Lighthouse - The Dark Being

1996 Sierra On-Line
Designed by Jon Bock; Susan Frischer
Reviewed 2000 July 31

Rating +2 Linearity wide
Reasonability reasonable Connectivity high
Difficulty challenging Relevance strong
Interface 1st paned simple Real-time minor

You are an author trying to complete your latest book in the seclusion of a seaside hamlet. You meet a mysterious professor who is living at the nearby lighthouse. One night you get a desperate phone call from him, and you rush over to help him and his baby daughter. You're too late, but you discover that he has been creating a portal to another world. He was abducted by an evil being in that other world. You must rescue the doctor and his daughter, and defeat the dark being before he can use the power of the portal to wreak havoc on earth.

The game is mostly about finding your way through the other world, until you catch up with the dark being. The background story is solid, and is revealed through play, not just in a few big cut-scenes (although there are those, too). The setting is also well established, with the various locations looking like useful parts of a believable world. The few characters are cardboard, but the game is not really about them, it's all about the challenges.

There's a lot here to keep you busy. Most of the challenges are of moderate difficulty, but several are complicated, and there are several difficult problems. While there are many machines and fiddly devices, they all work as believable parts of the game world. There is one outright puzzle (a funky box), but it really is a puzzle in the game world, and it isn't magic.

The layout of the challenges is ambitious. There are alternate solutions to some key challenges, and distinct paths through the gameplay. This gives you a good sense of freedom within the game, and yet there are enough constraints that there is still a sense of progress.

The visuals are well done, both in their design and execution. Similarly, the sound effects and music are well done, and establish a good sense of place. And the game engine is perfectly functional. Despite these, the interface is a sore point of the game. Despite the clarity of the images, there is still a bit of pixel hunting. The engine could work, but frequently it isn't used to best effect. When you turn or move, the viewpoint sometimes changes a bit too much, leaving you a bit lost in the world. Sometimes you can't interact with an object or machine that looks like it is in plain sight, until you come at it from the correct direction. The effect is often subtle, and leaves you either frustrated or thinking that you've tried something that doesn't work, when it will work if you try it from a slightly different viewpoint.

The interface problems aren't too bad if you anticipate them and approach the game with a bit of patience. Lighthouse is one of the few Myst-clones that understands that immersion is more than pretty pictures and sounds; it constructs a realistic world and presents you with problems and solutions that are believable parts of that world.

Beware! Here are some spoiler-ridden notes on the game. They're only recommended for people who have played the game and want to see some of my rationale for my evaluations.
David Tanguay's Game Reviews
Here's a description of all the gobbledygook in these reviews. It's also a bit of an essay on the nature of adventure games.