The Dark Eye
Time Warner Interactive/Expert Software Inc. (N.A.), GT Interactive (Europe)
Windows PC, MAC
October 31st, 1995 – November 12th 1995 (varied by specific location) (N.A. and Europe)
Cover art for The Dark Eye.
What Is This Game?
The Dark Eye is a first-person point-and-click adventure, and a truly bizarre, impressionistic entry in the horror genre. Weaving together several of Edgar Allen Poe’s stories and poems into a larger whole, the game tells an increasingly twisted and tragic story that continually crosses the boundaries between reality and nightmare; sanity and insanity. The stage is set in the late 1800’s, and begins when player’s character arrives at his Uncle’s seemingly peaceful seaside home. He is welcomed by Uncle Edwin, an aging artist, as well as his brother, Henry, and their cousin, Elise. Soon after, however, a series of increasingly bizarre and unfortunate event begin to unfold; some of which bend the lines between reality and the subconscious, and others that are far too real. As the main character moves unwilling between reality, an ethereal, dreamlike “otherworld,” and a series of nightmarish events placing him in the perspectives of different murderers and their unfortunate victims, he begins to question reality and his own sanity. With the majority of the game’s scenarios and events derived from or inspired by the works of Edgar Allen Poe, and a truly unique graphical approach that combines prerendered CG backgrounds with stop-motion animated, clay-sculpted characters (in addition to a number of other abstract graphical techniques), The Dark Eye combines surreal visuals with a haunting atmosphere to create an experience as strange as it is engrossing.
A less-than-warm welcome to your Uncle's seaside home opens the doors to a nightmarish experience....
The Dark Eye is a game I may never have experienced if I’d not acquired it somewhat at random when I was much younger. Received as a birthday gift shortly after my family got their first computer, The Dark Eye was one of two more-or-less random PC games I’d received for my birthday (the other game being the less-fascinating and rather generic FPS title Assassin 2015). Going in with no prior knowledge outside of what the back of the box had told me, I found myself intrigued even by the title screen and utterly entranced shortly after the start of this bizarre and frightening journey. To be honest, I was probably a bit young for such a mature, and often gruesome or terrifying, game. But to a child of the late 80’s and 90’s, raised on the likes of Terminator and Aliens, that meant little to me. Even at the time, I appreciated that this was something very different and inspired, and it captured my love and fascination both as the first true “horror” title I’d played, and as something genuinely unique, even experimental, amongst the other games I’d played as a boy. I played through the game multiple times, was borderline obsessed with it, even amidst (or perhaps partially because of) my confusion over the seemingly baffling, fragmented and abstract story it wove. Ultimately, The Dark Eye served not only as my introduction to the horror genre of video games, but also as one of the first games that truly forced me to begin thinking of video games as more than just a fun pastime, and instead as an art form.
Even now, years later, The Dark Eye stands out to me amongst all of the video games I’ve experienced as something special; and as I’ve grown, I’ve come to appreciate the artistry and creativity of this strange little title, and what an impact it had on me personally as a turning point for my perspective on what a video game could really be. The Dark Eye was not a well-known game upon its release, nor has it gained much popularity over the course of time; however, the few who have played all seem to agree that there is something very special about this game. While The Dark Eye has a handful of issues and is certainly not for everyone, it is also a remarkably inspired and creative work from a purely artistic standpoint, as well as an engrossing, if somewhat fragmented, tale, and still one of the most eerie, haunting and mind-bending gaming experiences I’ve had. The Dark Eye may be largely forgotten, but any gamer who appreciates video games as an art form, or just loves horror games, owes it to themselves to hunt down a copy of The Dark Eye; there is a haunting and unique experience awaiting those who do…..
Prepare for a game as artful and surreal, as it is disturbing and frightening.
