The town is dark and deadly quiet as you approach the steps to the old house. The floorboards creak, you think you hear a noise, the door swings slowly open and your heart starts racing. You're out of bullets, and all you have to defend yourself with is a blunt spade which you wave about frantically as you rush in. There's that noise again, like the gargle of a dying animal, and you turn around to face it. A walking corpse, a soulless but murderous carcass, lunges towards you from an unlit room. A blow from the spade dislodges one of its arms, which lands on the wooden floor with a heavy thud, but the thing keeps coming until you split its skull open like an egg. The smell isn't pleasant. You see woodwormed stairs leading to a pitch black basement. You don't want to go, but there are people somewhere in this house and you've got to find them. Then, out of the silence, a sinister music starts to play, letting you know something nasty is waiting for you. An embarrassing dribble twists a wet path down your legs, and your shoes squelch as you walk down.
The scene should be immediately familiar, if you were lucky enough to get last month's Nocturne demo up and running (see 'The Infernal Machine' panel right). "Our primary goal is to scare the crap out of people," say developers Terminal Reality. "All the shadows, sound effects, music and monstrous creatures are built to frighten." Good. So it's not just us being complete wussies then.
They admit all their darkest fears and nightmares were let loose while putting this action/adventure together: "We're also trying to infuse the game with those elements of the real world that frighten us. There are monsters-a-plenty, but the player will also know the fear of wondering if he's alone in a dark corridor. It's important that the team understands the true nature of fear." Judging from their influences, TR have a pretty good grasp on shitting-your-pants scariness. Evil Dead, The Thing, Alien and The Shining are some of the films mentioned (and, from what we've seen, we would add Night Of The hiving Dead as an essentia! point of reference). Other less obviously horror-related but equally dark sources like Batman comics, Bladerunner, Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler are mentioned. And, of course, there would be no use denying the shadow of certain PlayStation modern classics: "We've used the sort of anticipation, atmosphere-building and fear of the dark you can find in Silent Hill to make a truly scary game. It's not all about monsters. They're not as scary as the unseen evil that screws with your mind. But there are a fair share of jump-out-of-your-seat scares that the Resident Evils so thoroughly accomplished. As far as other games go, the Alone In The Dark and Ecstatica series spring immediately to mind."
Spookhouse, the organisation you belong to in the game, is responsible for investigating and confronting the forces of darkness in their many forms, which include vampires, werewolves and even aliens. Despite this X-Files set-up, though, there is no worldwide conspiracy to uncover, just lots of roaming monsters making life in the 1930s interesting. To give the game a balance, the Stranger (the mysterious character you control) is aided along the way by computer-controlled sidekicks, all of whom are extremely useful in combat. This only makes the moments when you must face the hordes by yourself all the more terrifying. How much help you get solving puzzles will also vary from mission to mission. Sometimes you will be prompted in the right direction while at other times you'll just have to figure things out for yourself. "Our goal has been to balance and include a wide variety of puzzles and action to appeal to as many players as possible," TR tell us. The settings will share in that diversity, going from Texas redneck towns to German mountains and castles, all of which benefit from incredibly detailed, prerendered backgrounds.
The engine creates such a realistic world in terms of lighting, reflections and gravity that the monsters become believable. Clothes, shadows and bodily fluids are so authentic you'll be afraid to get too close to the screen in case the blood splatters on your cheeks or the flamethrower singes your eyebrows. In fact, you will be very afraid, full stop.
The Infernal Machine
Nocturne sports the technology of the future - so come on, it's time to stop living in the past
No doubt there were many of you who were disappointed, if not bewildered, to see the recommended specs needed to run last month's Nocturne demo. Anything less than a kick-ass ninja PC would have felt like a hobbling zombie, which is a shame considering how good it is. You'll be relieved to hear that the developers are working on lowering the requirements all the time. "With the proper shortcuts, a poor soul running a Pll 266 with 64Mb RAM should be able to run the game, but it will be a shadow of the game at its full glory on the recommended machine," Terminal Reality warn us. "It saddens us that this game requires such power and some people won't get to see everything, but you have to admit that the payoff on the proper machine is worth it." It's official - if you want to play the best-looking games you'll have to use the best-performing PCs. You have been warned: in a year's time a Pentium III will be essential for all new releases. Look out for a more elderly PC-friendly demo soon.
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Fear. An instinct evolved to protect us from danger and pain, it can turn a grown man into a cowering animal and seize all control over his bowels. Why would people pay to experience such a primordial and unpleasant feeling? Ask the millions who've turned The Blair Witch Project into the most profitable film of the year. Or let i/stell you: fictional fear is pure, exhilarating fun. As long as you can suspend your disbelief enough to enter its sick little world, good horror can turn the most upsetting things into a source of enjoyment and have you simultaneously suffering and whooping with joy. And that is exactly what Nocturne does. It is, almost without a shadow of a doubt, the scariest game ever to darken our PC screens.
