Back in the dawn of time (around the late 1980s to mid-90s), it seemed like most computer games worth playing had the title "Quest" attached to them. This was thanks in part to the designers at Sierra On-Line, who led the way with their classic "3-D Graphic Adventures." These innovative 16-color games took players to distant pixelated lands, where they could save princesses (or princes), arrest bad guys, or try their best to pick up girls with a few basic keyboard commands. Eventually these adventure games would grow up to become point-and-click affairs, with enhanced graphics, realistic animations, and more compelling stories. 20 years later, there are still designers out there who have been influenced by this classic style, as evidenced by TenthPlay's new Flash-based mystery adventure, Dark Visions.
In Dark Visions, the year is 1928 and you play the role of Emma Fischer, an inquisitive-minded young niece of Dr. Frank Mahler. The doctor runs a mental clinic at his mansion in New Hampshire, and he just sent a letter to his sister requesting Emma's help as an assistant. Upon arrival, however, something doesn't seem right. Where is the doctor? Why is his colleague, James Thaxton Smith, so evasive on the subject of the doctor's whereabouts? And why does the mansion seem deserted? Thus begins your adventure as you seek to find answers and understand just what's been going on at the mysterious Hill Crest Manor.
Like classic adventure games such as King's Quest V, Dark Visions uses a standard point-and-click interface. Three icons change your cursor so Emma can walk around, look at things, or use objects on screen. You also have an inventory at the bottom containing objects to use with your environment. A scoring system on the Main Menu similar to those found in Sierra games (with 112 points possible) helps you figure out your progress as you go along.
There are many elements to Dark Visions that go beyond what we've come to expect out of most Flash games. Unlike standard room escape titles, this game triggers dynamic events and actions based on how far along you progress. Certain characters will only show up to talk to you at certain times, and you may not be able to collect particular items until their purpose is made clear. In addition, previously inaccessible areas may yield new clues later in the game. While much of the game involves walking around and picking up objects to use elsewhere, there are a number of puzzles that need to be solved to advance through the story. Like Myst, much of the mystery unfolds through discovered diary entries, papers, and books. Reading these can be key to getting past the puzzles, which range from different types of code entries, to following various instructional sequences.
Analysis: I was very impressed with Dark Visions, which has the robustness of a downloadable point-and-click adventure contained within a free Flash game. The graphics are good, with high-quality rendered scenes and realistic character animation. I also found the storyline to be quite compelling; you really find yourself drawn in to the events as you uncover the game's backstory and see Emma's place in all of it. Gameplay can take about two hours, and you may need to save your progress and come back to it if you can't get through the whole thing in one marathon run.
Dark Visions has a lot going for it, but it's not without its few faults. Maybe I'm just used to adventure games where you can pick up anything not bolted down, but I felt a little frustration in having to return to an area to get an item that previously was deemed "too heavy" or "not needed." There's actually quite a bit of returning to areas you previously couldn't do anything in, though that seems to be a staple of classic adventure games where the designers tried to get maximum playability out of limited screens.
Other than that, though (and maybe the title's minimal use of in-game music) I couldn't find too many problems with this ambitious free title, which once again shows the robustness of making games in Flash. If you're feeling that classic adventure game itch and want to try something interesting that's both fun and free, Dark Visions is definitely worth playing.