person stills, and you click along the edges of the screen (usually along a visible pathway) to move to the next scene. The gameplay is mostly a matter of going from scene to scene clicking on everything you can, hopefully in the correct order, until you get to a new area. You don't run into any brain-twisting puzzles, but otherwise, it follows the adventure formula to the dot.

As the game's subtitle suggests, a decent portion of your time will be spent hunting ghosts. You'll use a typical array of ghost-hunting equipment from EMF meters to digital cameras and EVP recorders. In some instances the game will assume a first-person perspective and allow you to move around an environment by clicking through screens. These sequences are perhaps the most atmospheric of the entire game and can provide some chilling, memorable moments.

Nigel Danvers, the main character, is on the run and has decided to lay low in the quaint town of Saxton. Upon his arrival, he starts hearing weird things about the town, and quickly sets his sights on a local legend, the lost crown. In the process, he discovers that the town has a surprisingly large ghost population and has to deal with them to make progress in his own quest. The majority of his time in this 25-30 hour experience is spent unraveling the town's off-beat secrets, and tracking down the legendary lost crown.

[The Narrative]
As the six-page mini-booklette on the game's box tells us, Nigel stumbled upon some curious files on the Hadden Corporation website servers, and is now on the run. He's being pursued by two of Mr Hadden's hounds, and he knows that Hadden will stop at nothing to secure the knowledge that Nigel has made off with. In order to dodge the heat, Nigel flees to Saxton.

Saxton is made out to be quiet and out of the way, ideal for his fugitive status. However, he begins to notice strange things, even before arriving at the town; notably, that the train he came in on doesn't even go to Saxton, and that the station master wears a rather antiquated uniform. He asks him about his “period costume,” but the station master doesn't understand what he means. Suspicions immediately arise.

Nigel then has to travel through “the fens,” the marshy wetlands between the town and the train outpost – a mysterious region which the station master (and later the townsfolk) warn you to be careful around. Along the way he sees strange images, and most importantly, stumbles upon a few newspaper articles which hint at the legend of the Lost Crown, and I think something briefly about some townsfolk dying in ages past. Next, he meets an old woman on the beach who already knows his name and what his purpose in the town is.

Once he's finally in town, his first stop is The Bear, a local pub and inn, but the bartender refuses to tell him what year it is. He takes up residency in the local “Harbor Cottage,” which the game immediately suggests to be haunted. From here, he spends the next few days meeting strange new people, exploring new areas, and uncovering evidence about the trail of the lost crown, all-the-while trying to piece together Saxton's mysterious history as he encounters one strange inconsistency after another.

That's about all there is to the story; much more and I'd be depriving you of the experience of playing it for yourself. The box would like us to believe, though, that this girl Lucy Ruebans plays an important role with Nigel. In truth, she doesn't get that much screen time – it's a little more than the other townsfolk, but she doesn't spend nearly enough time with Nigel to be considered a main character. Boakes tries to set up a Mulder/Scully duality between the two; Nigel is a Believer, and Lucy is a Skeptic. She wants to believe in the paranormal, but needs hard proof before she's willing to go out on a limb for Nigel. Through their interactions and eventual investigations, she begins to believe, but not until after some seriously harrowing trials with ghosts and madmen.

Their relationship isn't that deep, and although the voice acting definitely makes it *seem* shallow, the true fault lies within the script. There's nothing unique about them that we haven't seen a hundred times in film, television, literature, or other video games – they're the cliched “lite” version of the conflicted believer/skeptic pairing. We don't learn anything about Lucy's past, origins, or even her personality or interests (in fact, neither do we about Nigel), so in practical terms she's just another stranger off of the street with a knack for showing up whenever Nigel needs another pair of hands.

In fact, none of Saxton's inhabitants (living or deceased) are as fleshed out as they should be. Very little about the characters is revealed beyond your own first impressions; once you meet someone, you really won't be learning anything more about them. They're instantly forgettable, and almost none of them serve any purpose in the actual story. As you explore, you usually uncover one fact about each character which connects them to the town, to the legend, or to one another. These revelations, however, have no implications on anything in the actual game or story and come off as a weak attempt to add significance to everything.

