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GF! Archival Version Copyright 1995-2004

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by Terminal Reality


Ups: Beautifully evocative graphics and sound, including realtime weather and shadows. Separate missions provide narrative variety.

Downs: Overall narrative lacks cohesion and integrity. Characters are one-dimensional and, well, boring.
Some clipping.

System Reqs: Pentium 233MHz 64MB RAM 500MB hard disk space, 3D card highly recommended.

nocturne1.jpg (7343 bytes)If you're anything like me, then you're the kind of gamer who, having spent the last month and a half white-knuckling through Shadow Man, has been skeptical about the advance press on Nocturne. After all, we've heard it all before, haven't we? How many times have you read, for example, about the upcoming title that is supposed to be "unforgettable, astonishing," that "sinks its teeth in and doesn't let you go" and "will be causing some hellacious nightmares"? Of course, what would you expect of a title that is supposed to be "one of the most scary [sic] and exciting games of the 90's"? Ever hear of Thief? Half Life? How's about the Alone in the Dark series?

Alright, alright, enough bravado. I should just admit right now that all this hamfistedness is, at best, a half-hearted attempt to avoid talking too directly about Nocture. Why? Well, because the advance press on this title is spot on. No, it's freakin' DEAD on, at least in respect to graphics and sound. If you want superior game design and playability, then Nocturne is for you. Of course, if you want a solid game that also delivers the creepy, convincing storytelling it promises, then you're going to have to wait.

nocturne2.jpg (9732 bytes)Actually, "creepy, convincing storytelling" sounds just as bandy-legged as some of the raves printed on the Nocturne box [cited above] and doesn't really begin to describe how hair-raisingly rich the Nocturne story really could be. But more on that later. Let's first talk about the game's technical excellences.

nocturne3.jpg (6200 bytes)Undoubtedly, most players have already read about Nocturne's incredible graphics. These praises are not idle hype. Terminal Reality's infinite polygonal design makes for an amazingly lush and believable looking game, a fact that becomes all the more impressive when one considers that players will--or at least have the opportunity to--traverse at least three startlingly variant realtime 3D environments: spooky, ill-weathered Continental Europe; a grimy, grisly Texas jerkwater; and the galvanized grey streets and seedy speakeasies of 1930's Chicago. In all of these locales, the single most amazing feature of Terminal Reality's design is the realtime meteorological phenomena that provide so much of Nocturne's grainy, noirish atmosphere. The European villages, forests and castles, for example, are always dank and dilapidated, and the overcast skies alternately rumble with ominous thunder, rend themselves with lightening, and pour down relentless torrents of rain. Likewise, the streets of Nocturne's Chi-town are abandoned as the water towers and high-rises that make up the city's skyline loom like expectant, malignant sentinals. Weather and setting in this game are so evocative that they become characters in their own right, even as they provide the backdrop for Nocturne's, er, protagonist ... the Stranger. And this last point deserves some discussion.

nocturne4.jpg (9215 bytes)Other reviewers have compared playing Nocturne to reading a well-conceived and written thriller, or watching a classic film of the same genre. But I think these critics overstate themselves a little. While Nocturne's story is more sophisticated than those of most multi-media entertainments, primarily because of its compelling weaving of historical verisimilitude and popular interest in fantasy and the occult, it doesn't really go far enough to convince the player that the Stranger has any motivation, either hidden or obvious, to accept the directives that make up the game's missions. In other words, for all of its visual and sonic depth and breadth, Nocturne's story is flat.

nocturne5.jpg (8352 bytes)In all fairness, other reviewers have pointed out as much, especially in respect to the four separate episodes of which the game consists. While they point out that each mission is a complete story--or game, in other words--unto itself, the fact that none links to any other except in the most tangential and superficial way doesn't seem to be a problem for them. I contend, on the other hand, that welching on a potentially fantastic story--one that could up industry standards forever, in fact--is tantamount to a sort of treason. That's right; I feel ripped off. I say this, again, because the Stranger, despite his mysterious identity and unbridled hatred of all things undead, mutated or otherwise evil and his perplexing cynicism concerning the efficacy of good, in thought or deed, is not a believable avatar of justice. While some players may not give a damn whether or not the Stranger is on some vendetta, a crusade, or even a quest for any respite from boredom, the character's lack of, well, character makes the game less enjoyable. Perhaps Nocturne's writers have left it up to the players to be fearful and so, vulnerable, but even that possibility doesn't save the game from its own ironic lifelessness.

It almost seems as though the folks who obviously worked very, very hard to make Nocturne a truly remarkable, ground-breaking gaming phenomenon simply bit off, zombie-like, more than they could chew. This title's background story about Teddy Roosevelt's founding of paranormal activity investigative agency, the Spookhouse, like Lucas's Indiana Jones movies, readily assumes a place in the American historical and mythological imagination. Unfortunately, this potentially brilliant narrative quickly disintegrates when held to the same standard of excellence exemplified in Nocturne's realtime sound and graphics.

nocturne7.jpg (4303 bytes)When all is said and done, PC gamers who are looking for a break from deathmatching superhuman meatheads against one another are advised to consider how different Nocturne's Stranger really is from the zombies, ghouls and werewolves he blows away so effortlessly. Sure, Nocturne provides players with plenty of puzzles to solve, but if undead problem-solving is your bag then this reviewer might recommend Grim Fandango. And there's always Shadow Man for sheer terror. Playing this latter title, I felt like something always lurked underfoot or spied over my shoulder. Proceeding through Nocturne, on the other hand, I wanted to know whether this title's writers were trying to say something essential about human nature and what it is capable of--keep in mind that Nocturne takes place before WWII, and in places and times where and when specific specters of evil, as it were, began to collect and swell--or whether I was simply hounded by a bugbear that hungered for roughage with which to stuff my imagination.

You gonna eat that ... ?

--Greg Matthews