Normally, if someone were to ask me to voluntarily pick up a spider, I would probably tell them where they can stick it and run in the opposite direction. However, I was willing to make an exception this time, as it involves the latest game from WRF Studios, Last Half of Darkness: Tomb of Zojir, making me more inclined to deal with any lingering arachnophobia. Mind you, the spiders were fake and part of a creative collection of extras that came with the game, but it’s the adventure itself that motivated me to face my own heebie jeebies. It wouldn’t be the last time, either.
Taking place after the events of Beyond the Spirit’s Eye, the latest installment drops the player on what appears to be a deserted Isle of the Dead in search of the rumored treasure of Emperor Zojir, still safely locked away with him in his tomb. The emperor knew his treasure might be stolen, so before his death he asked his mage to protect it through the creation of bloodstones. These bloodstones are now scattered across the island, previously removed by unsuccessful thieves. The importance of reuniting these stones at Zojir’s tomb becomes clear after hearing of the curse that has taken over the island since their dispersal. Along with the stones, numerous puzzles further protect the entrance to the tomb, left unsolved by previous treasure-seekers.
While not a prerequisite for understanding Tomb of Zojir, the previous game ended with the player in possession of a book with directions to this Isle of the Dead, creating a clear connection for those who are following the series along. The opening scene reintroduces the player, often referred to as ‘The Stranger’, and you find yourself on a boat, traveling over dark waters until you finally end up in a sea cave, where the exploration and gameplay begin.
Like previous Last Half of Darkness games, your travels on the island are almost entirely solitary, viewed through a first-person perspective. There are many places to explore, including a deserted mansion and its grounds, a graveyard, a harbor, an abandoned city and eventually the tomb of Zojir itself. Navigating on the island is controlled through traditional point-and-click with node-to-node movement, and a directional cursor indicates available ways to move at any given time. Getting around is made a little easier with in-game maps that allow you to jump between major areas, but that doesn’t mean you can slack on the exploration. There are often multiple directions to go on any given screen and numerous spots you need to look at more closely. Even with the maps, I missed some smaller areas initially and got stuck on occasion, emphasizing the importance of scouring every part of the screen for different ways to go.
The island is, unsurprisingly, eerie and dark, with a lightning storm raging overhead throughout. The outdoor locations naturally have a somber color palette, but even the indoor scenes can be very dark. The sense of abandonment in the mansion is evident as broken furniture, moldy food in the kitchen and numerous cobwebs are prominent. The environments are depicted realistically, but they do appear a bit grainy, and even more so in the cutscenes, though these cinematics are infrequent. There are small ambient animations such as spiders crawling from their hiding places, as well as a few action and dialogue animations. Conversations are predictably few and far between, which perhaps is just as well, because they aren’t very well synched. Overall, the graphics are certainly not state of the art, as you’d expect from an independent offering, but they are more than adequate to set an unsettling mood that effectively drew me in.
The sound effects are quite well done, with such noises as thunder, a squeaking rat scurrying across the room, or flies buzzing in an abandoned kitchen adding to the spooky ambience of the environments. There is limited background music, so mostly the sounds are those of the natural environment, except in a few locations where an a capella voice chants lyrically. Together the sounds convey the suspenseful anxiety of not knowing what exactly is around the next corner, with the occasional scream or low growling sound interspersed for additional dread.
Although you are mostly alone on the island, there are some other inhabitants who make brief appearances, including a strange man in the mansion and a mysterious girl who appears occasionally (whose identity becomes clearer to you as you progress). Sometimes these side characters didn’t make a lot of sense to me, as I wasn‘t sure who they were at first and how they fit into the narrative. This was especially true of a revived mummy that makes an appearance to add details to the story, but I wasn‘t sure why it was chosen to do so. Granted, the island is supposedly cursed, which lends itself to the notion that there are supernatural beings about, but the mummy didn‘t quite work for me.Continued on the next page...