While Adeline Have Been putting the finishing touches to their adventure classic Little Big Adventure 2, and Delphine have been pottering away in the background getting Heart Of Darkness ready to finally face the music (you never know, it might actually appear some day), fellow French persons Kalisto have been working day and night to produce something completely different, namely Dark Earth.
Not that there haven't been games that combine adventure and beat 'em up elements on the PC before - Alone In The Dark and Bioforge are two notable examples. There's nothing particularly I unique about that. What is rather unique, though, is that Kalisto have attempted to produce an adventure with a very strong compelling storyline and then sort of based the other game elements very loosely around that.
Le futur est noir
The game is set in the far future at a time when the Earth, as you may have guessed, has gone completely dark. This unfortunate state of affairs apparently came to being following a massive collision of asteroids. Most of the world is wiped out, and the ones who have survived live in small villages or Stallites scattered hither and thither. Presumably, in an attempt to make the best of a bad situation, the survivors decide to keep themselves amused by forming various religions devoted to sun worship. You take the role of Arkhan, an occupant of Stallite Sparta, whose duties as a Guardian of Fire include keeping law and order around the Stallite. While investigating an 'incident' one day, Arkhan is overcome by a doer of bad things and infected with a disease which deforms him and begins to drain away his life force. So begins your task in the game - to find out who attacked you and somehow put a stop to the horrible disease that threatens your very existence. Cue interesting mix of puzzling and punching of foes...
Les splendiferous graphiques
As it happens, you don't actually spend much of the game 'beating 'em up' as it were. You don't spend any considerable time taxing your brains on the puzzle elements either (although some of them are very weird and require some strange application of logic indeed).
Most of your time in Dark Earth will be spent talking to. and listening to, the many inhabitants of the eponymous game universe. In this sense, Dark Earth is more of an interactive cinematic experience than a fully-fledged adventure game. This is no bad thing. The storyline is very convincing and unfolds seamlessly, with cut-scenes popping up at appropriate points in the proceedings to help everything along. The graphics are exceptional, despite the absence of support for 3D accelerator cards and the combat scenes, while few and far between, are well executed with Arkhan having a reasonably varied catalogue of moves at his disposal.
Of course, this sort of thing is not for everyone. Hard-core adventure fans expecting the kind of challenge presented by games like Alone In The Dark will probably find Dark Earth's mixture of very easy puzzles and downright strange ones a little irritating. Similarly, Bioforge devotees may be a little non-plussed at the comparative lack of in-your-face beat 'em up action. To be fair though. Kalisto have obviously set out to reach a compromise between these two gameplay elements in order to make the transition from one part of the storyline to the next as smooth as possible, and to a large extent they have succeeded. You'll never find yourself wandering aimlessly around the environment wondering what to do next, as you'll always come across someone who'll point you in the right direction of your next quest Indeed, many of the characters berate you for hanging around when you should be doing more important things (ie saving the world).
Having said that. Dark Earth is not without its share of annoying idiosyncrasies. Waiting while the game loads up the next part of the screen from the CD can often be tedious, for example. Not so much annoying as downright strange is Kalisto's decision to use 3D polygon character models with pre-rendered scenery backdrops. This makes the characters in the game look somewhat at odds with their environment, so the player never really gets the impression their character is in any way a 'real' part of the Dark Earth universe. Additionally, some of the characters are just plain unbelievable due to some extremely embarrassing voice-overs (the main offender being Arkhan's girlfriend Kalhi whose pathetic twee whimpers will grate on you more and more as you play through the game). It's a shame that production issues such as these are the main reason Dark Earth falls soundly into 'well worth a look' territory as opposed to being an essential purchase. That's not to say that it isn't worthy of the attention of prospective adventurers - the rich storyline alone will be enough to keep most people happy, and with the added diversions of hand-to-hand fisticuffs and puzzle-solving elements.
Dark Earth offers a well-rounded gameplay experience that should appeal to many gamers who wouldn't normally be attracted to the adventure genre too.
Download Dark Earth
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode