Last Half of Darkness
Shadow of the Servants
...a review by inferno
A few years ago I wrote my very first review and posed the question: "What makes a game scary?" I still am of the same mind now as I was then. The answer is simple really. Atmosphere and what we, as gamers, bring to the adventure. Years ago when I first was attracted to computer games I had the chance to play the original Last Half of Darkness and for what it was (small, pixelated with only the bare minimum of colors) I remember that I had enjoyed myself thoroughly. Why? I was drawn in by the story. "Storyline" then for me was all that it took to hold my interest. And Ghost stories happen to be a particular penchant of mine.
I recently replayed the original in eager anticipation of William R Fisher's latest adaptation, all the while musing as to what the updated version would hold. Would there be full motion video?? How about puzzles? Would it have third person animation? A shooter?? What was it going to be like and would it stand the test of time??? I went to his "lasthalfofdarkness.com" site to see what I could figure out while I awaited the arrival of his latest offering. You see, The Last Half of Darkness has been around for almost 16 years, and as time has crept by Billy has been tweaking, updating and expanding on the original horror. While the story does have some holes in it that probably only persnickety types (such as myself) will find; for more than the most part, he has executed it with style, panache and a most devilish touch, as it were.
The online game was really just a small smattering of this Independent Game Developer's finished project. After playing with it for the very short time it offered, I decided to await the "Shadow of the Servants" arrival on CD. I'd just have to be happy with the screenshots and storyline his site provided. Finally, the game arrived.
The Box Art was quite interesting. I was given a simple DVD box with that familiar New Orleans Mansion from his site on the cover and a few more screenshots on the back. I opened up the box and immediately realized that my "gaming experience" was to begin from this point onward, for I was presented with a plain black and white insert describing the introduction to the game. I, as the gamer, had been "ethereally summoned" to this backwoods Louisiana estate. I was given a strange mystic chart with bizarre eerie symbols and cryptic writing on it. Summoned, it seemed by a desperate and frightened woman who was well versed in the "Old Religion" and who had an uncanny knack with the darker side of "The Craft".
"All righty then... I thought... so that's the way it is. Well, better prepare", I thought to myself.
From the look of the Box Art, what I had just read and what I knew of the game from the original version... I envisioned some scary times ahead for me. So, I gathered together all of my "adventure gaming" forces: ... a clean steno pad, a fresh battery for my special "light up pen", so I could write in the dark, my stereo headphones, whipped up a pot of Paul Prudomme's Shrimp Entouffe, put three longneck bottles of Coke on ice, and waited for darkness to fall. I watched the sun set fully and then loaded up the game. I was ready, a darkened room with none save the glimmer from my monitor to guide my way, I was immediately aware of the butter soft black leather cups of my earphones as they caressed my ears... the volume was turned up; the stage was set. The loading screen came up and then just as quickly it disappeared and I was at once plunged into darkness with only the innocent intonation of an inquiring child echoing through my ears as he first asked,
"Mister, is it true that a witch used to live in this town?"
A deeper, forebodingly mysterious voice resounded its reverberating riposte and began to weave a tale full of horror and madness about a particular Louisiana family. Just from the tone, the timbre of the inflection, I knew I was in for a ride...and what a ride it was. Call in the next element ... the element of music. Nightmarishly dreamy in its melancholic composition... ever so slightly reminiscent of "Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned", Sean Beesom's music held a pointed wraithlike quality which enhanced all points of apprehension and added that extra touch of solitary malaise to the adventure. With one click of the splash screen's menu for "New Game", I was away
... I found myself alone in a darkened and foreboding room, with only the sounds of the night winds as they seeped in through the decrepit shutters. Even though my logic tried its best to keep my sanity on an even keel, and reassured my skittish temperament that the mournful desolate moans I heard and the indistinct shadows I could perceive in the gloom of the dreary glow from the solitary lamp on the small table in the center of the room were naught but from the terrible storm outside... yet... I knew better
... for I knew I was not alone
Peaked your interest, did I? This indeed, is a tale worth telling. And for the most part it is told quite well. Yet, like some mysteries and night-terrors I've experienced, they almost always seem to leave me with certain "thoughts" to ponder over. Because of this, I have placed on the link below; a summation or critique, if you will, which poses some of my thoughts and questions of this tale of horror and mayhem that is known as The Shadow of The Servants , for the curious to peruse. However, be warned! The page poses a few theories about the story which may leave yourselves open to witnessing a few "spoilers". I strongly urge that you absolutely do not read it unless you have already played the game.
A Tale of Horror
I must say that I was indeed surprised that while this seems to be a DOS based game, I had no problems either installing or loading my particular version of the game which is "Version 1.4.2" onto my Windows XP Home Edition (SP1), and was very pleased to see that on Billy's site he is constantly providing updates in the form of downloadable "patches" or “updates” should the need arise. My version is 1.4.3 now and runs like a thoroughbred. Well Done, Billy.
I should also tell you that this adventure is a memory hungry one and requires at least 30,000Mb of Available Physical Memory. So make sure that you have absolutely nothing else active on your system (that means no anti-virus, screensavers, Aunt Gurtie's Recipe for Pig-Knuckle and Okra Chutney or any thing else you might have running in the background!) You'll also need to have the latest Audio & Video drivers for your particular configuration as well as the latest Windows Media Player and Codec Package.
I noticed the curser would occasionally change from a gray or red arrow (depending upon whether or not you discovered an "action" (red arrow) hotspot), to a cryptic symbol of a purple eye. The "purple eye" was used to describe an object or place. I soon realized just what I had walked into... This would be a "text adventure" of sorts.
"Oh, man!" ... I winced, "This is a Text Adventure!!!"
But my curiosity got the better of me and I made up my mind to play through the game.
