It's Halloween and what better way to celebrate than to travel deep in the psyche of H.R. Giger? Dark Seed 2 began development as soon as the first game hit store shelves and became a hit (it surprisingly won the prestigious Codie award in 1992 against the likes of King's Quest VI, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis and Ultima VII among others). The result such success is sequels and one finally reached store shelves in December of 1995...
A lot has changed in the three years since the first Dark Seed came out. For starters the adventure genre had far stiffer competition with LucasArts and Sierra riding high at the top of their game. Compared to its peers, the original comes off as all style and no substance. These faults didn't go unnoticed. Producer David Mullich, who at the time was also working as the designer for I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, saw that more effort needed to be put into the story. The result is a sequel that's superior in almost every way, even if it doesn't have the same gravitas of Harlan Ellison's classic.
The story takes place almost immediately after the events of the first game and Mike Dawson has suffered something of a nervous breakdown. He has returned to his home town of Crowley, Texas to live with his mother and get some much needed rest, but it's not long before things take a turn for the worse. His high school sweetheart, Rita, has died in mysterious circumstances and you are the prime suspect. Has the evil inter-dimensional beings known as the Ancients returned to complete their task of destroying humanity or are you just crazy? The game keeps it vague, teasing either answer as true.
What is definitely crazy is that for years I'd always thought the same actor played Mike Dawson in both games. The first Mike Dawson was played by the real Mike Dawson who also co-designed the first game (hence why they called our hero Mike Dawson). Since then the real Mike Dawson had left Cyberdreams leaving the character of Mike Dawson open to more experienced actors (who may or may not be called Mike Dawson). Whoever was responsible for the casting did an awesome job as he's spot on in my opinion, right down to the cheesy moustache and blase demeanor. Either way, he and the premise are far more intriguing.
It takes a while before you enter the H.R. Giger themed 'Dark World' with the first few hours taking place in the real world. Much like the first game, there's a definite Twin Peaks vibe to the Middle American suburbs and the extra time spent there only heightens it. The use of colour here also adds another ethereal quality too. The backgrounds are computer generated and bright, almost over-saturated compared to the greyish brown tones of the original. Contrast this with the digitized sprites of actual actors and you have visuals worthy of a David Lynch movie. It also makes for a nice juxtaposition to the Dark World when it eventually encroaches on the real world. The biomechanical world of Giger is a shocking place to begin with but placing it side-by-side with Dark Seed 2's depiction of the American dream truly makes it even more disturbing.
Giger himself had more of a creative input too, in his own weird way. Both games use only pre-existing art with the only guidance from Giger in the first being the resolution and how his work was presented. This time round his input actually effected the game. At the time he was being haunted by certain images and wanted to see them included in the final product. Among others, he requested that they use his "Shaft" series of pictures which feature some very suggestive and foreboding architecture. Next he wanted the protagonist to get caught on a meat hook, which is why Mike gets dragged to the Hall of Death on one. By this time, writer and designer Raymond Benson (who designed MicroProse's Return of the Phantom) had completed his work and had moved on to other things outside the company. Science Fiction author John Shirley, who had written for The Crow and Heavy Metal comics as well as contributing towards the screenplay for the former's first movie, was brought in as story consultant to work these demands in.
The result is a game that fits. The first game didn't quite grab me as much as this one did, probably due to a lack of focus and vision. It seemed to exist solely to showcase some Giger art without much thought to story and characterisation. The borrowed artwork here doesn't seem misappropriated, acting like a plausible (if weird) reflection of a real-world environment. That being said, a lot of the original's faults still remain. Mike's personality hasn't developed at all. His quips are dry and emotionless making for a rather mundane protagonist. One could argue that this is - and always has been - a proclamation of his mental state but in reality it just keeps you from investing in him emotionally.
In the end, both entries in the Dark Seed series are still interesting attempts at psychological horror in video games. Both effectively weave threads of uncertainty, even if the minutiae aren't very good in isolation. It's a game whose whole is better than the sum of its parts and the result is a minor classic. I'm probably in the minority thinking that, or maybe some alien beings are playing tricks with my mind. If there's one thing that's certain it's that H.R. Giger can give you one hell of a nightmare. And what more could you want from Halloween?
To download the game, follow the link below. This custom installer exclusive to The Collection Chamber uses DOSBox running Microsoft Windows 3.1 to get the game working on modern systems. Manual included. Tested on Windows 10.
Dark Seed II is © CyberdreamsReview, Cover Design and Installer created by me