You play the Stranger, the top agent for an organisation dedicated to keeping all supernatural phenomena under control, usually by blasting it back to hell. Spookhouse is a cross between the conspiratorial world of The X-Files and the gadgetry of James Bond's Secret Service, set in the 1930s. And if you don't think such a setting sounds very scary, allow us to talk you through some Nocturne moments.
One, in the first episode, takes place in a German forest. The air is so cold, you can see the Stranger's breath making tiny clouds as he walks alongside Svetlana Lupescu, a half-vampire woman assigned to your mission. Rain falls through the leaves, owls hum their night sounds and bats swirl through the air. Svetlana tells you she can sense werewolves all around you and you start to see shadows flickering behind trees. You hardly catch a glimpse of their hairy forms, but you can feel their presence like the hot panting of a hound. Along the path there are trails of blood and an occasional corpse, and at every twist and turn of it you expect something to happen. Then it does. The enormous shape of five werewolves jumps out at you from nowhere and you start shooting wildly, wasting precious silver bullets while their growls mix with the sound of thunder. Your flesh is torn apart like paper and you have to recover for a few seconds before hitting the quickload key.
As with horror movies, to get the full effect you need to play it alone and in the dark. In fact, Nocturne demands that you turn your lights out and calibrate your monitor, which you'll need to do if you want to appreciate the graphics.
As long as your system is up to it, Nocturne is one of the most visually impressive games you're likely to see for some time. Shadows fall perfectly on different surfaces and clothes move as if in a clothes-movement simulation, thanks to the engine's amazing (and processor and memory devouring) real-time lighting and physics. The recreation of the 1930s is remarkable, especially in the Chicago episode, where tommyguns are fired from boxy black cars, shattering window fronts. There are shoot-outs in music halls and the city's architecture is recreated as well as any Hollywood gangster movie, but with the bleakness of Seven.
There are four episodes in all, the other two being set in Paris and Texas. This last one features a level (you may have played it in the demo) as gory and scary as any George Romero Living Dead film. Once again, the gameplay is based on the creation of a tense atmosphere and the anticipation of horror, rather than out-and-out bloody action. When you see those intestine-ripping, Picasso-limbed zombies approaching in a slow-motion avalanche of distorted faces and hungry groans, you know you'll never sleep well again. Walking down one of these small village alleys is a daunting task, opening a door an adventure in itself.
Stranger Is The Night
The adventure elements are, not surprisingly, very close to those in Resident Evil 2. You talk to loads of characters and usually need their help at some stage to move along, but the puzzles are fairly basic and secondary to the experience of fear. Which is why the character of the Stranger always raises a smile. While you can usually hear your own heart beating wildly in time to the pumping gunshots, the Stranger remains utterly calm, a cross between Humphrey Bogart and Duke Nukem. Most of the small bits of information you get about his past are gleaned in the Spookhouse headquarters, where you begin each episode. After you've been told about your next assignment you can choose to walk around and talk to people, like the Dana Scully lookalike "Doc" Holliday, who performs autopsies on monsters and provides you with goodies, or some of the other agents, who are also being sent on missions. It all hints towards a bigger picture and helps to establish the sense of a real world, rather than a string of missions strung together for no apparent reason. Real figures like AI Capone and Elliot Ness are mentioned in the Chicago level briefing and there's even a progression of years from episode to episode to give the Stranger's career greater depth. So what's wrong with it?
A Sense Of Perspective
The greatest problem is that, because of the complexity of the lighting and the physics, the backgrounds are pre-rendered, rather than created in real time (in the same way as Grim Fandango or Discworld Noir), so you end up with weird, sometimes unhelpful camera angles. There are places where you can walk away from the screen until you're a tiny dot and walk back until you cover the whole thing. One moment, you and your foes are as large as the monitor, the next you're in a Gauntlet point of view, before switching to a Lemmings take on things. Imagine the Coen brothers doing horror, or a Sam Raimi super-production, and you'll get an idea of how surreal it feels. It all adds to the disturbing aspect of the game, but it's still annoying when you're trying to kill a giant beast on the far edge of your screen. If you can live with it, Nocturne is a beautiful exercise in computer-generated fear.
This is the game that launched a thousand laundry bills. Nocturne gives you all you need in a third-person action adventure. It does, however, contradict itself by having both excellent detail in the game's individual character composition (down to billowing coats and foggy breath) and poorly pre-rendered background graphics, meaning it's all too easy to loose yourself in bizarre camera angles.
The general fear-soaked atmosphere is further compounded by the hard-to-handle controls, which often mean you will be running round and round in a circle shooting wildly at anything except the ferocious, slathering beast that is eating your entrails like a Pot Noodle. All in all, Nocturne is an atmospheric, if rather RAM-consuming game, and now you can scare yourself witless at only a fraction of the price.
There Arent Many games that instil a genuine sense of fear or trepidation into the player, but I believe Nocturne is one of those select few. You take control of a mysterious fighter of evil, The Stranger, who works for a secret government agency called Spookhouse. His job, along with the other bizarre residents of the Spookhouse facility, is to investigate tales of supernatural goings on and to discover if they are hoaxes or not. None of them are, because that would make this game the most boring in history.