Your investigations aren't very compelling, either. What makes a suspenseful, riveting story, is putting the audience in situations where they don't know what's going to happen next, as the hero comes to the edge of solving a problem or answering a question, which will inevitably lead to another problem. The stakes rise with each hurdle, until it becomes life or death, success or failure at the climax. It's about pacing. It's about simultaneously asking questions and answering them. Giving the player feedback which provides a sense of accomplishment and progression.

TLC doesn't do any of this. Instead of climbing a mountain or even a hill, the story spends its time drowning in a swampy lake. The story amounts to Nigel wandering around town doing odd jobs for the townsfolk, and stumbling upon clues about the local history. The clues never reveal anything or answer any of the questions that have been amassing in your mental log, they just pose more questions. The effect is that you spend hours and hours doing random things wondering “What's the point of all of this? Is it all going to come together in the end?” (There are many more crucial questions that don't get answered, but even asking them could be considered spoilers.)

Unfortunately, it doesn't come together. The whole time I was hoping for/expecting an “I see dead people” twist ending, where Nigel turned out to be the ghost, or that the whole town was a ghost town. While a fan could probably theorize endlessly about what the game means, there's no evidence to support any claim, because the ending answers absolutely zero questions. Who is this Mr Hadden? What were those files that Nigel found? What does Nigel actually do for a living? Why are so many ghosts clinging to this town? Why won't anyone tell me what year it is? What's with these newspaper articles that seem to be from the future? How did the townsfolk know who I was before I even got there?

The twist ending really isn't much of a twist at all. The box alludes to this when it asks, in the front panel, “Should all lost treasures .... be found?” You can assume that there will be bad consequences for finding the lost crown, and I suppose, in a sense, there are. However, it all seems arbitrary because they don't explain what's happening or why it's happening. The effect is that, after twenty hours of tortoise-like meandering, the climax has you undo all of what you spent the whole game striving for.

Ultimately, the story is just too spread out to be enjoyable or even comprehensible. The game drags on far too long, and would have been more interesting if there had been fewer characters, fewer ghosts, and a more linear plot progression concentrated on a more compact and concrete premise.

[The Atmosphere]
The front of the box proudly quotes a review from JustAdventure, just under the title, saying that TLC may “go down in history as the best horror adventure game ever written.” This quote is blatantly inaccurate and misleading; not only does the script feel like something written by a 14 year-old fan fiction author, but absolutely nothing about the game can be classified as “horror.” The genre label on the side of the box says “Suspense,” which is a little more accurate, but as I described earlier, the pacing is slow and wanders around so aimlessly, with zero consequences for anything you do, that there's zero suspense to be had.

Horror games usually involve sadistically inhumane amounts of gore, violence, psychologically disturbing content, and suspenseful scare tactics. Some games can manage a horror label by suggesting or implying these criteria, instead of relying on blatant blood and guts on the screen, but TLC doesn't really imply anything horrific, either. You get occasional flashes and suggestions of murder, death, and suicide, but it's about as horrific, as, for example, watching an episode of Law & Order or NCIS. I won't fault the game for not actually being a horror-thriller, but I'm offended that the box mislead me into believing and expecting this before I bought it. If it *is* trying to be a horror-thriller, then it just fails miserably.

The few moments when you're dealing directly with the paranormal are about as close to horror or suspense as the game actually gets. By their own merits, these sections have passably spooky, chilling atmospheres, especially compared to the rest of the game. However, compared to other games like Condemned, Call of Cthulhu, Penumbra, Doom 3, Cryostasis, FEAR, Vampire Bloodlines, and STALKER, they don't come anywhere near as close (and believe me, I left out tons of others that are more successful spook-factors than TLC). You can say that all of these games had way higher budgets with bigger teams working on them, but they all do things that any Joe Schmoe can figure out: complete first-person perspective and interaction with the environment immerses the player in the setting and atmosphere, and making the character vulnerable to death (or other consequences) makes them cautious of what to do and anxious of what to expect.

