LIGHTHOUSE / Sierra / PC
 
 
Lighthouse is basically Myst with horror overtones; in fact, the game's lead designer confirmed in an interview that the order from on high was to clone Myst. The horror aspect is pretty mild, however, as like Myst you can't die or get irrevocably stuck (that I'm aware of). Well, there's a couple of scenes where you appear to die if you try to walk past some mechanical creature or another guarding something, but it's unclear as you simply respawn right back on the previous screen just before you made the fatal move (a la the Manhunter games, just without the goofy limericks).

But you know what, I should probably back up a step here, as we're at the point where the 25-and-under set may well not even know what Myst is. It was the biggest PC puzzle game in the world for most of the 90s; for a more modern comparison, it's kind of like those ubiquitous "escape the room" Flash games full of puzzles, except it's more like "escape the steampunk-ish world." Which is also on a Greek-ish isle for some reason.
 


With Lighthouse, there's also maybe a bit of Another World / Out Of This World influence. You play as an unnamed, unseen writer living on the sparsely populated Oregon coast. Your neighbor, the eccentric scientist Dr. Krick, lives next to and operates the local lighthouse. One night, you come home to find a frantic message from Krick asking you to come over ... then you look out the window and see eerie blue lightning strike the lighthouse. Of course, Krick managed to figure out how to build a portal to an alternate universe, and of course there's unfriendly critters on the other side and etc. Krick has disappeared, but you arrive just in time to see some alien tweaker abscond with his baby daughter through a portal.

Though the marching order was to clone Myst, Lighthouse goes above and beyond in a couple of ways. One is in that it has a handful of antagonistic enemies roaming around certain areas who will sometimes force you to pursue alternate puzzle solutions. For example, one of your first tasks at Krick's house is to quiet the squalling baby with a bottle from the fridge. Once you've done that, you can explore the house in relative peace, reading his scattered notes and gradually piecing together what happened. While you're in the midst of this, though, you'll eventually hear the baby start up crying again. If you're absorbed in reading something, you might think, "Oh eff the baby, crying is just what babies do" and ignore it. If you do that, you miss the game's main antagonist snatching the baby up and the chance to follow him through his temporary portal. If you miss his portal, you'll have to follow Krick's notes to open another one from the house. Perhaps the best example, though, is the notorious Birdman, who you encounter fairly early on in the Martin's Roost area. He's like the evil cousin of the mechanical owl from Clash of the Titans, and he'll roam about trying to steal or smash key inventory items before you can get to them. With some quick exploration and thinking you can lock him out of the tower's rooms, but if he gets to the items you'll just have to go about a slightly longer alternate solution to a couple of puzzles.
 


The other is in that it actually has a fleshed-out story with living characters populating the world. Only a handful, sure, but that's a handful more than Myst's barren utopia for misanthropic gearheads. The voice acting is the usual budget hammy stuff from mid-90s CD-ROM games, but the story and dialogue are actually pretty well done and gradually exploring the world and the mysteries behind it is pretty interesting.

Of course, it also has a very simplistic point-and-click interface. And what does that usually mean? If you guessed it means that the challenge comes almost entirely from extreme obscurity, hotspot-hunting and the occasional bout of dream logic ... you clearly know your adventure games. This design philosophy is a bit less frustrating here than it is in other places as you can't really die or irrevocably bone yourself. But it's still irritating at points, like when you have to toss a junk drawer about in *just* the right way to pull out some arbitrary component from the bottom, or when you get a 7th Guest-like puzzle where you have to randomly pull levers and figure out what the objective of the puzzle even *is* on the fly. Oh, and there's a really bad sliding tile puzzle too, if you hate those. Fortunately, complaints about the puzzle difficulty after the original release led Sierra to create a patch that gives hints on the current screen/puzzle and will offer to solve the harder puzzles for you after a number of aborted attempts.
 
                                                            You can't fire me I'm Biiiiiiiirdmaaan

You'll have to have a high tolerance for arbitrary Myst puzzles (and general slow pacing and slightly clunky interface endemic to mid-90s CD games), but if you do, Lighthouse actually has quite a bit to offer. It has some really nice looking backdrops, the animated models are sometimes actually quite impressive (like the Birdman, fortunate as you have to see his obnoxious ass so often), most of the puzzles are reasonable, the story is actually somewhat interesting, and the soundtrack is workmanlike but nicely transitions from pleasant relaxing exploration music to tense haunting music at appropriate times. I'd consider it a little thin at original retail pricing, but with copies easily obtainable for $3 or $4 or so now, it's probably worth a look for puzzle fans.
 
 
Links :
 
* Modern Windows installer - listed for XP/Vista, but I found it to work just fine with Win 7 64-bit too
 
 
Videos :
 
 
 


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