How do you defeat a witch, a vampire and a snake combined? It’s no easy task, it seems, but that's exactly what Billy Black faces in the latest chapter of The Last Half of Darkness. But unlike its predecessors, in Society of the Serpent Moon, players can actually face Billy as well, as the new game moves the series to a third-person perspective, putting the protagonist front and center on screen for the first time. There he remains calm and stoic throughout this supernatural adventure, rather unimpressed by the prospect of confronting such a multi-faceted monster. Fortunately, the game itself manages to make a much bigger impression thanks to its creepy atmosphere and solid gameplay.
As the game opens, Billy receives a package from the European town of Antibes, where his journalist fiancée Wendy went some time ago on assignment to investigate a number of reported cases of missing girls. Billy hasn't heard from her for a while and is already getting worried when the package reveals a mysterious disc and her notebook, in which Wendy expressed fear for her safety. Billy sets out to find her at all costs, beginning at her hotel room and branching out from there to such locations as a bar, a cemetery, an abandoned mine, and a handful of other interesting locations. Eventually his journey ends in a temple dedicated to the Society of the Serpent Moon, a cult that has settled down close to Antibes. What they represent, exactly, the townspeople don't know, but they suspect they have something to do with the girls that have gone missing. Billy is determined to find out, and he must find a way to defeat its evil ruler if he is to free Wendy.
Following clues he finds in diaries and poems on prison cell walls, Billy has to deal with many an obstacle along the way, several of them dangerous in nature. He also gleans information from the people he meets, though only after doing little chores for them or finding ways to get rid of prying eyes. The characters you meet include townspeople like the proprietor of a junkyard, a tattooist and a pawn shop owner. All of them are strange in their own way and a bit scary. They have lived in this town for years and have gotten used to girls disappearing around them, and although frightened they willingly tell Billy about the dangers of the Society and the way other people around them might be involved. Billy accepts it all, however absurd it may sound to us, as if it is business as usual for him, and helps them out if he can.
Not every encounter is friendly, however – or even human. Billy also meets quite a few other creatures, from aggressive animals to supernatural shadowy figures guarding the Society temple, and of course its nasty high priestess. Despite the implied threats, however, you can’t actually die in this game. You can get bitten by a snake, and if that happens, Billy will not be able to solve some of the puzzles until you find an antidote. He will look at them but refuse to solve them, saying the poison is keeping him from thinking straight. Even if you know the answer, like when you want to start up a computer and need to type a password, you can’t resolve it until you’ve found a way to cure Billy first.
Billy himself is a mysterious guy with a long, brown coat, who never takes off his sunglasses and doesn’t reveal anything about himself. He’s never shown close up, so you won’t see what his face looks like, but he remains extremely – at times even ridiculously – calm under the scariest circumstances and never seems to falter even when danger crosses his path. Beneath the stoicism, he is a nice enough person and you do get to like him during the course of his adventure. His cause is noble, and he seems completely trustworthy and dependable. He only has one goal, to save his Wendy, and nothing in the world (or out of this world) can stop him from doing it. The change in visual perspective does tend to take away some of the immersiveness of the previous games, unfortunately, as it is a bit harder to get into a visible character like this. As an unseen protagonist, it's easier to imagine it's you in that dangerous situation, and here Billy often responded in a way that was totally unlike my own reactions, not even blinking or shrugging in the face of danger. The game still succeeds in sucking you in, just not as quickly when playing through such an impassive protagonist.
Although most of the game is non-linear, some locations only open up after you've solved a couple of puzzles and discovered a few secrets. A handy map facilitates fast-travel once you've found it and visited each new location a first time. At each stop, though you can now see Billy walking across the screen, you can't move him directly. Only clicking active hotspots causes him to walk over to an object to investigate. As with the previous Halves of Darknesses, many things on screen are clickable and trigger a comment from Billy, even if they are not important to the story. The colour and shape of the cursor tells you when something is essential or simply a bit of scenery. This is a nice touch and saves people who just want to get on with the game a lot of unnecessary clicking, while at the same time encouraging others to explore every nook and cranny to enjoy all the descriptions. Either way, scouring each screen carefully is necessary to find all the collectable objects you need for puzzles later on.Continued on the next page...