TLC could have heavily benefited from adopting a first-person perspective and losing Nigel Danvers altogether. That first-person perspective is one of the easiest ways to make a player feel surrounded by the game, and that they personally play an active role within it. A few of the ghost-hunting sequences involve walking around looking through a night vision camera, and these are easily the most atmospheric and immersing moments in the game, however, the majority of the game involves third-person stills, watching Nigel slide across the screen and move like a robot. It constantly reminds you that you're not actually in the story, you're just manipulating someone who is.

But Nigel Danvers is just an annoying character to have to put up with. He works against the player more often than he actually helps (for example, by refusing to do what you tell him to). He's more like a roadblock within the game than he is a representation of ourselves. He constantly makes captain obvious comments (telling me exactly what I've already deduced by looking at an item) and asking utterly stupid, moronic questions that make me want to smack him. I feel insulted that I have to be paired with this guy. It makes me distance and dissociate myself from the main hero, and by extension, the whole game. I really don't care about the lost crown, but I'd be happy and willing to play along if Nigel were a better character.

I also don't understand Nigel's motivation. So he's on the run, OK. If I were laying low, I wouldn't be going around introducing myself by full, real name to everyone I meet, poking my nose into treasure myths and spreading a reputation about myself and my whereabouts. We go through the whole game on a treasure hunt, basically, and why? Because Nigel's greedy. There's really no reason or incentive to find the lost crown (in fact, there are even hints along the way that you should stay AWAY from it at all costs. Despite this, Nigel's greed presses on). You know like how Indiana Jones has to find artifacts in order to keep them out of the wrong hands thus preventing some catastrophe? He has a reason, and we root for him because of that. Nigel's just some guy fresh off a train with a sweet tooth for treasure.

In short, Nigel kills the atmosphere.

The scenes are all constructed from real life photography. Set a camera, take a snapshot, and that's a scene. The photos are then doctored up to make them look like they were created for the game, so that characters and other 3D models don't clash with the imagery. Then, to top it off, almost the entire game is grayscaled to black and white. Many scenes have flashes of color in them to emphasize items (like the red phone booth, the pink flowers, or at the end, the blue sky).

I'm not against black and white on principle, but this is a case where so little happens on screen and when you get stuck in robotic dialogue sequences, it's so easy to zone out or put a movie in on the side, since you're staring at a photograph for so long. It's rare that you'll look at a scene and go “Wow, this is amazing!” because it's mostly just plain and ordinary; a reflection of how ordinary the real world can be, perhaps. The shots themselves, though, look good and can be pretty memorable, and the black and white kind of adds to the atmosphere. However, because everything is 2D and the gray tends to all blend together in your field of vision, it's sometimes difficult to tell what parts of the environment are new to the scene or are unique interact-able items.

It's usually only problematic when they add an item into the foreground, or right next to one another – for example, I was in a graveyard, and the entire field of the gravestones could be clicked for Nigel to say something about life and death, but one individual grave could be examined at closer detail for a necessary puzzle item. I had already clicked on four or five different spots in the graveyard and heard the same line over and over again that I just assumed the whole field was the same. This same thing happened several other times with piles of boxes, the ocean, the sky, blank papers scattered across a desk, etc.

Every scene also has some sort of animation going on. Sometimes it's flowers waving in the foreground or background, birds flying in the sky, leaves falling from trees, smoke billowing from chimneys, waves on the ocean, etc. It's easy to overlook, but it's just enough animation that it keeps the scenes from being too stale and lifeless. It's not enough to keep your attention glued to the screen when you get stuck staring at the same still-shot background for ten minutes at a time, but it's a nice touch.

