Developer: Razbor Studios
Release Date: November 29, 2004
At a few choice points through Legacy: Dark Shadows, I had flashbacks to various adventure games, titles like Bureau 13, Nightlong, Under A Killing Moon, even things like BioForge, Dark Earth, Hell, or Burn: Cycle. The main reason for all this winsome wishing? I'd have much rather played six, seven, even eight-year-old adventure games that had absolutely no technical merit when they were released and look positively prehistoric today. Legacy does everything you could possibly do wrong in an adventure title and then some.
This is the normal point in an article where I discuss the exposition and background, get into the characters a bit, and tell you where you, as the player, pick up. I can't do that here, not because I don't want to, but because it simply can't be done. After a throwaway mini-scene (three screens, one NPC, one item of note), our generic heroine Ren takes over. We know nothing about her at all. Nada. Zip. No clues on where she's wrong, who she is, who she works for, even if she's human or not. The only established thing: Ren is spending her vacation at a tourist trap called Einstein's Rope on Mars. The attractions are a tiny hotel, a lame shop, and an empty bar called "The Miner's Roopa" (even Ren has to ask, "What the hell is a Roopa?"). Then the plot, as much as it is, begins. Then it changes gears again, converting the initial vacation story as yet another disposable segment, with Hacker (conveniently, he's a hacker) calling Ren home to find Ted.
I'm sure you're scratching your head now. Twenty minutes and you're confused? It only gets worse from here. It's never quite established who this "Ted" is, other than he's a journalist and he's in trouble. You get no more elaboration on Ren, her hacker friend Hacker, or anyone else for that matter. The awkward writing cycles through characters like I tear through cases of cola, bringing in professors, doormen, scientists, and even an Italian cab driver (named Winny — keep reading) just long enough to push them over to the left and let them go home.
The world at large is no more developed. Ren lives and works in Big City, somewhere in what I've gathered is Russia though it's never directly said. Somewhere along history, mankind hit the switch and ended the party in an event called … get this … The Great Explosion. These are the important names, too — other places simply get called Building or Prison. Within the pits and holes of Big City are underground cities, dozens of homeless bums, giant mutated monstrosities, and a small army of humanoid beasties simply called Clones. Your task is simply to … do what the game tells you to do at any given moment, with no real long-range plans for the day.
That's the underlying problem with the writing and the biggest problem in the entire game. It's barely even serviceable. Dialog is short and blunt, item descriptions are hardly longer than ten words, and there's very little explanation for anything. Events happen for no good reason (at least one ‘travel zone' appeared entirely unannounced), items magically float into their proper places only when they're intended to, and dialogue trees that seemed empty suddenly sprout new branches. It's the result of very tight scripting, designed to create a very linear experience. So tightly held are the reigns that actions which would push the plot forward early are forbidden, even when you have the items necessary and access to the proper locations — at one point, you are standing next to an item you need to use another item on, but if you haven't talked with another character in another location about something else entirely, Ren will refuse to do anything, instead responding with an "I need to do something else first" message. There is absolutely no varying from the expected path of action permitted.
Had it been written any better, Legacy would still fail miserably. The graphic engine is horribly dated, with stiff characters and pre-rendered backgrounds full of artifacting and distortion. It really does look like something circa-1997, with horribly low-quality cut scenes and short animation loops plaguing the landscape. Ren looks like a cast member from 1996's Resident Evil, and she is arguably the most detailed model around. Lips do not move ever, hands are ‘mittens', clothes pull and stretch (since they're just plastered-on textures) … guys, I'm willing to accept that the picture isn't always the key in an adventure game, but you've got to do something more than this.
The interface fails to pick up any points on the positive column either. Everything is mouse-based, of course, but the pointer is jumpy and feedback over hotspots is limited to the color of the pointer's base — orange for "can be examined," green for "can be interacted with," and empty for "nothing here I care about, George." Green doesn't necessarily mean you'll get useful results; many such spots are just candies, cues for lines like "no need to open that" or "it's a mirror. " Somewhere, the adventure writers of yore are crying in their coffee.
The hotspots themselves prove to be a huge bother, stopping the game cold repeatedly. Legacy is dark, Doom 3 grade dark, and it does not use any sort of markings for active objects. How long can a player stand about, looking over and over again for a hidden crowbar, a buried switch, or — the worst offender — a single brick that looks exactly like every other brick in the scene, yet must be found to continue. Pixel hunting went out five years ago, and I'm not going be throwing any parties if it's coming back. At least the music can be safely ignored, along with the sound effects.
Razbor is a Croatian studio. You'll figure this out after the first five minutes as Ren (the first two chaps are Russian soldiers) after hearing every single cast member speak with thick Russian accents. None of them seem very convinced they're reading the right words at the right times — emotion must come at a premium to whomever did the localization, since there isn't any to spare. The entire performance is a step down from "dialed-in," feeling more like "written in on a napkin." Some characters sound like cast from Homestar Runner, and not in any sort of good way. Hearing Ren fumble her grammar, slop her V's into W's (Vinnie the Cabbie becomes "Winny," even in the subtitles!), and generally drone her way through several dozen lines of speech isn't funny, it's tragic. The translation suffers all over, a victim of a thick language and what is obviously a rushed job. Beta testing isn't just for giant studios — if you can't afford to at least have someone read your script for typographical mistakes, you need to rethink your approach.
Legacy is not fun. It is not interesting, it is not dramatic or stylish or atmospheric. The plot is incomprehensible, so poorly supported by background information that it stumbles over itself and never gets the story told. The endgame and conclusion are anticlimactic nonsense, nothing worth the sheer amount of drudgery required to get so far. The game itself is buggy like a roach motel, suffering from missing dialogue, disappearing items, defects in the save game system producing saves it cannot load, and a slew of crash-to-desktop bugs. Major case in point: the came cannot be exited cleanly, ever. After a silly "rap" song plays through the credits, the game crashes o the desktop while trying to unload.
That pretty much puts the period at the end of the review. The content isn't even worth a laugh, and the story is so full of holes (is this based on a Croatian comic or show? It seems to expect you to know the cast in advance) and clichés that it has no value unless you're a die-hard fan of Eastern European culture.
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