Today’s entry is by none other than longtime friend of the site Jonathon Howard who seems to be one of our resident adventure game lovers, given his output in past years of this countdown. He’s also a swell dude.
The Quest for Glory series (published by Sierra Online from 1989 to 1998) toyed with horror in the first game, So You Want to Be Hero, by including the “bogeyman” of Russian folklore Baba Yaga. The second game, Trial by Fire, gave the genre a larger role by making the big bad in the game a wicked sorcerer by the name of Ad Avis bent on summoning a great evil into this world through a ritual found in a buried desert city. Allusions to Lovecraft’s “mad arab” couldn’t be more obvious.
But it wasn’t until the fourth game in the series, and the focus of this article, Shadows of Darkness, that horror and the weird take center stage. The game begins with the player waking up inside a chamber crafted of some awful amalgamation of stone and human bones inside larger, horrific complex that you soon learn is called the “Dark One’s Cave.” After navigating past a tentacled, mostly unseen, horror the player will find themselves trapped in the sleepy, haunted valley of Mordavia a land that bears a striking resemblance to pop culture’s idea of Transylvania and is stock full of Hollywood horror tropes such as vampires, ghouls, werewolves, spooky graveyards, mad scientists, “abandoned” castles, profaned churches, dark rites, and a degenerate cult all make an appearance. All of this coupled with the existential, outer world horror of the Cthulhu mythos including a deity with an unpronounceable name. Try saying “Avoozl” five times fast…
The story revolves around the player exploring the dark valley and its weird mix of Slavic folklore and Lovecraftian horror as you inadvertently collect all the things necessary to usher the Dark One, Avoozl, into this world and in so doing doom everyone. Of course you end up summoning the thing. But, you also manage to save the day too! In the process of doing so you may save a gypsy, save Igor, befriend a morally ambivalent (and well endowed) water faerie, learn the tragic story of the wizard Erana (who is referenced in every prior games in the series), reconcile a separated couple, court a vampire, bake a pie for Baba Yaga, learn about elephant ranching, assist a mad scientist in his experiments, reunite a ghost with her lover, restore the humor of a gnome, and much more.
The Quest for Glory games have always been full of lighthearted jokes, puns, and tributes to classic Hollywood icons (The Marx Brothers, The Three Stooges, and Sanford and Son all make appearances in the franchise) and despite the darker tone and story in Shadows of Darkness that trend continues. The game has genuinely tense moments, I hesitate to say scary, and comes close at times to conveying that otherworldly sense of horror Lovecraft’s work is known for but then “spoils” it all with a fart joke. So, instead of being a true piece of horror the game instead contents itself with being a loving and good natured tribute to the genre. Those of us lucky enough to experience the game in its CD ROM format (now available to everyone at GOG.com) were doubly blessed by having the narration delivered by John Rhys-Davies and listening to fine parodies of such horror icons as Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre. The entire voice track is phenomenal and highly recommended, it really adds to the game.
Shadows of Darkness is a stand out example of not only Sierra On-line’s brand of adventure gaming but of computer role play games as well. The game’s puzzles have multiple solutions and are mostly fair with solutions that make sense, even if that sense is a little twisted and strained at times. As with most Sierra games though know that you should be saving often and to multiple files as deaths come easy enough. The stat building is equally well balanced and rarely requires any sort of grinding, especially if you stick to a single build (thief, wizard, or fighter) multiple class characters will find that it takes somewhat longer to build up skills as you’ll start with lower base stats.
Quest for Glory IV is my favorite game in the series, my favorite Sierra On-line game, and still sits comfortably in my top ten games of all time. If you’re looking for a great adventure game with a heavy smearing of horror and charm on it I can’t recommend Shadows of Darkness enough.
PS – I happen to be doing a Let’s Play of it right now.
- Released: March, 1994
- System: PC
- Developer/Publisher: Sierra On-line