History, Release and Reception:
The Dark Eye was developed by the now-defunct developer Inscape during the height of the point-and-click adventure genre’s reign on the PC. Founded in 1994, Inscape was funded by two of Time Warner’s subsidiaries; Home Box Office and Warner Music Group. Founder Michael Nash had worked in interactive media development before, his prior career highlighted by his work as executive producer on San Francisco art collective/musical group “The Residents’” 1993 interactive PC/MAC CD-ROM title, “Freak Show;” a title somewhere between a game and an interactive tour, of sorts, that had the player navigating a bizarre carnival setting. Inscape was established shortly after, in 1994, with 5 million dollars invested from Time Warner, under the shared interest of Nash and Warner in combining talents from the entertainment and programming industries to work in the ever-expanding and, at the time, still somewhat untested, interactive entertainment industry.
Inscape’s first release came in 1995, in the form of a sequel of sorts to ‘Freak Show;” another “Residents” game, “Bad Day on the Midway.” Again taking place in a bizarre traveling carnival, Bad Day on the Midway was more of a fully-fleshed-out “game” than Freak Show; essentially a point-and-click adventure-horror title with multiple story paths and puzzle-solving. The game was well-received, even winning a number of awards, including two 1995 Macrovision International User Conference Awards (Best Entertainment Title and Most Innovative use of Multimedia) and a spot in CD-ROM Today’s “Top Ten Discs of All Time.”
Inscape founder Micheal Nash had worked in the realm of interactive entertainment before, his most noteworthy project being The Residents' Freak Show. After founding Inscape, Bad Day on the Midway was created as a sort of sequel to Freak Show.
It was within the same year, and at almost the same release date as Bad Day on the Midway, that Inscape also released The Dark Eye. Under development at the same time as Bad Day on the Midway by another group within Inscape, the project was headed by lead designer Russell Lees and while not nearly as high profile as Bad Day on the Midway, was every bit as passionate and inspired a project. For Russell Lees, The Dark Eye was a project all about experimentation, and his passion for the project showed through in the hard, painstaking work and creativity he put forth towards its creation. A former playwright and engineer, Lees was steered towards video game production by Michael Nash, who happened to be a childhood friend of his. When Nash had still been in the process of conceiving Inscape with Time Warner, he had asked Lees to come up with a few ideas and send them his way. One of those ideas was “the player entering the tales of Edgar Alan Poe;” and a few months later, when Nash contacted him about turning this idea into a game, Lees ended up working on The Dark Eye for Inscape as his first project in the video game world.
As a passionate aficionado of Edgar Alan Poe’s work, Russell Lees had read all of Poe’s stories and poems in their entirety, and upon conception of The Dark Eye, found himself re-reading Poe’s work, this time analyzing it for which of his writings would work best in the realm of interactive entertainment. He eventually settled up the general theme of murder, and selected the Poe stories he felt could best be told, in interactive form, through the eyes of both the murderer, and the victim; a chilling choice for the viewpoint of the player, and one which would allow the main character, and the player, to delve into the insanity which drove the murderers, and the terror and despair of the victims.
Russel Lees (left), creator of The Dark Eye, was a passionate fan of Poe's work. Legendary author William S. Burroughs (right) shared his love of Poe, which ultimately lead to Burroughs providing some of the game's most prominent voice work.
Equally important to Lees was the visual and aural presentation of The Dark Eye. With the assistance of artistic director Rebekah Behrendt, and animator Doug Beswick (known best for his work in Hollywood with the effects on films like Beetlejuice, Aliens and The Addams Family), Lees was committed to creating a visual design for The Dark Eye that was all its own. Working with a variety of graphical techniques including claymation, stop-motion animation, photo montages, and more traditional 3D computer-generated graphics, Lees and his team put painstaking amounts of effort toward perfecting the game’s visuals. While Inscape itself did the designs for the stop-motion characters, they had the designs shipped out to a Hollywood production house for their creation; but Russell Lees himself, along with his two hired animators, personally spent hours in a warehouse animating the stop-motion puppets and their scenes. Working from 7 am to 7pm for over a month on this process, Lees and his animators not only needed to animate their characters by hand, they also had to shoot them against a blue screen for their scenes and light the puppets to match the computer-generated environments in which their scenes took place.
