Set in in an abandoned medical university, Crowswood, the player wakes up under mysterious circumstances trapped in some twisted experiment. It’s 1966 and the university has been abandoned since an incident occurred in 1947. The incident left students missing and people insane. Finding out what happened is only part of your quest, the other is escaping.
Escaping is not easy, as you must solve puzzles to move to new areas, and once everything is going good you are transported to another area to start again. Keeping you imprisoned is the mad scientist who is using you as part of an experiment, and he doesn’t make it easy. The Crow’s Eye is a first person horror puzzle game with more mystery and puzzle than horror. Its got good points and bad, but overall it’s a challenging experiment with a disconnect from the protagonist. At times it even feels clichéd in environment and antagonist. The good parts of the game are the puzzles and uncovering the mystery of Crowswood.
Though it is suppose to be horror, it doesn’t do the fear factor too well. However, there is an element of psychological mind games and I did come across terrors that will attack and drain health. Otherwise its not that scary. After the initial jolt from the first terror the game became predictable. Moving doors and strange green gas, for example, clued me in that something something was about to jump out.
The dark macabre style of the environment is the key to the horror here. A dark medical university built what looks to be in the late 19th century can give a creepy feeling, add some creaks and ominous organ music you have the makings of a scary game. However, it just feels clichéd as a horror environment that it doesn’t scare. Crashing vents and being locked in rooms doesn’t quite do it. As far as a horror game, it’s underwhelming. The mad scientist cackles and says mad scientist stuff, again clichéd. Looking beyond the under-performing scares, there is a mystery involved that can keep you playing, plus the puzzles and bizarre happenings.
The university for the most part looks late 19th and early 20th century. However, there are areas that do not belong; they have an element of cold war bunker, to an odd future looking room, and rooms with moving levels and gears. At one moment you are running around rooms and crawling through vents trying to escape, then all of sudden you enter a room and a bright light hits and you are transported to an unrelated location. Are you even in the university anymore? Is it a dream? Whatever occurs, you need to figure out how to get back to your original location. The scientist provides tools to escape but the puzzles don’t make it easy. For instance the moving level room where you also have to jump over shafts requires use of adrenaline to give yourself a boost of speed and the ability to leap long distances. Just to get past the strange green gas you have to solve a box puzzle in a futuristic room to get the gas mask. Grabbing keys can have consequences as well, and it becomes a game of wits, ingenuity, and thinking of the solution.
Beyond the puzzles to solve, part of the larger mystery is piecing together what happened twenty years before. Clues are offered throughout the game in the form of voice recordings and letters. It’s also the only way to know the story of the game because at the beginning nothing is told. From the recordings and letters you find out that the game follows the tale of a private detective, Benjamin Bennett, as he investigates the disappearance of Students from the Crowswood Medical University in 1947. There is also a Dr. Holtwick that is involved with an experiment that drove people mad. It wasn’t just the madness, people also began vanishing. What became of the students and the cause of the madness is a big part of this game, as long as players continue to collect the letters and listen to the tapes. Some of the tapes are personal and you begin to understand the toll this investigation took on Bennett.
For gameplay, I really had to play this game past the first areas to know how this was going to be. I am glad I didn’t give up, which almost happened. The first part is boring with so few puzzles to solve and as mentioned above it didn’t feel like a horror game. Just walking around with a lighter in this dark abandoned university with no clue about what is going on. However, the game picks up once you find your way to the lower floor and the really mysterious rooms appear. Solving puzzles becomes a part of life.
Another mystery players must solve is who you are playing. There is a lot on these people from 1947 and what was going on, but who is the fellow that was thrown into this experiment twenty years later? You are not told who you are at the start, just wake in this place and begin the game. The only narration is the voice recordings and the scientist.
I do wish we got more from this character, because I felt that it was just an arm holding a lighter. There is a real disconnect from the protagonist. In other first person games you can become the character, know the character through dialogue or if alone, personal thoughts and some dialogue. In The Crow’s Eye it’s different and I actually forgot I was suppose to be another person. Throughout my time in game I just thought it was me who was solving the mystery and slogging my way through the university.
Besides just walking around and solving puzzles, the gameplay is straightforward with movement and interacting with objects — plus you even can craft items. Before crafting is introduced, the player needs to find items like keys to get into locked rooms. You don’t get any monsters or injuries until you begin crafting bandages. Crafting lock picks get you into locked doors but even those are timed challenges. Maps can also be crafted after a certain stage. Except for keys, items you pick up stay in your inventory that can be accessed anytime. Also in the same inventory are your notes and recordings.
Maps can be called up as you are traveling. These are basic maps showing player location and both accessible and non-accessible rooms. Some of these are because doors are locked, but other times they are blocked with large objects that must be moved. To move obstacles with handles a little hand appears with the appropriate mouse button, just grab the handle and pull. Though there is no real tutorial so you have to figure all that out on your own.
In addition to moving obstacles or unlocking doors or even moving the right switches to activate doors, vents and crawlspaces need to be used to get to new areas. Players can also climb ladders and even leap large spaces with the help of adrenaline. The adrenaline is given to you and stays in the HUD for future use. Even solving a mesmerizing puzzle to get to a new area or obtain an item to get to a new area is part of the experiment. Some of these can be fun while others are tedious or frustrating. If you like puzzles, then you will like this game.
Though movement and interaction is easy, the game does have opportunities to die and there are no checkpoints; except the puzzles that you can fail too many times. Other then those times, saving occurs at a penny arcade machine. They typically occur at area starts and are indicated on the map.
Besides the puzzles and mysteries, the art is also very good. It complemented the story of the game, its dark and macabre accompanied by modern, future, and the down right bizarre. Also included in good things about The Crow’s Eye is the music. There is a nice soundtrack that goes with the overall theme of the game. It is subtle organ music with instrumental tones in the mix giving that macabre feel with an air of mystery.
One noticeable thing when loading up the game for the first time is a red fluid-filled syringe in the upper right corner. It’s your health meter that can be replenished by using crafted bandages.
When looking at The Crow’s Eye, it might not be much of a horror title, and you can find yourself disconnected from the main character, but it has challenging puzzles and a good mystery story behind it. After awhile I did get into the game and wanted to learn what happened at the university. The game does offer creative and unique puzzles and situations, plus strange rooms to explore, even though at times it feels clichéd.
If you want to play a good puzzler and mystery game, then you might enjoy The Crow’s Eye. As for horror fans, it is good too, but only for those who appreciate psychological type fears.