Dark Side of the Moon
In the 21st century, humans have moved out into space, exploring and developing new worlds. One such world is Luna Crysta, the ninth moon of a planet in the Cepheus star system. The moon is rich in metals and crystals found nowhere else in the galaxy, and fortune-hunting miners have flocked there in droves that recall the great American gold rushes of the nineteenth century. You play Jake Wright, a young man who comes to Luna Crysta to claim his inheritance: the mining claim of his beloved uncle, for whom he was named. Your task is to discover not only why Jake's uncle died, but what secret the moon and its indigenous people the Cepheids are hiding.
Overall, Dark Side of the Moon is an interesting and engaging game. I kept wanting to come back, to figure out just one more part of the puzzle or to explore just one more tunnel. The storyline is occasionally predictable, but also has some surprising twists. It's never certain whom you can trust or what people's motives are. There are many areas to explore and dozens of puzzles to solve. In general, I liked it.
However, throughout the game I had a sense of being led by the hand in the direction I was supposed to go. SouthPeak bills this game as non-linear, and in a sense that's true. There are no limitations on what parts of the puzzle you have to complete first or what places to explore. But the plot is hard-coded into your explorations. Certain monsters won't appear until after you've talked to a particular character, whether it takes you hours or minutes of game time. Items that would normally wear out with use are exhausted not after an absolute period of time, but after you pass a certain point in the game. The net effect is to make the player feel safe -- an effect enhanced by the fact that, despite having unlimited saved game slots, whenever you die you are restarted near the place you died. Every time. You quite literally can't fail at this game unless you give up. This feeling of safety undercuts the tension which would otherwise make this an extremely compelling game. Jake is told repeatedly how dangerous Luna Crysta is, but for the player, it's as dangerous as Candyland.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
Movement is generally easy and intuitive, with full 360-degree rotation possible in all locations. The cursor lights up when you move it over something with which Jake can interact, and turns into an arrow to show you where Jake can move. Clicking in the direction of the arrow moves Jake from one set location to the next, and while theoretically you can stop at any time with one click of the mouse, in practice this turns out to be very difficult. Otherwise the mouse interface is trouble-free, and you can double-click to move faster.
The interface display has some good points and some bad points. In the center of the screen is the "window" through which you see what Jake sees, with other elements (such as the backpack holding your inventory, and the Video Digital Assistant, about which more later) on either side. I wanted the window to be a trifle larger, and there was certainly plenty of empty space in the display, but it was effective enough. The inventory has, as far as I could tell, unlimited space, which is good because it's practically impossible to get rid of something once you've picked it up. It lets you scroll through your items four at a time, which gets awkward as the backpack fills up. Using objects is easy, point-and-click; you can equip Jake simply by selecting an item and putting it on the body outline on the left side of the screen, which changes to show what he's wearing. You can't equip weapons, but it’s unnecessary -- monsters will politely wait a few seconds for you to select a response to their aggression.
The Video Digital Assistant (VDA) stores messages, digitized documents, and clips of every conversation you have during the game. It has a mapping function that automatically brings up a map of the level you're on and how much of it you've explored -- this is an essential function for players who, like me, are directionally challenged. The VDA eliminates the need to keep detailed notes of your game progress (though I wouldn’t recommend giving up your pen and paper entirely) and at first I was excited about being able to replay important discussions. However, I became less excited when I discovered that I would frequently have to switch CDs to do so. In fact, one of the most annoying parts of the game is having to switch CDs so often -- depending on where you go, you might have to switch CDs three times in as many minutes.
I also was frustrated by the conversation scenes. As is typical of adventure games, you are given a list of possible questions and statements to ask the person you're talking to. But once you're in a conversation, you have to ask every one of the possible statements. There’s no "I guess I’ll be going" bug-out line, no way to choose how you'll appear to others -- cautious or bold, rude or sympathetic. The conversations are just a way of presenting Jake with information he'll need in the game, and some players may not like this (myself included).
The puzzles are mostly of moderate difficulty, though a few are pleasantly frustrating. My favorite is the mining cart maze, which has no explanations and takes some work to figure out. In general, the problems appear impossible yet have very simple solutions. The final conflict, especially, is one which looks like a no-win situation -- you can't move anywhere and you can't seem to use any items ... or can you?
The environments are quite realistic for the most part, and occasionally (as with the interior of the moon) breathtakingly lovely. There's even a place where, as Jake is crawling through the air ducts, the display bobs around in a good simulation of crawling. But while the foregrounds and full-motion video are nicely rendered, the background graphics are a bit fuzzy in some places. It's a minor annoyance that nevertheless kept me from fully immersing myself in the game, particularly since the indistinctness contrasts vividly with the clear, sharp human figures. The video segments, though clear and well-filmed for the most part, do not blend seamlessly together in all places, particularly during conversation scenes where a close-up still shot will jerk into a similar but obviously different shot each time Jake asks a question. Again, a minor annoyance, but one the game could ill afford.
The original soundtrack is an unobtrusive and integral part of the story. The sound effects are blended well with the music, which in turn enhances gameplay in the same way that music enhances the experience of watching a movie. Excellently done.
Minimum system requirements are Pentium 166 Mhz, Win95/98, 32 MB RAM, 8X CD-ROM, 16-bit Windows-compatible sound card, 150 MB hard disk space, 2 MB SVGA graphics, and mouse. DirectX 5.0 is also required, but is included with the game. I strongly recommend at least 48 MB RAM and a video card with at least 2 MB video RAM, and possibly a 3D accelerator. I reviewed the game on a machine with little more than the minimum requirements listed above, and gameplay was extremely jerky as the computer kept having to access the CD-ROM drive. The better your system, the better your experience will likely be.
Sparse. The game comes with a small leaflet of instructions for installation, minimal troubleshooting, and operating the different parts of the display. However, this is sufficient to get you up and running quickly.
The game is rated Ages 13+, which I think is fitting. There is mild profanity and some violence, and younger children may be frightened by some of the monsters -- but then younger children probably won't be able to handle the intellectual challenge of the game.
Dark Side of the Moon is a good game with some minor flaws that, depending on your preferences in adventure games, may affect your enjoyment of it a little or a lot. Despite my stated disappointments, I think it's worth playing to the end.
Download Dark Side of the Moon
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP