Dark Heritage: Guardians of Hope (Collector's Edition)
Year Published: 2012
Publisher: Artifex Mundi
Here is a game whose title seems to have been chosen at random, as it has no relation to the story, but then again, it's difficult to describe what exactly is going on here at all. It begins when an old college professor sends you a letter requesting your assistance (which is how a lot of hidden object games start). You follow his paper trail to Cannon Rock, a strange island that was once inhabited by the "Secret Order of the Rose", who protected the Philosopher's Stone, an artifact of great power. But a being called the "Dark Master" arrived on the island and destroyed much of it in search of the stone.
Understatement of the Year
What follows is typical modern HOG fare - you find items, use items, and occasionally solve a puzzle. What is not so typical is the strange story and weirdly depressing scenery. While most of the island is abandoned, there are still a few inhabitants, but I'm unsure if they are alive or just ghosts. They seem like ghosts who need you to solve a problem for them before they can pass on. They are represented by real people (I'm guessing they are members of the development team), and once you've completed their related tasks, they give you a piece of an amulet and vanish after some extreme closeups of their eyes. One of these characters is an old lady who still resides in a dilapidated house that is on the verge of falling off a cliff into the ocean. It is one of the most unnerving spectacles I've ever witnessed in a HOG.
The world of Dark Heritage is very dreamlike. The colors have a hazy appearance and a melancholy piano song loops for almost the entire game. There is a constant feeling that what you're seeing may possibly not be real. The destruction on Cannon Rock was caused by the Dark Master, but feels like it could just as easily have been from years of abandonment. There was a strange familiarty to it that I couldn't place, until I saw the derelict schoolhouse - it reminded me of photographs I've seen of Pripyat, the ghost town that was abandoned after the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant disaster.
Creepy ruined schoolhouse
I suspect translation problems may account for some of the ambiguities (developer World-Loom is a Polish company). I don't, for example, understand how the Dark Master is defeated by doing what you do when you reach him. There is a talking red-winged blackbird that follows you around and helps on occasion. Although he looks exactly as a male red-winged blackbird does in reality, he sounds like a crow. But I suppose blackbirds don't normally talk, either. What's even weirder is that the bonus chapter reveals more about this feathered oddity instead of, I dunno, revealing something about your own character. I wondered why I'm considered the "chosen one". Was I related to someone on the island? Is that what is meant by the title? I don't know. And the game never got a sequel.
Never trust a blackbird that sounds like a raven
Though I can't give Dark Heritage a really strong recommendation, if you enjoy this genre at all, you'll likely have fun doing the things you normally love doing in HOG's, despite it looking like depression personified. But the story is a series of anti-climaxes (when you see what the Philosopher's Stone is used for in the bonus chapter, you might shake your head and wonder why the Dark Master even wanted it since he already had enough power to destroy an island), and there is not much besides its surreal atmosphere to set it apart from its contemporaries.