Dialogue is atrocious, and Nigel is the worst culprit. In every line of dialogue (no exaggeration), Nigel adds unnecessary pauses to the flow of a sentence or stresses the wrong words. It's a little like classic Kirk in Star Trek. Or, if you'd like a better simile, it's like he's a high school drama student whose only cue from the director is constantly “make it more dramatic!” Or, it's like he's trying to talk to and convey vital information to a 95 year old woman with alzheimer's. Or, it's like he's a (comparatively) well-educated zombie trying its best to blend in with the human world, but with a complete lack of practice or experience, as if he learned English via a textbook and this is his first time talking in public.

You know how people always write in their reviews, that voice actors are noticeably reading lines out of context? Here, it's like the individual *words* are out of context, as if words and phrases were cut out of different lines and assembled together into one sentence, like an anonymous message written from magazine cut-outs.

The other characters aren't as bad, but while Nigel tries too hard to add dramatic emphasis and feeling to his lines, the others do just the opposite. Lucy, in particular, speaks in complete monotone and sounds like her voice is being filtered through a machine, literally, it's like she's a robot. There are maybe only two or three voices that are actually good, and a decent portion are adequate, but so many are completely devoid of life and emotion. It's especially tragic because an adventure game like this should rely on its characters to breathe life into the game; instead they make what is already a questionable atmosphere even worse.

The writing for the dialogue doesn't sound or flow very well either. Conversations go all over the place and people's responses don't sync up with the current subject. Person A might say “I'm going to France” and person B might respond “I have AIDS.” A retorts “Do you like lobster?” and B asks “Where'd I leave my notebook?” It's completely unnatural the way conversations shift from topic to topic. Characters react unrealistically and say things that just aren't natural in real, fluid conversations.

It's enervating when these conversations drone on and on and, frequently, when the characters don't actually say anything of value. Almost all of your conversations will involve characters telling you things you already know, dodging the question and giving you an unsatisfying and unrewarding answer, or saying something that just has no real effect on the plot. It's all too easy to tune out, and it's frustrating that you can't skip lines of dialogue. If you hate the voice acting you can't read the subtitles at your own pace by skipping forward, or if you accidentally hit the wrong option you get stuck listening to the entire conversation all over again.

A lot of lines are repeated ad nauseam. You'll see a *lot* of lines appear in multiple different places, and you'll simply wonder why they couldn't have made the effort to make it more original. Whenever you meet a ghost, for example, you cycle through the exact same five lines of dialogue, each time. Whenever you collect paranormal evidence, Nigel says the exact same “There's definitely something” and “There! Definitely paranormal activity.” He says “Nothing ventured” every time you walk into a dark area, “Home sweet home, for now anyway” every time you enter the harbor cottage, “Symbolic images, or ancient graffiti” every time you click on a mystical carving. It's completely unnecessary in most instances, and only detracts from the quality of the product.

The rest of the audio is pretty decent. There's not a lot of music, I suppose since this is supposed to be as realistic as possible, so you only hear music in shops and homes where the characters are actually listening to music. (And at least half of the music in these scenes are blatant ripoffs of Greensleeves and Sound of Silence, which bothered me to no end.) The ambient sound effects, though sparse and minimalistic, get the job done and fit the scenes pretty well.

Character models are pretty bad for 2008 standards, but since this is an independently developed *adventure* game I can't knock it too much. The animations, however, are just bad, and there's really no excuse. Nigel doesn't really walk; his feet slide across the floor faster than he actually lifts and plants his feet. When he turns, he keeps his upper torso pointed to wherever he was originally looking until the last second, quickly spinning his shoulders around once his feet are pointing the right way. Whenever you click on something, he stands around for two or three seconds and then slowly tilts his body upward or downward as if he's the Batman and can't move his neck. When he knocks on doors it looks like a robot trying to stick a dollar into a vending machine.

Have you seen any of those old, cheesy horror movies from before the 70s, where everything looks so fake that you laugh at the characters and the supposedly scary moments? Playing TLC is like that, because a lot of stuff just looks and sounds so bad that you can't take it seriously.

[The Gameplay]
Gameplay is your standard adventure affair. You control the entire game with the mouse and use it to move around the scenes and to interact with people and items. There aren't any action sequences which will require fast reflexes or good hand-eye coordination, it's all pretty relaxed adventuring. There aren't very many hardcore puzzle sequences – most of what you'll need to do to progress will be simple detective work, collecting evidence and talking to people.

