Babies are strange creatures; a mini human being completely dependent on their fully-formed kin to live. Put them in a video game and developers will either support or subvert that claim. Lighthouse: The Dark Being, a Sierra adventure from 1996, takes the former approach and teaches you everything about how not to be a parent.
LESSON 1: Don't Abandon the Baby
After returning home on a dark and stormy night, you hear some disturbing news on your answer machine. Your neighbour, lighthouse keeper and mad scientist Professor Krick has had an emergency and left his infant daughter home alone. In a state of panic, he has asked you to take care of his baby Amanda while he is gone for an indeterminate amount of time. Father of the year if ever there was one.
LESSON 2: Keep Out of Reach of Children (aka Don't Play with Portals)
After fumbling around your home for some well-hidden car keys (and learning the control scheme in the process), you travel down the road to the lighthouse. You see, Krick, who is as single in his mindedness as he is as a father, has had a breakthrough in the portal technology that's been his life's work. A by-product of that is the entrance to a parallel dimension with all kinds of craziness inside, including the titular Dark Being. Not long after entering the house, you hear a thud followed by the baby crying in terror. You rush to the baby's bedroom just in time to see the humanoid Dark Being appear from a portal and steal Amanda right from her crib. From here your adventure truly begins. Do you follow him into the portal, or hang back to explore the lighthouse for a bit more. Either way, you'll have to face this other world eventually.
LESSON 3: Carry Your Baby Effectively
There is one moment at the end of your adventure that, as a concerned non-parent, I must mention. When you eventually save Amanda (spoiler alert), you add her to your inventory right next to your umbrella and a cast iron pot. Now I'm sure the nameless protagonist has adequate storage space in his/her handbag/manbag (the sex is not revealed), but shoving a live child in there is probably not the best idea. There are plenty of baby carrying items on the market that make for a far better alternative. Even in an unexplored fantasy realm, a simple piece of cloth will make for a makeshift baby-wearing sling. Far more suitable. The excellent sound design here (and the rest of the game) does make the little tyke seem happy, but I'm sure it's not a reflection on real life.
LESSON 4: Be Consistent
Being conceived as yet another Myst clone, Lighthouse's use of its inspiration's mechanics are very hit and miss. For one thing, the puzzles are smartly implemented fitting right into the fantastical game world. They often involve mechanical contraptions with added inventory elements to mix things up a bit. The fantastical worlds are plausible in their grandiose and mythic design offering the same sense of wonder the Myst games excelled at. It also takes on Myst's non-linear and diegetic means of storytelling. I do have some issues with this choice which I found it to be a detriment to what would otherwise be a very strong piece of fiction. There's a narrative arch here that the original Myst doesn't have. It doesn't know if it wants to tell a good literary story like the best of Sierra does so brilliantly or a be a wholly immersive experience like its inspiration. The result is a game that fluctuates between being derivative of Cyan's best-selling series and being an absorbing fable. While there are moments of brilliance, the result is a game that has a bit of a personality disorder.
The puzzles can also be a bit too obtuse. They require a lot of exploration and experimentation which again is at odds with how the game plays out. The difficulty became a major talking point in the average reviews it received. Sierra must have taken note as they released a patch that would include a hint system among other improvements.
LESSON 5: Don't Let Your Baby Get the Better of You (aka Stop, Look & Listen)
For one thing, this patch fixed some minor bugs but the main reason it became a necessity was in some much-needed improvements to the interface. Before the patch, it was very unclear what you could interact with. The graphics, while detailed and easy on the eye, didn't do a great job at drawing you in to notice the hotspots. The result would be frantically clicking on everything on-screen if you're stuck - which will be often in such a difficult adventure (Lesson 4a: Be Patient). We now have the added option to change the cursor when hovering over hotspots. It's a subtle, yet noticeable change that is a must for newcomers to the game (Lesson 4b: Be Clear).
It also added a hint system, which is accessed from the menu screen. If you're really stumped, I would first go here before searching online for a walkthrough. From what I encountered, the clues can be anything from cryptic to specific. They will often be more obvious each time to use it. These additions are a welcome addition and I'm glad Sierra chose to address the problems many had with the game (Lesson 4c: Listen to Your Child).
LESSON 6: Love Your Baby, No Matter What (Even If It's a Horrible CGI Abomination)
The last bit of criticism I'd like to mention is that a large section later on in the game is taken up by some particularly troublesome mazes. This type of game-play is notorious for inciting the ire of gamers. I confess I do quite like them if they're logical and well implemented like they are here. For some reason, I actually enjoy getting the graph paper out and creating maps for them, which perhaps explains my high tolerance. I'm very much in the minority here, though. Just like the twists and turns of bringing up a child, you'll find your way no matter how many dead ends and wrong turns you come across. Just remember, the light at the end of the tunnel is not always a train.
Despite sharing many genes with Myst, Lighthouse is very much a game fathered by Sierra. It can be brutally difficult with many unforeseeable deaths that are a staple in their library. There may be a few hiccups and ugly stains along the way, but I cannot help but love every minute.
As of 8th February 2018, Lighthouse: The Dark Being is now available to buy DRM-free on Good Old Games.
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Lighthouse: The Dark Being is © Sierra On-Line
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me