Extensive thought and work was put into The Dark Eye's visuals, and a wide variety of techniques and styles were implemented throughout the game.
Just as important was the audio presentation of The Dark Eye, and for voice work and musical scoring, Lees looked to talented professionals for work on the project. For the soundtrack, award-winning British musician Thomas Dolby was brought on board. In addition to a sizeable, award-winning solo career including hits like “She Blinded Me With Science,” Dolby and his studio, Headspace, had a well-proven track record with soundtrack production, including tracks and production work for the 1986 George Lucas film “Howard the Duck,” and the 1992 animated film “Ferngully: The Last Rainforest.” Likewise, for voice work, Lees was fortunate enough to recruit a talented cast. Top-billed amongst a cast of talented voice actors was the legendary author of such post-World War II, 50’s “beat” generation classics as “Naked Lunch,” William S. Burroughs, who lent his voice to the main character’s uncle, Edwin, as well as the narration of selected tales and poems throughout the game. Lees actually traveled from Inscape studios in Los Angeles, all the way to Burroughs’ home in Kansas, to record his voice work for the game. Though Burroughs reportedly had almost no idea of what a video game even WAS, he did have a love for Poe, and this love made him happy to work on the project. Other actors were recruited through agents and sample tapes sent to Inscape. Lees says he was extremely lucky to find such excellent actors, all of whom were enthusiastic to work on a “real acting” job, instead of advertising or selling product.
It is ironic, then, with so much seemingly careful planning and hard work, that Russell Lees and his team were working on a short production cycle of under one year, and that there was also a good amount of uncertainty, and ideas that didn’t make the final cut. In fact, when Nash gave Lees’ “Poe” idea the go, Lees really had no idea WHAT that idea was going to become. His first idea, which earned the project the green light from Inscape, was the vague concept of “the narrator’s version of The Tell-Tale Heart.” The Dark Eye was developed on a relatively short development cycle, as mentioned, and when it began, the team really had almost no idea of how the game would look, or of the distinctive visual style it would take on. Likewise, the actual gameplay, specifically the amount of freedom given to the player, was a heavy topic of discussion, with debates over player choice and the possibility of multiple endings. Once the idea of the game comprising a variety of Poe’s stories came into play, and the themes of murder and insanity were settled upon, which stories to use and how to implement them also came into play; would the player be able to perhaps even combine the stories, resulting in different outcomes? And which, and how many, of Poe’s works would make the cut? While more were originally discussed, and the game was at first to include closer to seven “nightmare sequences” based on Poe’s stories, ultimately three were settled upon (The Tell-Tale Heart, The Cask of Amontillado, and Berenice), in addition to a collection of narrated and text-based stories and poems (The Masque of the Red Death, Annabel Lee, The Premature Burial), all of which were tied together by the main story, a modified version of The Fall of the House of Usher, altered to tie in the “nightmare” scenes and their stronger themes of insanity and murder.
Ultimately, The Dark Eye was released late in 1995, to very little awareness. What few critics noticed it were mostly positive about the game, though some bemoaned the game’s largely straight-forward nature, which ultimately involved minimal choice by the player. However, critics praised the originality of the game and its striking visual and aural presentation, as well as its excellent atmosphere. Gamespot was one of the few sources to notice the game around the time of its initial release, and while they only awarded it a 5.4 out of 10, their review emphasized the game’s positive aspects, but simply cautioned players that it truly was not for everyone. With little fanfare and near-nonexistent promotion by Inscape itself, the game quickly faded into obscurity…..
Inscape enjoyed some success for a while afterward, beginning with the critical praise of the almost simultaneously-released Bad Day on the Midway, and ultimately leading to a slew of new releases announced at E3 in 1996. However, by February 1997, it was announced that Inscape was to be acquired by Graphix Zone and meanwhile, Michael Nash decided to leave Inscape, allegedly concerned over the recent acquisition. Graphix Zone itself, unfortunately, went under just a few months later, in November of 1997, taking Inscape with it. Meanwhile, Russell Lees moved on towards other ambitions in interactive media, working with Zoesis Studios for a time, and ultimately, as of this writing, becoming a Narrative Designer at Ubisoft Montreal.
The Dark Eye itself has ultimately fallen into gaming obscurity, but its unique attributes and inspired, artistic vision have earned it some attention from gamers who stumbled across it over the years and especially, in this age of the internet, has managed to at least earn a (very) small cult following, of sorts, namely amongst curious fans of the point-and-click adventure genre. A few more reviews, many increasingly positive, have sprung up on various video game websites over the last ten years; amongst them are Adventure Gamer’s 2003 review, awarding the game a 3 out of 5, Just Adventure’s 2003 review, crowning the game with a glowing “A+” rating, and Adventure Classic Gaming’s 2008 review, giving the game a 4 out of 5.
The Dark Eye had very little awareness when it was released, and ultimately still lives in obscurity today. However, curious gamers interested in the art of video games, and in a truly strange-but-inspired vision, should hunt down a copy of The Dark Eye and see what it has to offer; a unique and frightening vision awaits those who do…..
Your Uncle Edwin is an avid painter, but his works take on an increasingly bizarre and disturbing edge....
While The Dark Eye is a very polished and professionally well-made game, it does have a handful of flaws that inhibit it from being the slightly-greater, and possibly more recognized, game it could have been. These flaws are not so much on a technical level, but more come in the form of some design and storytelling choices that ultimately make the game a bit too straight-forward, and result in some awkward or disconnected storytelling which may confuse, turn-off or possibly even bore some gamers. The Dark Eye never was, and never was meant to be, a game for everyone; however, these issues still have some hold over what is otherwise a fascinating and unique experience.
The biggest complaint leveled against The Dark Eye has always been its linearity. While point-and-click adventures run the gamut from having tons of items and multiple endings, to others which suffer similarly from a rather straight-forward progression, The Dark Eye does tend to lead the player on a somewhat too straight-and-narrow path, even compared to other, similarly straight-forward adventure titles. While the player is free to move about environments of their own accord, and can make minor decisions, like “soul-jumping” between the killer and victim at key times throughout a nightmare sequence, in addition to the ability to do the “nightmares” in a few different orders, and a very small amount of optional discoveries or easter eggs throughout the game, ultimately, the path the player must take is very narrow, with limited interactivity with their surroundings, and no inventory or items to be picked up or used in any way. Essentially, while the player can move about at their own will and do some exploring, they are always tied to whatever the next specific action is that is required to progress the story, of which there is only one path through, and one ending to.
The gameplay works fine, however the overall progression may be a bit too linear for some.
This overly linear approach means that the game, which is of relatively short length to begin with, has rather limited replay value, and at times can feel almost frustrating due to what little control the player really has over their actions or the events unfolding. While a feeling of helplessness and despair over the terrible events the player must not only watch, but participate in, is no doubt a central theme to the game, the lack of any kind of choice and limited interaction is also frustrating to an extent, precisely because video games are an interactive form of entertainment. Many similar horror games, the Silent Hill series for example, produce a similar sense of helplessness and despair, while still giving the player enough control over their character and interactions, and even somewhat over the story, that it still produces a satisfying experience for the player. With this in mind, a game like Silent Hill does, in turn, manage to produce an experience that is both hopeless and frightening, but still a satisfying interactive experience. Though everything is going to hell around the player and there is basically nothing they can do about it, the greater level of control and interactivity creates the feeling that the player is just in a helpless situation, but still has control over their own actions. On the other hand, while The Dark Eye’s very straight forward nature does produce a sense of helplessness and horror over the events unfolding, the limited player control and choices create a gameplay experience that can feel frustrating at times, in that the game simply won’t let you do much else about it. This greatly affects the replay value of the game as well, since the problem only becomes more apparent the more times you play through the game, desperately seeking some explanation for things or a way to change even the most minor events, only to find that the game…..just won’t let you do anything else.