This means that, generally, your gameplay will involve walking into a new scene, clicking on anything and everything possible, and then progressing to the next screen. The game structures your access to various places by blocking areas off with convenient blockades until you're ready to go there, and once you're in an area Nigel will refuse to leave until you've done everything. The system works well in guiding you along and making sure that you do things in the right order, but it also hinders the feeling of exploration.

It makes me wonder why they didn't just make the game more linear in the first place instead of giving you the illusion of complicated maps and freedom to explore. You can't go places at your own pace and are frequently trumped by roadblocks or Nigel's own incompetence. You'll often find a new path, click on it, and Nigel will refuse to go that way and tell you “I don't know where this leads .... IF it leads anywhere at all.” My reaction is always “Well go find out you stupid idiot!” There's one section in particular where you need to find a church, and to do so, you need to arrange a series of rotating statues in the woods in the right way to get a lens looking through a particular sight-line at the church. When you leave the woods, Nigel *finally* goes down that path that you've been clicking on all this time, and the church is two screens away. Why we had to go through that process and couldn't just, oh, go there, is beyond me.

For that matter, the final crypt in which you ultimately find the lost crown has absolutely NO roadblocks to pass through. Literally, you walk by it two or three times in the course of the game and there's nothing blocking your access to it. The only reason you can't go there? Because the cursor wouldn't highlight over the entrance to let you in until the end of the game. This utterly infuriated me – so much that I had to use bold text in my review, something that I reserve only for structural taglines. There is NO reason you couldn't have just wandered in there and found the thing right off the bat, other than the game being a complete and total jerkwad to you.

The item collecting and detective work can be frustrating as well. Sometimes the game will require you to interact with certain items in a certain order, so you can easily go through an entire region of the map looking at things, and then get to the roadblock and have to backtrack because you looked at some things before triggering some sort of special sequence. It's then easy to overlook many of the items because you don't remember what they were supposed to be for, and if you're like me, you're reluctant to click on things and get stuck watching Nigel glide over to them, turn in place, look up or down, and then bombard you with his stupid inner monologue over and over again (it was bad enough the first time).

That said, you're not pixel-hunting like in many adventure games. In fact, most items have a pretty wide activation area, which generally makes it a simple matter of sweeping the cursor across the screen and finding all of the activation zones. It's nice because it makes most items easy enough to find, but you sometimes confuse activation areas assuming they cover an entire region when there are actually multiples right next to one another. Inventory-based puzzles are also fairly few, and most of the times when you need to use an inventory item on the environment, it's simple and logical. You still wind up with literally dozens of items in your inventory, though, most of which you can't use, dispose of, or don't have any real use for. It's kind of annoying on a aesthetic level, but I'd rather have a bunch of useless junk in my inventory than be challenged with impossibly stupid logic puzzles.

This is also an adventure game in which you cannot die. There are a bunch of places where your life is put at risk but there's absolutely no consequence, since you can't die or suffer any sort of penalties. It completely breaks the immersion when there's an evil darkness swarming in on you and you have to navigate through a maze to escape, but it is designed to easily allow you to escape by never blocking your path and never actually closing in on you. There's no sense of danger, which therefore never puts you on edge and never ups the suspense. A few death scenes (and having you replay the challenge from an auto-save) might have made the atmosphere and gameplay feel much more immersing.

There are plenty of ghosts in Saxton which you'll have to investigate and even exorcise. Most of them are fairly harmless and just have some unfinished business which you need to help them out with. In order to solve these problems you'll have to do some snooping around in libraries, museums, and specialty shops to find out more about the ghosts and what they could want.

Interacting with ghosts is fairly straightforward. You have five different tools at your disposal: an EMF meter which picks up fluctuations in the area's electromagnetism (usually an indication of a ghostly presence, though electrical devices can interfere, even though they never actually do in the game); an EVP recorder which allows you to pick up spectral voices on tape recordings that can't be heard by the human ear; a digital camera with motion-censor to capture images; a digital cam corder with night vision to see in the dark and record video; and a surveillance system set up in your cottage, which combines all of the above.

