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Review for Loricum


Created by the MED Theatre group, a team of 13-19 year olds from Dartmoor, England, Loricum is a freeware adventure based on a play about the flooding of a Dartmoor valley to make a reservoir. The project was overseen by the group's artistic director, who with a team of mentors for the development, animation, graphics and film-making elements, helped these teens to realise their ambition of creating a game. The result is a short but sweet adventure with a distinctive art style and an intriguing, very personal storyline with three very different possible conclusions.

When reporter Leon Peterson arrives in Dartmoor to investigate the building of the Hollen Reservoir for an article he is writing, he must interview the locals to discover the impact the project had on them when its construction flooded a nearby valley nearly fifteen years earlier. His investigations unwittingly expose a tangled web of past secrets and misunderstandings, however, and what he discovers about the mysterious “Kingdom of Loricum” leads to a startling revelation about what the flood quite literally covered up. Now it's up to Leon to prevent the troubles of the past from becoming an even greater tragedy today if he can.

While the playable protagonist is Leon, the story centres around a group of former childhood friends forced apart by circumstance, including a grouchy farmer and a mother who can't remember much of her past and has grown distant from her daughter. Along with them are the characters of Helena and Ben, two young lovers who spend most of their time down by the shore skipping stones. The mysterious history of the Hollen Reservoir is entwined with their fates, and as the game develops it is their relationship that provides a major twist in the plot. How the player uncovers and reacts to that twist will have a crucial impact on the game's outcome.

Built using the AGS engine, Loricum features a simple point-and-click interface. Left-clicking an accessible spot makes Leon move, and in a menu at the bottom of the screen you can select actions like pick up, open, look at and talk to. Clicking on one of these options and then the desired character or object performs the action, but unlike many AGS games, right-clicking will not cycle through these same options. At the start of the game, players are presented with a short tutorial that walks through some of the basic functions. This will be unnecessary for those familiar with adventure games, but serves as a nice introduction for newcomers.

Visually, Loricum utilises a range of artistic styles. The opening video is live action, the quaint 2D graphics of the playable game are simple but stylishly hand-painted, and the occasional cutscene is rendered using stop motion animation. The hand-crafted quality gives this adventure a highly distinctive look, and even with such noticeably different styles mixed together, the main characters and settings are always recognisable from one to another. The central locations you’ll explore are the reservoir, both pre- and post-drought, a farm and the town’s main street. None of these are very big environments, but it is mainly the characters you’ll be interacting with rather than the backgrounds.

There's no spoken dialogue in the playable parts of the game, but the live-action sequence uses real actors and certain animated scenes have voice acting that is nicely performed and adds depth to the story. The game also features an original score played sporadically all the way through, featuring an acoustic guitar, eerie vocals and a lone clarinet, which helps create a mysterious and slightly melancholic atmosphere.

The initial task of gathering information from locals in the town pub is a good indication of the kind of experience that can be expected throughout. Although fairly brief, such encounters represent one of the strongest parts of Loricum, as the dialogue is entertaining and the characters are interesting enough to want to learn more about them. The story is gradually revealed through these ongoing conversations, and the well-written script balances a good sense of humour with some of the darker aspects that develop as the plot progresses. Some of the funniest lines come from offering characters unlikely objects if anyone wants to take the time to discover Loricum's many optional comments.

All of the game’s puzzles involve using an item with a character to extract information from them, or with another object directly in the environment. While there is rarely much question of your goal at any one time, figuring out how to solve a particular problem isn’t always immediately obvious. The logic is very solid, however, so the puzzles provide a sense of satisfaction when completed. One of the biggest “puzzles” is taking the right course of action to unlock the most positive ending. In replaying the game to work out new approaches to take, its depth is revealed when new branches of conversations are discovered or when different objects shown to characters get new responses. Dialogue is presented in the form of text conversations with multiple options to choose from, each revealing different bits of information. In some cases, choosing one line means you can't choose another, which contributes towards one of the different endings.

The three endings are significantly different, not merely cosmetic variations. The darkest ending may seem shocking at first, but the most positive ending is the most elusive one, and after seeing all three, I was glad I’d taken the time to replay the game to experience each. If you’d rather not bother, a single playthrough of Loricum won’t take very long, but it’s still a satisfying experience with some fun puzzles to solve and will keep you entertained for a good hour. If you’re up for more, however, you won’t be disappointed. The alternate endings are not as easy to find as you might think, making a replay almost as rewarding as you dig even deeper to expose Dartmoor’s hidden secrets.

To download the game for free, visit the MED Theatre website.

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