Darkmere


Title		Darkmere
Game Type	RPG
Company  	Core Design
Players		1
Compatibility	All
HD Installable	Patch Available
Submission	James Chambers

Review
History as we knew it....

     Darkmere is a game that we all heard about as it made its debut. We
recall the cool logo printed in our favorite Amiga magazines; however,
fewer can recall actually playing this lush role-playing classic.
     At a time when games like Black Crypt, Abandoned Places, Captive, and
Knightmare were the hack and slash mainstay (with Dungeon Master looming
in the background), Darkmere was the game that time forgot.
     This unlucky "forgetting" is probably due to the folding of CBM. With
the fall of this company, many Amiga titles were made suddenly extinct by
the alarming decline of quality software retailers. The well had suddenly
gone dry just as this lumbering giant of a game made its appearance.

And what an appearance it has. With the design genius of Mark Jones, the
game has a dark brooding mien deserving of a good production of Macbeth.
Along with gorgeous graphics, the Darkmere world is populated by grim
racial struggles between Elves and Dwarves (drawing on a deep Tolkien
inclination), dragons and men, and nail-biting combat sequences that keep
the player on edge.

     But I digress, thus let's start at the true beginning. The basic plot
engine of the game is unusual for a game that emerged from such noted
competitors. Captive achieved its fame from a deep hack-and-slash DM
background and great creature design. Knightmare had an implied fairy-tale
background driving it. But Darkmere is essentially different.
     You take on the role of Ebryn the son of ghostly Gildorn.  You arrive
back in your father's village to find it beset by a dark mist (the
darkmere). All life in the town and outlying forests has been stifled by
the sudden raids of orcs on dragon steeds. With the vengeful hand of
Gildorn missing, the orcs easily whelm the city and thus begins the
decline of civilization as it was remembered.

     Basically your job is to take up your father's dragon slaying sword
and put an end to the darkmere. Your quest will lead you through three
atmospheric levels of intense combat, puzzle solving, and side quests.
Along the way you will meet the denizens of the ruined city, as well as
grim soldiers, hooded shadowy men, wanton women, elvish nobles, deadly
giant spiders, and oh yes, large dragons.

 Hey, this isn't Heimdall.....
      After the superb loading screen flashes past your eyes (featuring a
great "water-color like" rendition of village life), your ears are
assaulted by the eerie whistling dark winds of the darkmere. Ebyrn appears
before the city gates and is immediately sent onward searching for a
password by a stodgy old dwarf.

      Play in Darkmere is largely like Heimdall II. You are allowed to
walk through fascinating isometric panoramas (or levels) searching for
various quest articles. Your travels are frequently interrupted by the
foes of darkness. Combat in Darkmere is real time and very joystick
oriented. Though there is a keyboard interface available, you will not
want to use it.
      Ebryn's health is symbolized by a health bar that fans of the Ishar
series will recognize easily. This simple representation gives the game an
arcade flavor at times and may cause some hard-core CRPG folks to look the
other way. This combined with occasional weak monster A.I. is perhaps the
one downside of the game; however, in comparison to the other titles of
the time (as well as remembering the 1meg limitation), this one miss is
easily forgivable.
      Infact, as a player, you must remember that Ebryn is limited in his
attacks and by his health. However, in the tradition of the hungry-sword
myth, Ebryn is allowed to recoup life-points by taking the life of his
foes with his mystic sword. This piece of "soul sapping sword routine" was
perhaps last seen in "Death Bringer." Added here to Darkmere, this one
routine makes the game stand out from the average Amiga CRPG milieu.
Indeed, the implied darkness behind such an act unconsciously adds weight
to the grim darkness of the game, which is the true gold of the Darkmere
experience.
      "Saving off" in the game is sparse and challenging. This will drive
some people absolutely nuts what with the pampering (read as sanity) of
games like Dungeon Master. Saving-off requires you to have either a "Time
Reverse" potion in your backpack, or to summon the "Magic" of your
father's dwindling life points (you can either save freely five times or
ask for free advice five times before you inadvertently banish your
father's lingering soul to the void). I don't find this to be a design
flaw; instead it's more like driving home the reality of the Darkmere
experience (and I'm not a hard-core CRPG fanatic): Plan or perish.

  It's all about myth.....
      We hear and play a lot of Doom and Quake clones these days. It seems
as though we have become so accustomed to generic replications of "plot"
lines. I see this as a dangerously transparent rut in gaming history.
Whatever happened to the idea of setting?  These days the ambiance of a
game is boiled down to what 3dX card you have on your IBM.
      Darkmere (like Heimdall) is a game with a deep setting. The true
character of Darkmere is wrapped within its deep mythological fabric. Not
even Heimdall, which is loosely rooted in Nordic myth, delivers such a
setting as real as does this gem.
      The secret behind Darkmere's setting is that it uses the realm of
the familiar combined with the realm of the unfamiliar. The unfamiliar
fabric that Darkmere uses is the heroic Anglo Saxon background of
Tolkien's universe (which in its meaning is a direct contrast to our known
mathematical world). Archetypal Tolkienesque struggles between dragon and
elvin kin is the sprawling blanket of the game. Alone, this use of serious
"Tolkienism" would be fuel enough for the setting of any gaming
experience.  However, spliced within this engine of the unknown are the
familiar secular chords of a Shakespearean drama. The plight of old
Gildorn is easily a recognizable King Lear in disguise; likewise, the
struggle of a fatherless prince in Ebryn is a nice usage of the all too
familiar Hamlet identity. In retrospect, one would be hard pressed to find
a game with as rich a mythology as this game.

"Boiling it down...."
      Darkmere is a rich dramatic experience. It's beautiful
Hildebrant-like art is as breath taking as its compelling story. Minor
draw backs (due to its 1 meg limitations) do not mar the playing of this
classic. Loading times are well camouflaged by interesting screens (if
anything, the early quest of "find the potions for the alchemist" really
makes you scour the loading screen for hints).
      In conclusion, Darkmere is the missing link that bridges the gap
between the ancient but lovely Dungeon Master and modern  plot driven
games like Daggerfall. All in all, this game is a must for the serious
Amiga CRPG fanatic. Currently, copies of this game are easier to come by.
Online stores like 64 Store and More (http://64andmore.hypernet.net) often
carry a copy.  I also welcome any travelers who are in need of hints along
the way (email me at Titan006@aol.com).  I truly believe that this game is
well worth the investment of your time.




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