Ultimately, the linearity of The Dark Eye’s progression is probably its biggest fault, but what also needs to be mentioned is some disjointed storytelling, leading to a story that, while interesting and frightening, doesn’t really connect its various pieces well at times, or quite manage to come full circle the way it should.
As mentioned, The Dark Eye’s story is comprised of a number of different tales of Edgar Alan Poe woven together. The main “hub” of the game is their Uncle Edwin’s house, which is where the core of the story ultimately unfolds; the bulk of the game, however, takes place in a bizarre alternate-reality of Edwin’s home and, subsequently, the “nightmare” sequences (based on various Poe tales) in which the player enters the role of murderers and their victims through interaction with different objects in the “alternate” Edwin’s home. While the script, dialogue, writing and acting are all excellent in every individual part of the game, it’s the way that these individual pieces fit together that doesn’t always quite add up.
The "nightmare" sequences are brilliantly executed on their own, but don't always tie into the main story strongly.
For example, one “nightmare” sequence is the story “Berenice.” While there is a surprising amount of depth and thought put into the telling of that individual story, and it is equally well-written and frightening when the player experiences it both from the murderer’s perspective and the victim’s, in the end, it never really ties back to the main story outside of that particular “nightmare” very much. The same could be said of all of these nightmare sequences, as well as the other poems and stories the player witnesses during the game. Another good example of this is “The Masque of the Red Death.” When the main character finds a massive, macabre painting in the basement of their Uncle’s house, it leads to a narration, told alongside frames of the painting itself, of “The Masque of the Red Death.” On its own, this particular part of the game is brilliant; the narration by William S. Burroughs is riveting, the musical score in the background suspenseful, and the visuals abstract and disturbing. It is so well done that I remember looking forward to this part upon replays of the game, even though it is essentially 10 minutes of extended narration told alongside still pictures with no player interaction; it really is well-done and fascinating. However, I also remember, after being so riveted by the tale and intrigued by this disturbing discovery in the house’s cellar, that I simply couldn’t wait, upon my first playthrough, to see how it would tie together with the story…….and it never did. While I do understand that The Dark Eye is a game that consists of what is essentially a collection of tales, the fact that they are told together, as extensions of one tale, and not separately, would, logically, leads you to believe, and leave you waiting and hoping for, it all to add up in some way; and yet in the end, despite some common themes loosely connecting the nightmares to the tragedy unfolding at the Uncle’s house and the main character’s lose of sanity, nothing ever really connects or adds up to one whole quite the way it should. Instead, in the end, leaving the tale the game tells, as a whole, feeling somewhat unfinished or disjointed, with a few too many loose ends.
Aside from these issues, there is very little else to complain about. One minor complaint is that, at times, it can be confusing what to do next; and considering the aforementioned linearity of the game, the action that must be performed next to progress the game can sometimes be very specific and tough to figure out. Also a concern is the game’s somewhat short length and, as a result of this combined with its linearity, lack of replay value; the game will probably take between 5 and 8 hours on the first playthrough, and there is, sadly, little motivation to replay it after.
With these issues addressed and out of the way, however, it must be said that The Dark Eye is an incredibly unique experience that has far more positives and good reasons to play it, and which ultimately overcome these flaws, making it an interesting and inspired journey well worth taking…..
The Dark Eye is a psychological and often cerebral horror experience.
