The Lost Crown: A Ghost-hunting Adventure is the latest game from the one-man developing team known as Jonathan Boakes, who also created the two Dark Fall adventures and assisted with Barrow Hill. In this adventure, you play as a treasure-hunter named Nigel Danvers, and you arrive in the town of Saxton looking for a fabled lost crown. The crown, as the rumors go, is hidden somewhere near the town, but it also supposedly protects the town from evil, and so the villagers aren’t exactly forthcoming about where you might find it. That means you have to seek out the local ghosts (using a variety of gadgets), and convince them to give you the information that you need.
Unlike the Dark Fall games and Barrow Hill, The Lost Crown is mostly played using a third-person perspective. Usually I prefer the third-person perspective when playing adventure games because it allows me to see more of my surroundings, but I think it’s a mistake for a ghost-hunting adventure -- for exactly the same reason. There are sequences in the game where you have to use a camcorder with a night-vision setting to get around a crypt or a graveyard, and these sequences, which use a first-person perspective, are as creepy as anything from Boakes’ earlier games. But the third-person sequences feel like regular adventure game settings, and they’re not scary at all.
One of the reasons the game uses a third person perspective is because you spend a lot of time talking to other people, but these conversations are incredibly dull. Boakes does not have an ear for dialogue, and because the game has a low budget, a lot of sentences get re-used. For example, every time you track down a ghost you have to ask it the exact same set of questions (including the somewhat dumb “Can you hear me?”), and that gets annoying after a while. Worse, there isn’t any way to skip the dialogue, and so you have to listen to it all, every time. I don’t even want to guess how many times I had t listen to Danvers ask, “Symbolic images or ancient graffiti?”
The puzzles are also on the weak side. The Lost Crown has a long campaign for an adventure game -- it took me about 25 hours to complete it -- but the most complicated thing I did in the first ten hours was help a lady fix lunch. Not exactly heady stuff. Most of the game involves you clicking on something, which triggers something else to happen, which gives you something else to click on, and so forth. This isn’t the most exciting style for an adventure game, and it gets really tedious when you’re not sure what you’re supposed to be doing next, and so you have to go back and click on everything (and listen to the full response from Danvers when he talks about them, blah) until you find the right object.
The best part of the game -- without much surprise -- is when you get to deal with ghosts. Saxton is a small town, and you only meet about 10 people there, but it supports two graveyards and a couple dozens ghosts, and so you’re given plenty to do. There are lots of spooky sequences, like at one point when you have to enter a dark bathroom (it’s scarier than it sounds), and you’re also shipped some special ghost-hunting gear, including an EMF meter and the night-vision camcorder, so that you can record what you see -- and sense. One particularly fun sequence involves you hooking up a bunch of cameras in the cottage where you’re staying, and then using them to look for ghosts. You find them, and then some.
However, even with the ghosts there are problems. A lot of the sequences feel familiar, like at one point when you’re in a room with a flickering light, and something appears for one flicker before disappearing again. Boakes did the exact same thing in the original Dark Fall. The other problem is that there are just way too many ghosts. I’m surprised the EMF meter doesn’t simply explode from all of the paranormal activity. I think the game would have been much better off concentrating on two or three well developed ghost stories rather than the dozen or so passably interesting ones that are in the game now.
I don’t really like criticizing The Lost Crown. I’m thoroughly impressed by what Jonathan Boakes can create all by himself. But the game is just too long, too meandering, and too dull, and Boakes really needs to hook up with somebody (a Rodgers to his Hammerstein, say) before trying to make another game. If nothing else, he needs to collaborate with a real writer (or at least somebody who knows the difference between “its” and “it’s”) so the human interactions are as interesting as the supernatural ones. Real voice actors wouldn’t hurt, either. But otherwise, that’s two clunkers in a row for Boakes, and I’m not optimistic about what might come next.