I played the original Dark Seed a few years ago and can't remember too much about it except that it struck me at the time as being fairly dull and uninspiring. I do remember that, as Mike Dawson, you had to take a headache tablet and shower each morning and that the game was marketed on the strength of it containing graphics by H. R. Giger -- probably best known to most people because of the movie, Alien.
Now the sequel, Dark Seed II, is upon us, unfortunately promising -- and delivering -- more of the same. A year has passed since the events of the first game and Mike Dawson is back, still suffering from headaches and his dread nightmares. This time, however, he has returned to his old home town to recuperate but, as the story opens, he is suspected of murdering Rita Scanlon, his childhood 'sweetheart'. The problem for Mike is that he has no recollection of what happened on that fateful night, and it does appear that he may have been the last person to see her alive.
So your first task, as Mike Dawson, is to attempt to clear your name by investigating the murder. This is a fairly promising start and the game could have developed into an absorbing murder mystery, except that then it couldn't have been called Dark Seed II. Before too long the Sci Fi/horror scenario of the parallel Dark World begins to intrude and you must travel once more through the portal that links the worlds to confront your old enemies the 'Ancients'.
This time the Ancients are hatching a Behemoth in the Dark World which will eventually be able to cross over and destroy the Normal World and, of course, you (Mike Dawson) are the only hope if this fiendish plan is to be foiled. I must admit, this premise was a bit of a worry, and not only because Mike is an unlikely hero -- he's not just ordinary, he's downright dull -- but also because he is expected to succeed where the three goddess-like Keepers of Scrolls, Light and Sword have failed.
As with the first game, Giger's 'biomechanical' artwork is used in the Dark World to contrast with the, seemingly, innocuous normality of Mike's home town which is portrayed with bright and cheery graphics. Regardless of the merits of Giger's art, I don't think it translates well to the computer screen where, used as a backdrop to a game, it appears flat and lifeless. Perhaps it's just me, but I found the mystery and intrigue going on in the small town to be far more interesting and menacing than the alien and alienating parallel world with its dull, grey Dark World denizens and its metallic 'junk yard' setting.
This is a game that proceeds rather sequentially and you need to talk to every person you meet, not simply to gather vital clues that, hopefully, will allow you to make sense of what is happening but, more importantly, to let the game know that you have done something and that you are now ready to move on. It is not enough that you know what you are trying to do, Mike Dawson also needs to know, and at times he is a little slow at figuring out what is going on. For example, at one stage I knew I was looking for a particular item and I knew exactly where to find it, except that it just wasn't appearing. I had to return to the character who provided the major clue and talk some more before I was allowed to 'find' the item that was there all the time.
Similarly, you can't enter some locations or view certain scenes until all the correct sequences have been followed. Although there is no clock ticking away in the background to remind you to perform tasks at an appointed time -- those of you who have played the first game will, no doubt, remember this -- at times you do feel as though you are being led by the nose. However, to be fair, occasionally the game does throw up a more obscure puzzle that allows for a satisfying intuitive leap to solve.
Apart from this, the puzzles weren't overly difficult and simply involved much to-ing and fro-ing between the two worlds. Getting to the portal between the worlds the first time involves negotiating a small maze. However, once you have managed this you can then pass through easily at any time, except for one final sequence where you must brave the maze again.
Moving around and interacting with the game is very easy as everything can be controlled with a simple click of either the left or right mouse button. The right mouse button allows you to cycle through the three icons representing 'look', 'take/use/talk' and 'go', and the left button enables you to carry out your chosen action. To access your inventory you just move your cursor to the bottom of the screen and it will appear.
Usefully, the game provides a transition screen in both worlds so that you can quickly move to the major locations to begin or continue your exploration. Also, you can speed up your character's walking pace by pressing the F11 button. This feature was a boon to find as the game's default speed reduces Mike to a slow trudge that somehow matches the feel and pace of the game. However, Dark Seed II deserves full marks for allowing the option of on-screen text -- a feature that all games should have. The game is contained on one CD and installs to Windows only. Surprisingly, for a Windows game, you are restricted to just ten save game slots.
Dark Seed II is an improvement on its predecessor, but, sadly, this is largely due to the overall technological improvement in the development and look of the game rather than to an intrinsic qualitative leap in the area of gameplay. For some reason, and I haven't been able to put my finger on just what it is, the game lacks something. Some 'spark', for want of a better word. Like the original, the characters are wooden and the plot is fairly dull -- only at the beginning when investigating the murder did I really feel involved and even entertained. Perhaps it's simply that the Dark World never seemed 'real' to me; it never came to life, but remained an alien backdrop to a story that failed to hold my interest. I suspect that many adventurers may feel the same and this should be a worry for Cyberdreams who are marketing this game heavily on Giger's graphics.
On the other hand, I know that many fans of Giger's art bought and loved the original Dark Seed purely for the graphics, and perhaps this is still the intended market for this sequel. If you are one of these fans then just ignore my assessment of the graphics (I know you will anyway) and have a look at the game. It is certainly more playable than Dark Seed I.
Copyright © Gordon Aplin 1996.
All rights reserved.
486DX/33, DOS 5.0, Win 3.1, 8MB RAM, 20 MB hard drive space, 2xCD ROM, SVGA.