There aren't a whole lot of things in the environment that you can use your inventory items on, so when that wrench-like icon appears on screen it's usually a bet that you have to use your ghost-hunting gadgets on it. In my opinion, this defeats the point because the game explicitly tells you when and where to use your gadgetry, so there's no actual *hunting* involved, and half the time, Nigel will tell you that you can't use certain gadgets on it. In this regard, the ghost-hunting is literally the exact same gameplay mechanic as talking to someone on the street and then cycling through dialogue options.

Whenever you find an actual ghost, you go through a process of asking the same questions: Is there anybody there, can you see me, can you hear me, etc. It's literally the same questions each time, so you'll probably get sick of it after a while (and you'll get irritated by Nigel repeatedly asking “Can you hear me?” after the ghost responds to all of his other stupid questions), but this leads up to the climax when the ghost usually reveals itself and actually carries a conversation with you. Again, this part functions exactly like talking to an NPC, the only exception being that the ghost interaction has weird special effects on screen, and they talk in whispery, spectral voices.

In a few areas, you use the nightvision camera to navigate through dark places, and if the entire game had been like this, it would've been so much better. In these areas you assume a first-person perspective looking through the green tint of the camera. You click on the edges of the screen to walk forward and to turn around, and it's easily the most atmospheric aspect of the game. It's still in 2D and there usually isn't a lot of animation, but it emulates the feeling of being there and walking through the environment as if you were in the moment.

And, unfortunately, most of the evidence that you collect through your ghost-hunting is utterly useless. There's a table in your cottage where you stash photographs and audio recordings but there's never any need to actually review or cross-reference the evidence. Pretty much you snap the photograph, you record the audio and then you're done with it for good. It's the exact same mechanic as pressing a switch to open a door, as in, it's not that involved or satisfying. The game is scripted in such a manner that is does everything for you, and all you have to do is click the buttons to make it go.

It's a long game, but it's worse off because it's so long – everything drags on, and on. The whole thing will take you easily over 20 hours to complete (25-30 if you're adamant about not using a walkthrough), but you'll spend a significant chunk of that time listening to Nigel repeat his horrible lines over and over again, and watching all of his horrible animations. A lot of time is wasted on these little things, and it builds up a lot over time. And in general, most of what you do is a waste of time because it accomplishes nothing.

Many of the ghost encounters and paranormal activity never amount to anything or connect to the story in any way. You interact with a lot of ghosts, as well as see and document a lot of paranormal activity, but there's no reason for much of it. They're just side-show distractions; they're a little interesting when you're doing them but you wonder what the point was once you've finished. The gameplay (and consequently the story and atmosphere) could have been improved by tightening all of the elements together in a more succinct and thought-out manner. As it stands, too much of the game feels meaningless and arbitrary.

[The Run-Down]
Graphics: 6/10
An adventure game doesn't really need high-quality graphics to be enjoyable, and so this score is not compared to modern action standards. The stills look pretty good, but the shifts from scene to scene are sometimes jarring and confusing. There's enough animation on screen that you don't always realize that you're looking at a photograph, which is definitely nice. I'm generally skeptical of B&W visuals, because it's sometimes an easy, amateurish gimmick to make something look more “artistic,” but I think it works in this case. I wish there'd been a little more color to accent special items and to make the visuals more pleasing on the eye (your sight often gets lost in the sea of gray). 3D models are animated pretty badly, and it's a wonder how anyone thought they were acceptable before shipping. They blend with the 2D photographic backgrounds pretty well, though – nothing looks out of place.