Why it’s Worth a Second Look:
Despite its linearity and some concerns over disjointed storytelling, The Dark Eye really is an incredibly unique game, absolutely worth the time of anybody interested in the experimental or artistic side of gaming, or any horror junkie who wants a truly cerebral and surreal experience in horror gaming.
Undoubtedly, one of, if not the, greatest triumphs of The Dark Eye is in its incredibly inspired and original visuals and sound. I had never before played a game that looked quite like The Dark Eye and still, to this day, have not seen another like it. The Dark Eye is immediately striking visually and aurally. Even the menus and title screen are brilliantly designed and oozing with an abstract, eerie style. Before even beginning the game, you are already drawn into its macabre world through the dark title screen, with a light slowly searching across what appears to be cracked glass in total blackness, catching glimpses of the shadowy words, “THE DARK EYE” amongst the blackness, while a foreboding cello drones eerily in the foreground of the title music. The presentation does not let up afterwards, either. As you are brought to a main menu with the appearance of a browned, aged piece of paper, and create or select your file under the file select menu’s heading “This phrenologial study has been prepared for,” a now almost dreamlike melody plays in the background. After creating your file , you are brought to an abstract illustration of a human head, with various portions of the mind outlined but not filled in (which will subsequently be filled in as you progress through the game). As the game begins, you are introduced to the main character through a blank-faced reflection of what would be his face in the water. Through the game’s uniformly excellent voice acting, the main character introduces himself to you, telling you that “for the tale I am about to tell, I neither expect nor ask for belief” and yet that “I do not lie; and I surely do not dream.” With an ethereal , dreamlike melody playing in the background of his introduction, the game immediately sweeps you into its world, while simultaneously lending an early sense of subtle dread to player as to just what strange or awful events will soon unfold.
The ethereal and surreal opening sequence immediately draws you into The Dark Eye's strange world.
The game never lets up visually or aurally from this point on. The sights and sounds of The Dark Eye are so consistently brilliant, well-conceived and unsettling that it makes for an experience that just as often sweeps the player off their feet, in awe of the inspired vision of the game, as it does keep the player on edge, uneasy and filled with a sense of dread and fear that never subsides. Indeed, its intricate and abstract visual style is both impressive in its creativity, and works wonderfully for the game itself, a perfect fit to its story, setting and mood, lending to it a heightened sense of the surreal, bizarre and nightmarish. The Dark Eye is a sheer masterpiece of mood and style, in large part due to its incredibly creative and well-done visuals and sound.
The Dark Eye is remarkably stylish and visually inspired throughout. Even the Main Menu is creative and clever.
The character designs and animation are likely to be the first, and most striking, visual element one will notice upon their first experience with The Dark Eye. As I mentioned earlier, The Dark Eye’s characters were designed as claymation puppets dressed in clothing, animated through stop-motion, and added into the game’s 3D prerendered environments through a painstakingly intricate process involving lightning and shoot the puppets carefully in a dark warehouse. The process itself is worthy of praise, and the fact that it was pulled off so flawlessly is truly admirable, too. However, the very designs of the characters are what really make their appearance so striking and unique. Characters have a decidedly “caricatured” look to them, with grotesquely exaggerated features; but what is so great about them is not just that they look so initially bizarre and exaggerated, but also how perfectly they suit the game. Not only are the character designs rich in creativity and warped imagination, they also fit the game’s eerily dreamlike, bizarre atmosphere so perfectly that they never once feel out of place, and honestly don’t even feel outwardly jarring once you are absorbed in the game; they simply fit the game like a glove, and, in addition, do so much to subtly enhance its trippy, warped style and mood. Without a doubt the character designs and visuals are one of The Dark Eye’s most striking visual attributes, and a true achievement in graphical design and creativity.
The character designs are bizarre and absolutely brilliant.
