Nocturne is so good, it’s scary

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Being a fan of the horror side of computer games, it was easy to get into the concept of Nocturne, which features a monster hunter named The Stranger who goes around killing werewolves, zombies, vampires and other creatures of the night.

One of my favorite games of all time is called Realms of the Haunting, and playing Nocturne reminded me of it a lot. Even though Realms did not enjoy widespread commercial success, it none the less earned mine. Another type of game in the same vein as Nocturne is the entire Alone in the Dark series. All of these games — Nocturne, Realms and Alone — at least in part seem to be based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft and his infamous Cthuhlu elder gods and monster books.

But I think Nocturne will appeal to a much broader audience than either Alone or Realms. Whereas Realms was handicapped with low-quality graphics and Alone was more of a puzzle game with some shooting elements, Nocturne is nearly all action.

Despite some early problems getting the game to run with a Voodoo 3 card, it looks awesome. Walking around medieval-like villages at night (the game is set in the 1920s and 30s when much of the world was still unspoiled by electric lights and modern comforts) gives players a very eerie feeling. And because you are hunting creatures of the night, you have to enter the night to find them, meaning you can expect lots of long shadows, dark corners and surprise attacks.

To some extent the game is a puzzle adventure. There are a few things to figure out, although most of the challenge involves figuring out which weapon to use against which creature. Use the wrong one, like normal bullets instead of silver ones on a werewolf, and you might end up being lunch. Use the right ones and you will see why The Stranger is such a badass.

Case in point. In one of the four adventures that ships with the game, you will come to a bell tower in an ancient castle. When you enter you will notice a bunch of vampires – the ugly wrinkled bat-like kind, not the suave tuxedo wearing ones – hanging upside down in a circle sleeping. Actually you will notice their shadow first, which is very creepy. You can just leave them alone; there is a book you need in the room but if you are quiet you can get it and go. But being The Stranger, you can’t simply let a bunch of monsters continue their unnatural existence. So, I readied a special gun that generates real sunlight, but has to be charged for a long time between shots. I got a crossbow that fires blessed bolts ready as my backup weapon.

I got the book I needed and positioned myself at the door. I fired using the sun gun at the vampires over the door. They burst into flames, showering me with body parts as they exploded with horrific screams! The others, alerted by the noise, jumped down and began to rush me at the portal. I began shooting blessed bolts at them and they died in terrible ways with one or two shots each. There were a lot of them, so I had to back up, keeping aimed at the choke point in the doorway. Two tried to be sneaky and stay in the room, but they were eliminated once my sun gun recharged. Looking at the smoldering remains and body chunks, I had to laugh. The Stranger had eliminated another den of undead vermin and I was starting to think like him!

In case I did not mention it, or if you did not figure it out, this game is for mature audiences only. It ships with an ESRB rating of ”M” and a bright parental advisory label as well. Besides the gore and general horror, there is a lot of nudity in the game in the form of demonic succubus and vampire brides who try to seduce before killing. And in the bed chambers of these creatures, blood-soaked sheets leave little to the imagination as to the room’s function for the poor hapless souls too weak to resist their charms.

The game is different from other spooky-type titles in that the primary focus of the game is on action. You can’t hardly turn a corner without some creature leaping out of the shadows to try and rip your jugular out. I think this is sort of a double-edged sword for the game in a way. The true horror of the games in the Alone series were the things you did not see, or that you thought were out there. The game does some amount of this by having creatures appear briefly in the corners of dark forests or running across the rooftops where you can’t get at them. But you are generally attacked on about every screen. At some point, you lose the shock value as combat becomes more or less routine.

This is not to say I grew tired of the game by any means. But after you have seen one zombie stop tearing the flesh of a dying person and head your way, are you really going to be that surprised the next time it happens, or the time after that? Perhaps, but not as much.

You do have some degree of puzzles in the game besides the "right tool for the right job" type. Mostly this involves talking to people several times till they grow tired of you and then going to a secret location they described, or finding a special tool to do a special job. You won’t have to wrack your brain too much to solve most of the puzzles, which could be an advantage or a detriment, depending on how you like your games.

It is worth noting that the graphics look amazing when accelerated, but they also look darn good without any type of special graphical hardware. For a few days the test computer running this game could not activate its Voodoo 3 card to use with the game. During that time the reviewers played Nocturne in software mode. And if you did not know acceleration was turned off, you would not have noticed too much. You still get all the lens flares and special creepy effects, but they are just not as detailed. Before you start playing, you have to adjust the light levels of the monitor down low. This helps make the dark game even more sinister, though it looks pretty odd when you return to a darkened desktop.

Terminal Reality seems to have spent as much time working with the sound in this game as the graphics. From the roaring sound of The Stranger’s twin .45s to the creepy background music that seems to rise just before a critical scene, the sound will put you on edge as much as the graphics.

As adventure games go, this is one of the best we have seen in 1999. As horror games go, this one is easily the king of the pile. Our advice is to play the game with the lights off, and then sleep with them turned back on.

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