Day 227 – Noctropolis

The end is nigh…. This is the final “Origin” game that I know about although it’s stretching a point to call it an Origin game. It was developed by Flashpoint who were an independent developer and published by EA. That doesn’t initially tie it to Origin at all but as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the testing on the project was headed up by Origin employees, Origin published the clue book for the game and they also provided telephone/written support. Despite it saying EA on the box, I’m suspicious that the game was effectively published by Origin but this is pure speculation on my part. At any rate there is enough of a link there for it to make it’s way into the blog. I am going to play some more of the Origin related games after this but I think that I’ll just write a review at the end rather than a day-by-day account. I’ll probably concentrate more on the books as I’d estimate that I have about 40-50 of them to get through.

The only other possible Origin games that I know of were a few American football games that were done at Origin around 2002-2004. I think these were done in the same building but not actually by Origin. I might have a look at these some time but sports games don’t appeal to me all that much and it wasn’t really Origin by that time anyway. Richard Garriott had already gone and it was around then that UO2 was cancelled taking many Origin employees with it. Noctropolis, however, was published back in 1994 when Origin was still turning out many of it’s best games.

Noctropolis is the first and only point and click adventure game that I’ll be playing on here. This is my favourite genre and I don’t get to play many new point and clicks these days so I expect I’m going to enjoy it.

The majority of the game is going to be spent in the comic book world of Noctropolis. This is a Gotham-esque city of permanent night (thanks to dust clouds thrown up in an old war) populated by numerous super-villains, who you get to see in the games extremely brief introduction. There is also a comic book that comes with the game, that sets the scene far better but since the book is reproduced entirely within the game, I’ll leave that until I get to it.

I’m going to be playing a comic book store owner called Peter Grey. I start off the game in my real world comic book store. I’m apparently a huge fan of Darksheer, the dark hero of Noctropolis but the series has been cancelled recently.

The interface is fairly standard point and click but manages to be more cumbersome than it needs to be. Right clicking brings up the giant triangle shown on screen here. It uses text rather than the usual pictures and has what seem like an unnecessary number of verbs but it works reasonably well for the most part. It’s not always intuitive to use though. For instance the use button only applies to inventory items so to knock on a door I have to move it.

My main criticism would be there isn’t enough feedback as to where interactable items are on the screen. In Sierra games you could see them a mile off as they didn’t blend into the background. Here you can’t easily spot them and with no feedback as to what you are clicking on this could make for some potentially frustrating adventuring. Why Flashpoint didn’t just copy the interfaces from established companies like Sierra or Lucasarts I don’t know. On the other hand if you want to use an item, then you don’t get to choose what to use it with and it will automatically use it anywhere in the room so this is arguably a little too simplified.

Apart from picking up a few bills, there isn’t a lot to do around my comic store. It just consists of the two rooms with a front store area and a small office in the back. I don’t walk my character around in this game although he does plod around the screen when I carry out actions. This is similar to Phantasmagoria in this sense. It also has the digitised actors on a drawn background. These do stand out from the background and move around quite jerkily but they don’t look too bad on the whole and the background art is excellent.

In the back of my store, I find and read the final Darksheer comic. In this Darksheer kills or captures the final 3 villains of Noctropolis before retiring and leaving his partner Stiletto (breaking her heart in the process). Rather that just showing the pages as in the printed version, you click on each segment and get the lines acted out.

After reading the comic, there is a brief cutscene as a woman materialises out of nowhere, only to turn out to be a vampire. I wake up from this nightmare to my doorbell ringing before it gets too nasty.

At the door is a short girl who only talks in rhymes. I’m presented with a series of dialog options and I’ll be seeing a lot of these throughout the game. I establish that I’ve won the “Want to be Darksheer for a day?” sweepstakes and hand over my ticket stub to get my parcel.

The conversation is entirely done in FMV on her side, with my options just being clickable text. You will notice that the video is surrounded by the door and this technique is used frequently throughout the game as a means of framing the video clips. As far as the acting goes, from what I seen today it’s not too bad for an FMV game. It’s comparable to something like Under a Killing Moon although there is considerably less of it than in that game. There are times where it hasn’t been edited especially well. There was a conversation later on in the game where the guy I was talking to kept getting nearer and further away depending on which option I chose. The music is all done with MIDI and isn’t bad at all through a Sound Canvas. Overall the game generates a good atmosphere.

