The Dark Eye (Windows)

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100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
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Written by  :  Kaddy B. (788)
Written on  :  Nov 30, 2009
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  4.8 Stars4.8 Stars4.8 Stars4.8 Stars4.8 Stars

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"The Dark Eye" is one of the strangest games ever made and is pure nightmare fuel.

The Good

The Dark Eye is a game almost impossible to describe. There is really no other game like it. The easiest way to describe it is a Phantasmagoria. A light show played by dead puppets and bizarre shapes, sights, and sounds, deceiving the player and slowly spiraling them into insanity. The game doesn't have any "scares" in the traditional sense, but the game is unflinchingly disturbing and frightening. The game gets so deep under your skin it can easily grab your spine, and considering that tingling feeling you get, one can assume it does have hold of your spine. This game is pure nightmare fuel.

The plot concerns a nameless protagonist visiting his uncle Edwin, his brother Henry and the young Elise. Henry lusts after Elise, and is soon hoping to propose to her. Your uncle Edwin, played by legendary Beat writer William S. Burroughs (Naked Lunch, The Ticket that Exploded, The Nova Express etc. Great author, but not for the weak at heart...) serves as the games narrator. After getting a whiff of some paint thinner, you pass out and enter a nightmare, an alternate version of the house that is even more surreal than the 'real' version. There are strange and creepy sounds echoing, anomalies, and most importantly objects.

These 'objects' all have something to do with one of 3 stories by Edgar Allan Poe. The Cask of Amontillado (Yay! My favourite Poe story :D), The Tell-Tale Heart, and Berenice. There are also poems strewn around the nightmare house and are read by Burroughs; these include The Masque of the Red Death, Annabell Lee, and The Premature Burial (Which the cover clearly comes from) as well as a couple others I couldn't recall the name of. The main plot is excellent and creepy, and feels like a tribute to Poe in its style and thematic elements. It takes many turns and the ending is indescribably f**ked up and downright terrifying.

The gameplay is a typical point 'n' click set up, although its relatively simple in play. Where the gameplay gets interesting though is when in one of Poe's stories. You can play each of the 3 stories from two perspectives, the victim and the killer. This is a fascinating gameplay style, and just like the rest of the game it gets under your skin. Each side will put you into the shoes of the character and keep you immersed, as the killer you will often feel strange as you descend into insanity and do your dark deeds. As the victim, you will feel paranoid and terrified of your fate, even if you already know what it is assuming you've read the stories or played one of the other parts already. Poe's stories are brought to life, and you are in them. It's a unique and fascinating concept and it is pulled off well. I know I've already said this, but the game is creepy as hell, and lets just say being put so deep into a Poe story is an unsettling but enthralling experience. The game immerses you completely, in fact during the infamous ending to The Cask of Amontillado as the victim I was panting in fear and feeling an attack of Claustrophobia. I had to check the door to make sure it would still open afterwords.

The games graphics are stylish and just as creepy as everything else. While there are flaws in animation, the characters look bloody creepy and downright... weird. These characters were birthed from the deepest, darkest bowels of The Uncanny Valley. Just looking at them taps some sort of primal fear. The game world and locales are all interesting artistically and the art design is very focused, also lending a hand in bringing Poe's stories to life, as well as the main plot.

The sound design, one of the most important aspects of any horror game, is in top form as well. Thomas Dolby's music is hauntingly eerie and beautiful. The soundscape in this game is incredible, particularly the voices. The voices sound sad and evil, giving the impression of torture behind every word spoken. William S. Burroughs' voice is entrancing and hypnotic. It should be said that he's one of the best readers of Poe to date; yes, I dare say he's on par with Vincent Price and Basil Rathbone's Poe readings. He tells the stories in an entrancing way and makes them as eerie as they should be, if not more so. All the actors do a good job, and their voices lend a great hand to the mood.

The Bad

The games graphics do have one fatal flaw: Quicktime. This uses an absolutely ancient version of Quicktime (Apparently, it was a version made for Windows 3.1...) and so the graphics are very limited. They are clearly made with clay, but save for a few moments, they don't really animate so much as "Pixel teleport" their way around. This effect is poor and somewhat disappointing considering the otherwise quality character design. If the developers were still around, I'd ask them to restore this game with full clay animation because it rightfully deserves it.

The game is fairly short. Also, it can either be brutally difficult or a total cake walk depending on one thing: Your knowledge of Poe. I'm a huge Poe fan, but I can't say I knew "Berenice." Although I solved the other two stories fairly easily (Although the catacomb dungeon in The Cask of Amontillado is somewhat tough to navigate) having read them. There are a couple times you might scratch your chin, but quickly guess and figure out the problem if you can recall the text. In fact, holding a copy of the short story in your hand might as well be cheating. However, not knowing Berenice at the time of playing, I spent hours upon hours trying to figure out what the hell I was supposed to do, gave up, and read the story before giving it another go.

When not in a story, the gameplay is relatively simple and doesn't require much puzzle solving. Really, it plays out more like an interactive movie. And while the idea of making a movie out of this is tantalizing, it doesn't always work as a 'game,' even in the stories. Its truly only the head on immersion that makes the game so involving, not the gameplay, and this may turn many off of the game.

The Bottom Line

The Dark Eye is one of the most frightening games I've played. It doesn't have any "jump" scares or even supernatural (Save for the nightmares, but those can still be justified in reality) scares or monsters. It breaks all convention of horror in video games. Its just you, Edgar Allen Poe, William S. Burroughs, a bunch of creepy puppets, and the demon that lives in your head ready to give you an absolutely massive mind f**k. If you appreciate psychological horror, and of course the stories of Poe, The Dark Eye is a forgotten masterpiece of insanity and terror that is unlike any other. From start to terrifying end, it is a feverish nightmare that will live on in your dreams and haunt you for a lifetime. You might not like it if you are looking for a true "game" per se, but as an interactive story this is great, and if you are open enough to forgive what it lacks in true gameplay you will find something special and unique.