The game is split into four distinct, self-contained acts with a final epilogue. While chronological in nature, each one can be picked at any time at the start. We do advise playing them in the proper order though, as the story makes more sense that way. On his adventures The Stranger comes across numerous ghosts and ghouls, including werewolves, vampires and Frankenstein's Monster-esque Chicago mobsters, created by a demonic Al Capone.
One of the most interesting and amusing elements of the game are the agents employed by Spookhouse. For example, there's voodoo expert Scat Dazzle, who accompanies you in act two. One of his powers is an ability to summon a Loa (a Voodoo spirit) who is called Baron Samedi. Elsewhere we have Elspeth 'Doc' Holliday, who eagle-eyed readers will remember from Blair Witch, Volume I: Rustin Parr, in which she is the main character.
One thing that was curious about the game was its control mechanism. It has separate controls for movement and aiming, making it difficult to do both at once. Certainly, when first attempted, the whole thing feels ridiculous. Autoaim is available for those unwilling to persevere, but once you get used to it, the mechanism is passable. Another thing I seem to recall is that it was so damn hard I never managed to finish it. In fact, writing this has inspired me to hunt it down and give it another go. Will my skills have been honed with time, or will I just be even worse than before? Probably the latter.
As mentioned before, there aren't many horror games that are genuinely unnerving, but Nocturne is one of them. A brooding, dark atmosphere is supplemented by sometimes difficult gameplay mechanics to create a tense experience. One for all horror buffs.
Hell. 2:37 am. Tuesday. I had just finished staking the last of the vampires when the wire came from HQ. Seems there's a zombie working for Capone. Time to hotfoot it back to Spookhouse for bullets and brains. Just another routine monster icing assignment. That's my job. I'm The Stranger.
Step into the Nocturne parlor of ghost and ghouls. Your assignment is to rid the world of all manner of monsters and malevolence, 1940's detective novel style. You'll have help from creatures such as the half-vampire, half-human Svetlana and weapons that a Q-minded spook hunter would be proud of.
Hang onto your silver bullets and holy water; it's going to be a long night.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
The premise of Nocturne revolves around an FBI-like organization called Spookhouse, whose sole purpose is to find and kill monsters. The player is represented by a mysterious character called The Stranger, the best hunter that Spookhouse has to offer. Supplied with various weapons to assist you in your mission, as well as an array of other Spookhouse operatives for assistance, you are transported to four different locations. They all contain their own unique challenges and skill sets necessary to accomplish the mission. But each assignment is independent of the others, allowing the user to slip in and out of the worlds and not have to worry about accumulating previous weapons or skills.
Movement is accomplished through either keyboard, mouse and keyboard, or gamepad with access to supplies and weapons driven by keystroke -- herein lies my main problem with the game. The developers have created a richly rendered world and use intriguing camera angles to present the action. Because of those angles though, it can be difficult to truly see where the characters are heading or where they are shooting. Also, those angles combined with an extremely sensitive key to movement ratio make it rather frustrating to move the character smoothly, particularly in straight lines. The player does have the ability to make some adjustments, but it still takes awhile to be able to move the character smoothly and accurately.
A word of warning: there is violence, adult language, bloodshed, and nudity in this game. Granted, the images are animated, but they are still vivid. There are parental controls that can be set, but it could still be too much for some players.
This is a richly textured game, visually, that captures the gritty ambiance of a 1940's detective novel and the eerie worlds of devils and demons. The rendered camera angles are cleverly inventive, adding a very creative view for the various worlds. There is a fluidity of movement that I have not seen attained before to such a degree. Even the shadows are smartly done, matching characters and objects alike with excellent depth and accuracy.
Make no mistake, to get the full impact of this game you need an excellent 3D video card. While you can play well with lesser cards, you will miss a lot of the marvelous visuals and movement. But if you have the hardware, you're in for quite a treat.
3D sound is another integral component of Nocturne, adding that "look over your shoulder" feel while causing shivers in your spine. Wonderfully in-depth with the perfect subtle touches, you can get the creeps from just listening to the soundtrack. However, the game is best played with a 3D sound card and high end speakers.
Minimum: MMX, Celeron, Pentium2, Pentium3, or Athlon at 233MHz or higher processor, 64MB RAM (96MB for 3D Acceleration), 500MB hard drive space, and Windows 95, 98, or NT 4.0.
Recommended: 128MB RAM, 1GB+ hard drive space, Matrox G200/G400, TnT, TnT2, Rage 128, or Savage3D graphics card, AGP video port, Sound Blaster Live! sound card, and a Celeron, Pentium2, Pentium3, or Athlon at 400MHz or higher processor.
Again, the creators of Nocturne have outdone themselves with very thorough documentation, plus an excellent website if the player needs further assistance.
Whether you are looking for thrills, kills, or an adventure with that foggy detective novel feel, this is your game. To enjoy the full benefits of 3D graphics and sound though, you'll need to make sure you have a higher end machine. All you'll need after that is a necklace of garlic, silver bullets, and something to help you get over the frights in the night.