Getting back to the story, in my parcel is a new unpublished Darksheer comic. This tells the tale of some shady villain called Flux who rescues 5 super-villains from the jail who then take over the city in Darksheers absence. Darksheer’s ex partner Stiletto has shut herself off since he left and the city is unable to cope. A priest affiliated with the heroes attempts to summon Darksheer in a ritual to end the comic.

I’m only guessing here but it all seems a bit coincidental that Darksheer vanishes and a new villain (who happens to wear a cloak obscuring his features) pops up immediately. I expect they will turn out to be the same person but I’ll have a lot of game to play through first.

Other than the comic, there were a couple of tokens in the package. In a typically obscure adventure game puzzle, using the silver one in the shop inexplicably conjures up an obelisk….

…which transports me to the world of Noctropolis. This is where the game starts for real and I get to explore the city and meet a few of it’s inhabitants.

The initial section deals with trying to meet Father Desmond. He was the priest who tried to summon Darksheer at the end of the comic. After puzzling my way past an animated gargoyle, I find him in his confessional and have to try to talk him over to my side with the correct conversation options. This takes a while and I end up playing this over and over, with him either killing me or sending me away every time. It’s quick enough to reload and try again but a little tiresome. This is not a game that holds back from killing you frequently so save games are essential. I don’t mind this too much, provided there are no dead ends.

The conversation system is more or less exactly like the ones used in Martian Memorandum and requires a load of retries until you stumble across the combination of choices that the developers wanted you to pick. It comes close to being annoying but just about avoids it as it’s quick to repeat and try again.

When I get the options right, Father Desmond suggests that I should be the new Darksheer and sends me over to Stiletto’s to try to talk her into helping. She answers the door drunk and after picking every option I can’t talk her into helping so I give in for now and pursue the other clue I got from Desmond, a jaw bone. Why he gave me this I don’t know, but through a DNA analysis at the hall of records I learn who it belonged to eventually leading me into the lair of the Succubus.

She is one of the 5 villains I need to stop before I get to Flux. I don’t do too well though as she seduces, rapes and then bites me. When I wake I have an 8 minute timer before I die to escape from her lair and heal myself. I learn from her diary (written in blood) that the Succubus is a nun who was possessed by a demon, during a exorcism by Father Desmond which is why she wants revenge on him. She wants a new body and is now pregnant thanks to me, so has that in hand.

Suffice to say, I escape get back to the cathedral and thanks to Stiletto turning up at the last moment, kill the Succubus with holy water before being taken to Darksheers lair. Darksheer’s powers came from the study of light and dark by a group of monks and thanks to his supply of liquidark I’m healed and ready for the fight. I manage to impress Stiletto by beating her in a fight (using an unlikely series of moves for a comic book store owner) and then take Darksheers suit and head out with her to clean the streets for decent law abiding citizens….

This is looking like quite a decent game from what I’ve seen. It’s amazing how many obscure adventure games there are out there like this that slipped under the radar first time around but which I can go back to now, given the lack of new ones. I’ve never read any superhero comic books but the game appears to capture the feeling of these from what I do know. It’s a little corny but thats as it should be if you are going to do a comic book game.

Initial impressions are that this is well presented and reasonably challenging but not too frustrating thanks to the linear nature of the game offering limited options. It is a little clumsy in some ways and doesn’t have the polish of one of Lucasart’s classics but I like the genre enough for this not to put me off at all. I’ve got the clue book if I need it which has very useful hotspot screenshots to highlight interactive areas of the screen. This is all I’ve needed so far to point me to a solution I was struggling with. This provides a workaround to the slightly dubious interface but I’ll avoid using it other than that, and only resort to using it at all if I’m stuck. It doesn’t strike me as a game that would convert anyone to adventure games but if you are already a fan and looking for something new, this could fit the bill.

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