Even though the last graphical text adventure I had played was ten years ago.
I'm happy to say, that I'm very glad that I did. The text quotes throughout the game lent themselves so well to the atmosphere that it would have made very little sense without them. They acted almost as an "inner monologue" throughout the story.
It's the mood you want to create here.... and "silence” with only the undercurrent of subliminal music, weather elements, various thus and sundry creaks and groans emanating from either the mansion, graveyard, swamp and/or netherworld adds so much punch to the "setup" for when something jumps out at you, you are totally taken by surprise. I will tell you that I jumped more than once and felt those intense shivers one acquires when the tiny prickly hairs at the back of one's neck stand on end.
The characters were interestingly ghoulish, I found, but typical of the area. We have the “Little Boy”; actually we have three little boys, and of course the “Mojo Man” who seems to take on the part of the narrator every once in awhile. Then there is “Mira Johnson” (Muretta’s favorite artistic daughter), “Mira’s Sister” (Muretta’s forgotten daughter) and the Swamp Witch. Since Mira’s Sister and the Swamp Witch sounded exactly alike and Mira and the Swamp Witch looked very similar, it was confusing at times to tell who was who and which witch was which. I felt there should have been much more plot exposition for the characters of the little boys as well as the two sisters and the Swamp Witch. Were they all the same child or were each a separate entity? Why did the child in Muretta’s room ask, “Why did you try to kill me, Mother?” Was that the spirit of “Good Jaja” in human form? Or did Muretta have another child that we just don’t know about? Why do we find Mira’s Sister where we find her? How did she die? And why didn’t her mother name her? Is that why she’s so angry? Who is the Swamp Witch, really? Is she Mira in another form? So, many questions… maybe Billy is saving the answers for his next installment… whatever it is, I look forward to it.
The graphics are also something of worthy note as well. The palate is so rich with jewel tones that they indeed shimmer with the expectation of ectoplasm at every turn, especially when the scenes take you outdoors. Billy has created a style that is so very capable of also giving off that surreal look, which adds subliminally to the suspense. It reminded me of how a "Disney Attraction" is theatrically lit. Absolutely stunning. While I was in his world, I believed I was experiencing a haunting.
...Most excellent, I must say.
The puzzles in Shadows of the Servants made perfect sense, and to my way of thinking were quite logically deployed. Without going into any of the game's actual storyline other than the prologue discussed earlier which leads into the game
Sorry, ladies and gentleman of the adventure's genre, but a ghost story is best "experienced" first hand, in order to achieve its full effect ... so if you want to know the rest of the story...you'll just have to play the game.
There are inventory based puzzles, connectivity puzzles, logical engineering puzzles, an extremely fascinating "block-out" puzzle back in the town and even the infamous three cups and a ball scam artist puzzle (Billy, I played those last two over and over again, I loved them so much) and so on. Some of the inventory pieces are combinable and a few of the inventory puzzles have to "cook" or "need time to mature", as it were. My particular favorite was the 3D Maze... I found out the hard way that it is here where you can die if you're not careful.
There are 10 slots for saving, but the saves can be overwritten or copied and saved in a separate file and then added back in later if you wish. Another thing about Shadow of the Servants was the non-linear navigation of the piece. Makes it very interesting to replay, which I've done 3 different times, taking very different routes...and even though I knew what was going to happen Billy still made me jump with fright.
There is also a very nice touch, with respect to the CD itself. Here, we will find a very comprehensive and articulate Readme file. It's nice to know that WRF Studios composed it as though they actually expect the gamer to read it. I was quite pleased with this as I am one of those gamers who does actually read the Readme files. An important step before installing any application and thus evade obvious pitfalls during installation or actual gameplay which otherwise could have been avoided. Another delightful soupçon was the "bonus" folder which holds no less than 5 demo games and a ScreenSaver created by Billy for the gamers perusal.
With all of the things I've mentioned so far, naturally this begs the question:
"Can a Slide- Show-Updated -DOS- Format which utilizes DirectX and Modern Codecs with Static Graphics, Non- Linear- Point&Click- Text- Adventure with a Fabulously- Haunting- Musical- Underscore, Fairly- Interesting- Puzzles, A Hopelessly- Unnerving- 3D-Maze, Echoing- Voice- Overs, Animated- Cut- Scenes and Ambiance- Driven- Sound- Effects survive and compete with the other offerings this year by our Independent Adventure Game Developers?"
Would I recommend a romp through this ghoulish and sometimes downright hideously bloody display of putrefied flesh and gore that is known as "Last Half of Darkness: Shadows of the Servants"?
Know though, that as I give forth my recommendations to try and play this very creepy and wickedly interesting game, I would also remind all gamers that this genre may not be for everyone's taste. It is definitely not for the squeamish or faint of heart... You have been duly warned. That said I have to mention that I had a blast playing this adventure and look forward to more like it within this genre.... (Hint, hint, Billy.)
Pentium III (500mhz or faster)
128MB RAM (256MB+ strongly recommended)
32MB Video (64MB+ recommended)
1GB of Hard drive space (for installed files)
DirectX 8.1 (or later) Installed
Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition 2002 w/SP 1
Pentium 4 CPU 2.00GHz
512MB DDR Memory
Video: 64MBNVIDIA GeForce 2 MX/MX 400 AGP
Sound: Creative SB Live
DirectX Version: 9.0b
Last Half of Darkness: Shadow of the Servants Opening theme written by Sean Beesom
Last Half of Darkness: Shadow of the Servants graphics owned by WARF Studios, all rights reserved
This document may not be distributed without the express
written permission of the author and the content may not be altered in any way.
For Questions or Comments Please write to: INFERNO Copyright ©3 /2005 INFERNO