After Terminal Reality's extremely polished Rustin Parr offering only a couple of weeks ago, I had high hopes for the second in the series, The Legend of Coffin Rock, but after playing through the entire game in a solid afternoon I feel rather let down. Unlike its predecessor, Coffin Rock has been developed by Human Head Studios, a third party employed to help speed along production of the Blair Witch games. Unfortunately, the whole experience seems to suffer as a result, leaving a sour taste in your mouth. If you remember, Rustin Parr was lovingly termed an extension of Nocturne, the engine upon which the game was based. Like Nocturne, it used the mythical Spookhouse organisation, giving you control of a couple of central characters and asking you to investigate the original Blair Witch mystery. In Coffin Rock, the American Civil War has just ended, and you take on the role of a dazed and confused army veteran stumbling around the woods having lost your memory. A little girl named Robin Weaver finds you and takes you back to her Grandmother, who tends to your wounds and dubs you Lazarus. However instead of bidding a fond farewell to your newfound friends and starting a new life for yourself, you are pressed into helping locate young Robin, who has gone missing in the woods despite implicit instructions to stay away. Just before you set off to help find her, you suffer a flashback, which opens up a Pandora's box of spooky imagery from your life before. Picking up whatever weapons you can, you scurry off into the woods with the townspeople of Bukettsville.
And so the flashbacks continue as you progress through the game. Unfortunately for you the player though, the quality of the game rapidly slips downhill. Although I was a little disappointed not to find myself controlling the now-familiar Spookhouse fellows, the strong start to Coffin Rock had set a rather pleasant tone, but once you start playing the game in earnest, it becomes quite clear that it's little more than a puzzling romp through a forest. And it really is over in an instant. The problems start off quite small, with the way Lazarus' cape flaps around regardless of where he is as though some temporal wind were responsible, and they increase in their irritability until you come up against things like unsurpassable scenery and other easily rectifiable bugs. The scenery issue is presumably down to Human Head's unfamiliarity with the technology and occurs in several places where you find yourself stuck against a bush, but it's a little bug that could have been quashed effortlessly with a little more time. And with a little more time presumably the game could have been padded out a little more. Rather like Nocturne's four episodes, each of the individual Blair Witch games is very short in standard terms, and would have been so much better cobbled together into one volume rather than three separate ones..
The Great Outdoors
It becomes obvious fairly quickly that the flashbacks Lazarus experiences are used whenever the plot comes up against a dead end. So if you've been fighting monsters for a while (with your devilishly efficient military skills that you are supposed to have forgotten, ho-hum) and you see no further means of progression, the chances are you're about to keel over and experience another flash of your memory returning to you. Retrograde amnesia is unusual but the way in which your memories return to you has never been so timely! Occasionally there is the odd camera angle which proves a little difficult to get a good view from, and this is made all the more difficult with the rather clumsy collision detection I mentioned just now. I dare say if this were engine creators' Terminal Reality's game these little eccentricities would be ironed out, but it was not to be. Although Human Head seem to have suffered at the hands of the technology, they certainly know a thing or two about building up an atmosphere. The trees quiver as if alive to your presence (technically they probably are, mind) and the whole scene is dramatically decked out in shades of blue and grey. It's the eeriest incarnation of the Blair Witch woods yet seen as far as I'm concerned.
Of course, the atmosphere is created not only by the sights but also the sounds, and it's in this department that aside from some cheesy dialogue things are really impressive. The sound effects have been sampled brilliantly and have you treading gingerly by the time you hit the woods proper. By the time a monster of some description finally graces your screen you're already jumpy and nervous, and the clattering of stones and crunch of leaves as it leaps out is nothing compared to the yelp of fear as you leap out of your skin! The whole experience will be no stranger to Nocturne fans (note the pun, series followers!), but if you are a fan, it will also be overly in the flicker of an eyelid. In total, the Ł20 took five measly hours to complete from start to finish. The save anywhere option just makes things simpler, and if you use it as nervously as I did, it removes a little of the tension at those really exciting moments. The fact that the so-called puzzles barely impede your progress for a second doesn't help matters.
Although it looks like Rustin Parr and uses the same technology, there's none of the flair and precision of its big brother, and it's decidedly shorter, which isn't great since Rustin Parr was over too quickly to start with. If you enjoyed Nocturne and Rustin Parr and are just itching to get something along the same line it may suffice, but ultimately it's a flash in the pan. Lets hope the third Blair Witch title bares a little more fruit.