The Dark Eye’s visual brilliance does not stop there how, and the game as a whole truly is a sight to see, which still holds up remarkably well to this day. This is achieved largely in part because of the remarkable care put into its graphical presentation, and the wide array of unconventional techniques used to achieve its distinct style. While backgrounds and settings are mostly prerendered 3D environments (which are every bit as stylistic and well-designed as the rest of the visuals), The Dark Eye implements a broad spectrum of other techniques to creatively enhance the visuals, and produce a look completely its own. Among them are paintings, photo montages, illustrations, and models, all produced with a chilling style and painstaking attention to detail. Put all of this together, along with the aforementioned character designs and excellent lighting, colors and shadows, add a flawlessly realized 19th century setting combined with an eerie, often downright disturbing, style, and you have a game that is not only one of the most visually unique and creative you’re likely to experience, but also one that stands the test of time, even after more than 15 years.
Just as important and impressive is The Dark Eye’s excellent soundwork. Much like the visuals, the sound of The Dark Eye is nearly flawless across the board, and does just as masterful a job of creating a frightening and distinctive atmosphere. It is hard, truly, to pick one aspect of The Dark Eye’s sound which truly excels above the rest, because it is all so well done. Voice acting, and the excellent dialogue (as well as monologue and narration) is one of the greatest highlights. A talented voice cast combine with effective, well-written dialogue to not only create some of the better voice work of the mid-90’s, but also do wonders towards enhancing the mood and tone of the game. Voices are well-suited to the individual characters, and the actors themselves all show great talent in conveying emotional, subtly nuanced voice performances. The well-written and excellently acted dialogue does a great job of helping to create an engaging, interesting and believable cast of characters. The narrations and monologues performed by William S. Burroughs deserve a special mention, as well, with his unique drawl of a voice working wonders to create some inimitably haunting storytelling.
Music and sound are just as expertly crafted, as well, with both working together to dramatically heighten the ethereal, frightening and surreal atmosphere. Music ranges from deep, foreboding orchestral compositions to strangely dreamlike and ethereal pieces, as well as classical pieces. There is a wide range of sounds and tones to the game’s musical score, and it all works perfectly in harmony to heighten the mood and tension of the game. But just as important, and often working very closely and even intermingling with the music, is the phenomenal soundwork. From the eerie whispers permeating throughout the alternate reality/dream-state of Uncle Edwin’s home, to the simple soundwork of footsteps and creaking floor boards or just natural sounds like that of a crowd or the background of a quiet night, The Dark Eye nails its soundwork on all fronts. Without a doubt, the aural experience of The Dark Eye is brilliant, and works expertly alongside its equally brilliant visuals to create a frightening, twisted mood and style.
The visuals and sound of The Dark Eye are truly two elements I could go on and on about. Needless to say at this point, they are brilliantly imaginative and extremely well crafted, and are probably, on their own, worth experiencing the game for. But The Dark Eye has many other great strengths which cement it as a memorable and remarkably unique experience.
Playing the role of the murderer in the game's "nightmares" is truly disturbing.
The Dark Eye is partially such an effective experience BECAUSE it is a video game; the importance of interactivity in it cannot be overstated, and is proof of what a great strength interactivity lends to this medium. While the progression is rather linear, and the gameplay itself honestly pretty simply (in many ways, a point-and-click adventure at its most basic), The Dark Eye is still an experience that works so well because it is interactive, and truly is an experience that would not work (or would be a completely different experience) in any other medium. Being able to move about of your own accord and simply controlling the game is an essential part of what makes everything so effective. This is best shown in the core concept of the game; experiencing nightmarish murders and loss of sanity through the eyes of killers and their victims. The very fact that The Dark Eye puts you, the player, in the role of a main character who is questionably losing his own sanity makes for a disturbing and nightmarish enough concept; but even more fiendish in its design is when it forces you, as the main character, helplessly into the role of murderer and then, subsequently, victim, and forces you to experience their insanity and horror from their own, first-person perspective. What’s best is how effectively it works; not only does it create a real sensation of despair and horror when forcing you to play the victim, but, perhaps even more disturbingly, it creates an effective understanding and bond with the player when putting them in the role of the murderer. Not only does it do such a great job of frightening us by placing us in the role of the killer; it even manages to create a feeling of understanding and, even, sympathy for them, as it forces us into their minds, hearing their thoughts and experiencing their own loss of sanity and empathy. The Dark Eye doesn’t simply cut to the chase, you see; it has you control and linger in the minds of the murderers and their victims for a solid stretch of time before witnessing the murder itself. And this, in turn, creates not only an effective sense of dread, but also a twisted understanding of even its most reprehensible characters and the acts they perform. This ties back to how important interactivity is to The Dark Eye; its gameplay may be linear and not terribly complex, but it is so important in the simple fact that The Dark Eye works so well, and is so effective and frightening because it is a video game; because it is interactive.
