Version tested: PC
Nailing It Down
It's very hard to pigeonhole a title like Nocturne. Initial observations would indicate some sort of Tomb Raider / X-Files hybrid, but things are far less brazen and much more fantastical than those two titles.
In fact, one of Nocturne's biggest virtues is that it can't be nailed to the post of a specific genre. The game uses a very tongue-in-cheek attitude to present an action-orientated adventure through gothic mansions and the shadowy countryside, starring a lead character with more depth than most. Communicating the things that make Nocturne such an exceptional title in but a few paragraphs amounts to a pretty big task.
The game is akin to a serial television series, to which comparisons will be drawn with the X-Files. The game offers you a speculative story to enter into and lets you play through four episodes of action, each of which could quite happily constitute an entire game in itself - you won't complete any of them in a day.
Your character, Stranger, works for a group called The Spookhouse, a super-secret government agency that deals with all matters supernatural. Things like vampires, werewolves and the ilk. The premise is that this foundation has existed since the early 1900s as a preventative group for dealing with and establishing amiable links with the supernatural. If you can't conquer, destroy, or something not dissimilar.
Each episode starts off with an in-game explanation of the plot. The peculiarities of your own character's name are the least of your concerns, as from thereon in things get increasingly bizarre...
Guiding your man (with or without a companion) through the episodes is easy going at first - you are moving Tomb Raider-like through a sumptuously detailed landscape and fighting off hoards of nasties.
I certainly do mean sumptuous - Nocturne's graphics are some of the best that I saw in 1999, and they give anything this side of the big 2K a run for its money as well.
The patented techniques used to depict your character's dynamically folding and rippling cape are impressive enough attractions in themselves, and each rendered environment is truly impressive. The game is definitely aimed at the Film Noir buffs with its dark plot and shadowy characters.
Sonically We're In Control
Sonically too, Nocturne excels. Bubbling brooks, rustling leaves, the clinking of metal bullet cases hitting the floor, everything adds to the psuedo-realism. The gravely masculine voice of the Stranger is very morbid too; Ghostbusters this most certainly isn't.
The dialogue between characters mid-game is pleasant and provides a lot more plot advancement than the usual level, cutscene, level, cutscene formula. Like any good adventure game, such segregation of plot and gameplay is blasphemy, and rightly so.
The air of unpredictability keeps you on the edge of your seat. Nocturne is more of an adventure game with integrated action segments really. These sequences are complemented by your armoury, which can include anything from Silver-Bullet revolvers to Light-Guns for vampire disposal, and a lot of other unusual concoctions depending on the mission you are faced with.
Stranger's movement is smooth, but as with earlier incarnations of Tomb Raider, the responsiveness is a little touchy. I would have liked for him to fire the instant I pressed Ctrl, but instead I could feel a slight gap between cause and effect. Almost like a bump in the game.
The encounters are tough ones - hordes of Werewolves beset you in the first episode's German forest, and can quite easily overpower you.
Once you've run out of Silver Bullets, you had better hope that your counterpart, the half-Vampire, can soak up a little of the damage; your frailty is a hindrance in those situations.
The difficulty level can become very frustrating at times, even erring on the side of the unachievable. I don't mind the occasional repeated frustration and lengthy overcoming of problems, but I'm always disappointed when the solution never presents itself within a sensible timescale, or just consists of firing until you hit the right spot.
Thankfully there's little anticlimax, quite an achievement for such a fantastical backdrop. The game lives up to its own grandeur, with enormous set pieces and moments of sheer awe. The sinister undertones of conspiracy that made the X-Files so depressing are also pleasingly absent. You do what you do and accept it, however unusual your line of work seems.
Complaints about Nocturne are few and far between. There's the odd technicality, and if you intend to do a full install it will take up over a gigabyte of space! Aside from that it's a surprisingly compelling title.
For the most part Nocturne is an entertaining single player adventure title with sinister undertones. That it sometimes resorts to pistol slinging is something of a disappointment, but for a title of its originality and flair, such irritations can be forgiven.
9 / 10