Sound: 6/10
There's not a whole lot to be said here. Most of the audio is adequate and gets the job done, but there's nothing that stands out as particularly unique or interesting. There's almost no music, so you're stuck with ambient sound effects, which themselves are appropriate, but just don't add enough depth to the mood. Voice acting is some of the worst I've ever heard, with characters speaking in monotone and injecting zero life into the game. Nigel himself sounds like a complete buffoon, emphasizing the wrong words in a sentence and adding dramatic pauses between every couple of syllables. It's enough to make you want to mute the sound altogether. Inability to skip lines of dialogue, however, is the real salt in the wound, because you WILL get stuck hearing literally dozens and dozens of the same lines over and over again.

Gameplay: 5/10
It's pretty standard for an adventure game. The interface is conventional and easy to use, and doesn't make anything unnecessarily complex or illogical. Puzzles are generally straightforward and don't require much brain-teasing (pleasantly good or frustratingly bad) or pixel-hunting to solve. Most of the common gameplay amounts to talking to people and clicking on things, and very little of it has a real purpose in the story. You go on a lot of side-quests to solve various tasks to meet various people, but there's no reward (tangible or psychological) for anything you do – it's just go here do this, go there do that – there's no sense of accomplishment. Ghost-hunting isn't very involved; it never feels like you're on an actual ghost hunt because you don't have to actually hunt down the paranormal. The game blatantly leads you to it and tells you what to do, so it's just a simple matter of clicking on the screen to watch the “cutscene” – not very unique or immersing. The evidence you collect is useless, and in fact, most of what you do is pointless.

Story: 4/10
Adventure games can get by with having lackluster gameplay, because the real show is supposed to be in the story. TLC doesn't have a very well fleshed-out story. It's like a bunch of a random ideas all thrown together with no plot progression or even a revealing ending. Saxton could have been a spooky and thrilling place if anything mattered. Nigel is a worthless character who should have been left out of the game completely. He's got no backstory (despite obviously being given a weak attempt at one in the introduction) and has no motivation for anything he does. Very few of the characters or events serve any concrete purpose in the story. The whole game involves Nigel wandering around collecting clues and evidence, but none of it ever reveals new information or answers any questions. There are so many inconsistencies, unresolved (and unqualified) characters and events, and the ending does no justice to any of the preceding story.

Replay Value: 1/10
I suppose there's room to find and collect new paranormal evidence in the game, but it's so inconsequential that I can't see any satisfaction coming out of it. You might play through again to try to look for the answers to all of the questions that came up the first time, but this is not a game that will reveal more insight on a second playthrough because, frankly, there isn't any information to be found. Personally, I wouldn't want to put up with Nigel's awful voice acting or mannerisms a second time around. Once was torture enough.

[The Conclusion]
I trudged through The Lost Crown for two reasons: to get my money's worth (I don't feel like I did), and to be able to write a review with some credibility. It's really quite a pretentious game with all of the boasting and hype on the box, the six-page mini booklette laid into the front panel (which actually gives more insight to some of the characters than the actual game), and all of Jonathan Boakes' shameless self promotion within the game. These facts alone should have told me this wasn't top-shelf quality.

The whole product feels amateurish, and indeed it is, given that it's an independent game developed largely by one man. It's an astonishing accomplishment that one man was able to piece together a game of this length mostly by himself, but I can't make exceptions because of this fact. Ultimately, it *is* a good game .... for something made by one person. But in the grand scheme of things, it's a flawed experience. I'll grant that it's a memorable experience, but more in a bad way than in a good way.

It's got decent adventure gameplay mechanics, but it's thrown together with a very loose script that doesn't tie anything together or make sense of anything. Sometimes the less you know, the more mysterious something can be, but The Lost Crown doesn't even make the audience ask the right questions to make it a curious, riveting experience. Even though several gameplay aspects could have been altered to improve the experience, the root of the problem is with a bad script which really should have been thought out better before going into production.

The Lost Crown is definitely worth playing, but don't expect to be very impressed with it. At least then, if you don't like it, you won't feel let down.

4/10 - “Poor: Game is unremarkable and flawed.”

Reviewer's Rating:   2.0 - Poor

Originally Posted: 01/19/10

Game Release: The Lost Crown: A Ghost-hunting Adventure (US, 03/03/08)

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