And being put in the role of the victim can be absolutely terrifying.
Likewise, although The Dark Eye suffers from some ultimately disjointed story elements, that I wished had added up a bit more by the end, it is still, simultaneously, a very well-scripted and extremely interesting experience throughout, with very few lulls and many memorable moments. The game keeps things taught and exciting throughout, and as you drift back and forth between reality and alternate reality, murderer and victim, and dream and waking life, there are always interesting, and increasingly disturbing, events, and suspense which never lets up. Though to describe too much would be to spoil some of the shock and intrigue, it must be said that The Dark Eye is a game with moments that have stuck clearly in my memory for what is now well over 15 years since I first played it, and the density of these frightening, disturbing and exciting moments throughout is amazing; and, needless to say, any fan of Poe’s works will almost certainly find themselves enthralled with the wonderfully twisted and frightening adaptations of his work witnessed throughout the game. While, sadly, some different tales don’t ultimately tie into the main story as well as they could have, they are still excellent adaptations of his works to an interactive format, and, when put in the context of the overarching story of the game, which is filled with a genuinely intriguing and sympathetic cast, make for an incredibly intriguing experience throughout, with, honestly, few parts which are NOT excellent or memorable. The Dark Eye is absolutely an engrossing experience that will not soon be forgotten by any who play it, and is, as well, an excellent example of the psychological horror genre done very well in video games; as well as a prime example of how effective horror can be when told through an interactive medium.
While some elements of the story are a bit disjointed, it is still thoroughly intriguing, and filled with fascinating characters, throughout.
The Dark Eye is a truly memorable gaming experience, and a prime example of video games as an art form. Not only that, but it is also a game, in some ways, far ahead of its time, which holds up and has aged remarkably well. While the game is a bit too linear, and the various story arcs don’t quite come together or tie up all their loose ends as well as one might hope, these faults still do little to drag the game down as a whole; and ultimately, The Dark Eye is an incredibly imaginative, inspired example of video games as an artistic form of entertainment, from a time well before the notion of video games as a legitimate art form was the hot button topic it has become today. From its incredibly creative and varied graphical style and techniques, to its remarkable soundwork, to the superb atmosphere it all comes together to create, The Dark Eye is a real achievement of creative design work. Not only that, but it a prime example of how video games can excel as a storytelling medium because of the intimacy of the interactive experience. While The Dark Eye is a sadly overlooked and forgotten relic of mid-90’s PC gaming, it is also one which begs to be picked up and experienced by any who love horror, or take real interest in video games as a creative, artistic medium. For those who do, a lost horror-adventure classic, and a remarkably original and surreal experience, awaits.
The Dark Eye has been tragically overlooked, but any fan of horror or true, artistic creativity in video games owes it to themselves to experience this lost would-be classic.
Who Should Play It?
Horror fans, especially fans of psychological horror, and gamers with a lost-love of 90’s point-and-click adventures. Any gamer with an interest in the more artistic and experimental side of gaming. Those who love an original style, or heavy, dark or surreal atmosphere. Those looking for a good example of “video games as art.”