Published by: Core Design Ltd.
Developed by: Zero Hour Software
Orcs, magic, dragons - the fantasy setting is already pretty boring. To add some variety, they began to dilute it with borrowings from other genres - horror, science fiction, humorous literature. But how many works do you know that correspond to the immortal original by J.R.R. Tolkien not only in letter, but also in spirit? Unfortunately, there aren't many of them. But I can rightly include Darkmere in this small but proud list.
Darkmere: The Nightmare's Begun is a game made by a small company (actually, given the amount of work, by artist Mark K. Jones) exclusively for Amiga computers. Despite the fact that it uses the ECS chipset (which, remember, only 32 simultaneous colors) and a rather small screen size, the graphics in this game are so good that they are amazing even today - not to mention the early 90s. It is thanks to the colorful animated sprites of characters and enemies, the dark walls and pavements of the narrow streets of the village, illuminated by the fuming light of torches, that you plunge into this world that has been enveloped in Darkness. Not inferior to the first level and the design of the next two - Forests and Caves. In the Forest, as well as in the village, evil is happening - orcs and ogres walk along the paths and feast on human meat. Skulls are scattered everywhere and stakes with human heads are stuck. But at the same time, the good magic of the forest has not yet been completely defeated - the nymphs and elves are still able to help you. Everything is much worse at the last level - in the former mines of the gnomes, where the orcs already reign supreme, and dark rituals take place in the gloomy depths and Evil itself nests.
But let's move on to the beginning of the game. In it, you, a young warrior Ebryn, after a short instruction from your father-king, are transported to a plundered village with the help of magic. In your hands is an ancient weapon, which, according to legend, is capable of defeating the Dragon, because, as they say, it was he (or rather, she) who caused all the misfortunes that befell the country. Her offspring - small dragons - help the orcs overcome the high walls of the village, as well as kill and rob defenseless peasants.
The levels of this game are really huge - even though the streets of the village are signed, it is quite possible to get lost in them. What can we say about the labyrinths of the forest, where you can search for a skillfully hidden passage among dozens of screens for weeks! The passage of the game is also associated with the usual problems for old adventure games - the vagueness of what to do (although there is a hint system, but they are so little help that it is not necessary to talk about them), and the need to rummage through all the nooks and crannies of each screen. Therefore, it is very easy to get stuck in the game, but sometimes it is only possible to understand what exactly is required from the player to advance through the story. One of the examples, which, judging by the feedback of the players on the Internet, has become fatal for the passage of very many: the pharmacist asks to find drugs stolen from him. You have to guess that this requires killing three hooded people who are standing in different parts of the village, despite the fact that they behave like ordinary NPCs, you can talk to them, and they do not respond to blows. Fortunately, there are few tasks in the game at all, and most of it takes place in wandering around the level and exterminating orcs, spiders and other evil spirits.
Since we are talking about enemies, let's turn to the combat and role-playing systems. Both are at a very rudimentary level. The battle in the game takes place in an arcade style: there are two types of attacks and a block (which is practically useless), the essence of the battle, as a rule, is to swing the sword without stopping - the enemies themselves will go at it without having time to make their blow . In this way, it is possible to defeat most enemies, such as orcs and ogres, without damage. The exceptions are the spiders in the forest, which deal damage even if the sword is constantly swinging. But there is also a non-violent way of passing against them. With the role-playing system, things are a little better - there are no classes, levels or abilities. There is only an inventory, dialogues with NPCs using keywords and the ability to trade with some of them. And, of course, a huge number of items, both those that can be picked up and used, and those that simply stand on the locations. And each item has a detailed description that really contributes to immersion in the game! Especially nasty objects like corpses or skulls can even be sniffed! By the way, the game has a lot of humor and references to Tolkien. What is the spell "Boromir Palantir!", which needs to open the way to the Mage's house, worth! Or save options or formatting the save floppy called "Magic".
And yet, despite all the charm of Darkmere, flaws do not allow her to give her the highest score. The obvious drawback is mainly affected - management. It is probably impossible to make a big, complex game with options, viewing places, inventory and at the same time leaving the arcade control of the joystick. The authors of the game did not succeed either. Looking around each screen, picking up all the items one at a time, requires so many arrows and joystick button presses that it can tire the robot as well. The combat system and mysteries that are too obscure are another reason why you might not want to play Darkmere. The artificial delay of the game, when you have to run from one end of the map to the other several times (as, for example, in the case of using the Mushroom Nymph in the forest), is also not happy. It is also difficult to praise the soundtrack - there is almost no music in the game. For most of the game, you will be accompanied by the howling of the wind in the village or the singing of birds in the forest. Of course, it also gives atmosphere, but after a while it is already more annoying than it brings pleasure.
I would like to end on a positive note. After all, those who can get used to the controls and not pay attention to other shortcomings will enjoy the passage, comparable to reading a great fantasy book or watching a masterfully drawn cartoon.