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The Lurking Horror

by Dave Lebling

Horror
1987

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Number of Reviews: 2
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful:
Solid, Fair, Entertaining, July 24, 2009
by Captain Mikee (Philadelphia)
I played The Lurking Horror right after Anchorhead, which served to highlight the limitations of Infocom's older games. The Lurking Horror, because of the style and size limitations of the time, lacks the depth and richness of Anchorhead, where virtually nothing reasonable produced a default response. On the other hand, it shows Infocom reaching its maturity, with smooth, elegant gameplay despite some necessary terseness.

The thing that impressed me most about TLH was that I never got really, really stuck, despite having to spend several days on some puzzles. Throughout the game, I was free of the nagging sensation that I'd screwed the whole thing up right at the beginning. Instead, I was always sure that the solution would come to me if I just looked at the situation in the right way. And when the solution did come, it was immensely satisfying. My favorite puzzle was one I encountered early on, but didn't solve until several weeks later. (Spoiler - click to show)(Using the elevator to break through the wall in the Steam Tunnel. As soon as I realized the two locations were connected, the pieces fell right together.) The game provided perfect encouragement when I was on the right track and led me quickly to the solution, once I had a basic grasp of what was going on. It was a really deep level of game-world interaction that could have been a nightmare of guess-the-phrasing - yet it posed absolutely no parser problems at all.

The game is full of wonderfully reusable objects, and useless things are relatively few and relatively obvious, although you're likely to do some trekking back and forth across the map at the end, for things that you had to drop because of capacity limits.

The atmosphere of "Lurking Horror" was consistent - a few horror-appropriate laughs and not too much MIT in-jokiness, and lots of creepy stuff going on. I think perhaps the game lacked focus; there was a colorful variety of monsters, but how they related to each other or to the main story was quite vague.

Amazingly, this is the first Infocom game I've ever played that did not require me to draw a map. Along with the PDF I used from the Masterpieces collection, it was very easy to make my way around. I did eventually draw a map, simply because I was stuck at one point and needed something to do, but I ended up not using it most of the time. I have one spoilery comment about the map, which may serve as a hint without giving away too much: (Spoiler - click to show)There is a maze. I mapped the maze. But it turned out that I didn't need to. As soon as I finished mapping, I discovered a shortcut. Unfortunately, the shortcut won't help if you've left behind an item that you need, because you can't use it to go back. Save your game.

Like many Infocom games, and perhaps appropriate to a horror-themed game, there are plenty of learn-by-dying situations. It pays to save often. But none of these situations seemed terribly unfair to me: there's usually a pretty obvious point right beforehand where you can save, and if you keep on restoring from there, you're likely to sort the problem out eventually.

I have only one complaint about this game's otherwise phenomenal parser. Right at the very end, there is something of a guess-the-noun problem. (Spoiler - click to show)The final monster can't be referred to as "grey," "gelatinous" or "mass," despite being described that way in the text. It also can't be referred to as a "monster" or a "horror." The only words I could discover that worked were "creature" (not in the text) and "being" (in the text, but I didn't notice it at first). This was only a minor annoyance, and didn't stop me from completing the game, but it was a surprise after the smooth interactions I'd had up to that point. I think it might be another case of the endgame not being as fully implemented or tested as the earlier portions.

So with some great puzzles, flawless interaction, and strong atmosphere, why was I slightly disappointed? Is it just the standards of modern IF, or was this a bit below Infocom's other work? Maybe the puzzles were too easy. I really appreciated being able to complete the game without hints, and the best puzzles did seem pretty hard. But at the start, I breezed through several initial steps - making it to 50 out of 100 points - without any real mental effort. In fact, a few of these very early puzzles were more tedious than challenging, requiring multiple steps and trial-and-error of some obvious combinations. (Spoiler - click to show)Heating up the Chinese food felt like hashing out an example from the I7 manual, not a real puzzle. I think also, this was a game that could have benefited from having the plot and characters fleshed out more. There probably was no room for Infocom to do so at the time, but I sorely missed that extra depth. The characters were some of the highlights of the game. The hacker's final scene is brilliant and somehow touching. The urchin was so brilliantly painted with so few strokes, I only wished he had more than half a dozen lines. But perhaps his elusiveness made him more poignant. (Spoiler - click to show)Even the rat - and perhaps especially the animated hand - were memorable personalities that lit up the console. I think a little bit more from each of them could have taken the game from merely fun to truly powerful.

One final note: I got a bit of a teaser for the sound in Lurking Horror, but unfortunately I could not find a Mac interpreter that could both play the sound and save the game, so I only heard a couple things. I look forward to playing the game through and hearing more of the sounds - the couple I did hear enhanced the spookiness quite a lot. Since they come as a total surprise, they can be very startling - perfect for a horror game.

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Ghalev, July 25, 2009 - Reply
Really excellent review. I wish we had some way of flagging these to draw attention to them beyond the simple "helpful/not helpful" tag.
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