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Platform(s): PC
Genre: Action
Developer: RA Images


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PC Review - 'Daemonica'

by Keith Durocher on July 8, 2006 @ 2:16 a.m. PDT

Daemonica is an intriguing 3D interactive mystery that offers everything that adventure genre fans appreciate - immersive storyline with unexpected twists, extensive dialogues with believable characters, puzzles, both mandatory and optional quests.

Genre: Adventure
Publisher: Meridian4
Developer: Raimage
Release Date: April 4, 2006


The period of time stuffed between the years 476 and 1455 AD in Europe are often referred to as the "Dark Ages," and trust me when I say it wasn't a reference to the lack of light bulbs. Superstition, ignorance, hysteria, paranoia, and general mistrust were rampant throughout the lands. Imagine, if you will, what life must have been like for someone who actually personified all the delusional fears of the day? If you were a black-magic practitioner who regularly committed suicide in order to summon demons and commune with the dead, do you think you'd have an easier time ordering mead at the local inn? Probably not, so what else is there to do but become a supernatural crime-scene investigator and professional vengeance merchant?

Minus the flippant tone of my description, this is basically the crux of Daemonica. You play Nicholas Farepoynt (yes, that is actually how it's spelled), a medieval "beast hunter" whose lot in life is to seek the truth behind violent crimes by ritualistically killing himself via poison in order to travel to the afterlife and question the souls of the victims involved in the crimes. To do this, Mr. Farepoynt must speak the words of demons, commanding them to lead him through the labyrinth of death to the spirits he seeks to commune with. As you can imagine, this is an extremely risky line of work to be involved in, but the lack of forensic sciences leaves the beast hunter the last resort for desperate mayors who're in over their heads.

Daemonica is an adventure game, which means the core component of its gameplay lies in solving logic puzzles. The story is, as you may have surmised, a murder-mystery. A small village called Cavorn lies in the grip of a curse; the sun never rises, it rains far more than is natural, and a series of disappearances and murders has the local magistrate in a panic to stem the rising possibility of mob rule. In order to provide some tried-and-true scapegoat blood to the people of the town, he hangs the fiancé of one of the murder victims. His condemnation was based on nothing more than circumstantial evidence, and thus the beast hunter is called in to seek out the truth. Along the way, he will collect herbs to brew potions that will provide his supernatural edge, and you will provide the intellect that will unravel the Gordian knot of intrigue gripping this community.

Daemonica has a single great strength, and many lesser weaknesses that conspire against it overall. Allow me to heap some appropriate praise first: the writing is superb. As this is a primarily story-driven title, the crafting of words and mood could have easily been the undoing of the entire program. Of particular note is the expert forging of a mature tale that never bleeds over into unnecessary shock tactics. Many, many games that target an adult audience cannot seem to do so without resorting to sophomoric jokes or tasteless gore. There is a subtlety to the writing that is most welcome.

The graphics are well done too, if not stunningly spectacular. Daemonica looks very much like an ultra high-detail version of the original Diablo, with 3D models in place of sprites. The camera point of view is top-down isometric and doesn't allow you to zoom in very close. The forced perspective keeps detail looking tight, and the lighting is warm as well. What's strange is how static the village is Cavorn feels in spite of the TLC given to the graphics. Perhaps this is due to the almost complete lack of citizenry, or the fact that those few people remaining in the town don't ever actually move around at all. The birds that fly so slowly I can out-walk them don't help with the sense of dynamics. Flight isn't something I usually think of as occurring at a languid pace, but maybe that's just me.

Sadly, Daemonica suffers from several flaws that cleave deeply into its metaphorical Achilles heel, crippling most of the game's promise. To begin with, the voice acting is simply terrible. What is most tragic about this is the fact that it didn't have to be as bad as it is; the actor actually has a pleasant timbre to his voice. However, the decision to use an actor who wasn't British and had no dialect coach to teach proper accent techniques results in a delivery roughly on par with a seventh-grade drama student doing a Shakespearean skit in front of the class.

The next issue that I find irksome whilst playing Daemonica is the load times. It's not that they're slow; it's that they're so frequent. Up to this point, the worst offender for load screens I've encountered was Postal 2, but sadly, this game steals that crown with ease. Every single house has a load pause, and each house with multiple floors has load times, and the village itself is split into roughly three areas that require loading. The incredible amount of back-and-forth involved, coupled with the seven- to 12-second load screens create a stuttered, disruptive effect that puts a serious strain on immersion.

Overall, I think Daemonica does just enough right that I would very much like to see it blossom into a franchise, with each subsequent release improving on the gameplay elements that need polish while retaining the excellent writing and mood. Fans of adventure games should find this a welcome addition to their library, as it offers many logic-chain puzzles to sort through, on top of the intricate story – everything you love in the genre, basically. People looking for fast action may want to steer clear for the moment; Daemonica is most definitely a cerebral experience that doesn't lend itself to adrenaline. In short, there is a narrow target audience that will adore this for its strengths and overlook its weaknesses. You know who you are, and if you count yourself as one of the chosen few, then you owe it to yourself to add this to your list of upcoming purchases.

Score: 7.5/10

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