The City of Lost Children
Based on a French film of the same name, The City of Lost Children follows the exploits of Miette, a twelve year old orphan, as she carries out daring robberies instigated by Pieuvre, the Siamese twins, and cruel head (or should that be heads?) of the orphanage. Children in this dark and decaying, docklands area are disappearing -- kidnapped, no doubt, for some sinister purpose -- and, all in good time, Miette learns what is going on and must attempt to put a stop to it.
I am pleased that Miette learned what was going on because I am not sure that I did. In the scheme of things it seemed to take an age before the main plot kicked into this game.
The few characters that you meet (and are able to talk to) have exceedingly limited responses and what they do say barely advances the plot, if at all. This made the overall story seem quite disjointed, if not entirely superfluous, especially at the beginning of the game.
Added to this, at times the game left me scratching my head in bewilderment as elements of the gameplay, to me, seemed to lack an internal consistency and purpose. On occasion, I carried out some action simply because I could, and not because I understood why I was doing it. This was largely due to the inadequacy of feedback from the game characters and the environment itself. The most glaring example was when I, as Miette, caused the death of another character, who seemed perfectly harmless, just so that I could get an item from him which I didn't even know he had in his possession. Now, leaving aside all questions of the morality of killing 'innocent' characters, I am prepared to admit that I may have missed vital clues along the way, but if so, I must have missed a lot of them.
The game is played from a third person perspective and you control the movement and actions of Miette solely by using the keyboard, so you can forget 'point and click' with this one. I lost count of the number of times I automatically reached for the mouse, especially early on in the game, so complete has been my conditioning by so many mouse driven games.
However, the controls are very easy to use as there are not many actions to perform and none of them require complex, multiple key strokes. In design it is very similar to the Alone in the Dark games though without the combat elements. To that end the game felt very much like an action adventure -- without the action, which I didn't mind at all, although there were moments when, playing as a twelve year old, I wished I could have kicked certain characters in the shins or, at least, bitten their ankles. As with Alone in the Dark, as you explore your surroundings items that you can pick up will magically appear in a small box at the top left corner of the screen when you walk near enough to them. Any item you are holding in your hand will appear at the top right.
The limitations of this type of interface caused some problems for me as Miette has to be standing precisely on the right spot for a useable item to appear, or to enable her to perform an action such as opening a door. As an added obstacle, or merely just to extend gameplay, certain items that you do need are completely hidden from view despite the, sometimes, shifting camera angles. This means that you must manoeuver Miette into every nook and cranny as you wander around, or you may miss that vital object. I would have appreciated the option to look for more things myself rather than just walking around in the hope of tripping over them. This aspect of the game was disappointing for another reason as the graphics are superb, so finely detailed, and littered with interesting objects that I was just itching to investigate them. Alas, it was not to be. Despite the promise they held most items remained simply background detail.
As well as graphical detail, the appearance and movement of Miette is also deserving of praise. Put simply, the character is amazingly life-like in her actions and she is well integrated within the game's smooth scrolling environment. She has none of that angularity that is still evident in some of the minor characters and is several classes above the trapezoid character shapes of the earlier Alone in the Dark games.
The City of Lost Children provides many detailed and interesting locations with plenty of atmosphere, which makes it a fascinating gameworld to explore. I really appreciated this aspect of the game, and this was fortunate because most of my playing time was taken up in exploration as I searched for elusive objects. On the whole there are only a few basic inventory-based puzzles so the game is actually quite short. This is brought home at the end when a cut sequence takes over and prevents you from taking any further part in what should have been the climax of the story -- rescuing the children. I feel strongly that allowing the player to overcome a few obstacles here and, perhaps, tying up the loose ends would have made this a much better game. It would certainly have made the ending more satisfactory. As it is, all you can do is watch.
The game is contained on one CD and allows for English, French and German voices. It also provides on-screen text for the conversations and for Miette's responses when you try to get her to do things she is unable to do. Unfortunately, text is not available during the cut sequences.
As a game, The City of Lost Children has tremendous graphic qualities, but it failed to immerse me in the story through lack of plot and character development. Perhaps it might have helped if I had seen the movie. Basically, there are only three major tasks to accomplish and the first two involve overcoming obstacles to purloin items for Pieuvre. It is only at the very end of the second task, leading on to the third, that you become involved with the plight of the lost children. And then, as I mentioned earlier, what should have been the climax of the story is whisked away by the ending cut sequence.
Copyright © Gordon Aplin 1997.
All rights reserved.
486 DX 4 - 100Mhz (8Mb RAM) Pentium 75Mhz (16 Mb RAM) recommended
45 Mb minimum Hard Disk Space, MS-DOS Version 6.22 or later, SoundBlaster or 100% compatible, SVGA compatible graphics card, Triple Speed CD ROM Drive (4X speed recommended) MSCDEX Version 2.23 or later, Keyboard only.