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Dark Earth

Entry updated 2 April 2015. Tagged: Game.

Videogame (1997). Kalisto Entertainment. Designed by Guillaume Le Pennec, Sylvain Dousset, Frédéric Menne. Platforms: Win.

Dark Earth, an early example of the action Adventure form, is set on a sunless world, a future Earth shrouded in dust clouds thrown up by a catastrophic series of meteor impacts (see Ruined Earth). A few cities remain, huddled around mysterious gaps in the eternal clouds which allow light to fall, and surrounded by icy wastelands roamed by curiously altered beasts and alien monstrosities. The player character, a religious guardian in one such refuge, is unavoidably contaminated with a mutational toxin soon after the beginning of the game. This poison swiftly begins to transform him into a monster, a being physically distorted but gifted with strange new abilities. From this point on the character has only a short space of time in which to uncover a complex plot against his city and find an antidote to his condition before both he and his home are consumed by darkness. Ultimately, he must penetrate the secret at the heart of his world, the mystery which explains the life giving openings in Earth's shroud of dust.

Visually, the game benefits from a striking design which blends late medieval and Moorish influences; narratively, its construction is multilinear, with puzzles often based around interactions with other characters rather than with physical objects (see Interactive Narrative). Unfortunately, the use of fixed camera angles to display the game's three-dimensional environments can make controlling the main character awkward for the player. Nevertheless, Dark Earth succeeds as an original work of Science Fantasy, as a vision of a world which has entered both a literal and a metaphorical Dark Age, and as an opportunity for players to identify with a character who is undergoing a slow but apparently inexorable degeneration into a subhuman monster. There is in it, perhaps, something of William Hope Hodgson's despairing vision of The Night Land (1912).

Related works: The Dark Earth milieu was developed by Kalisto Entertainment in collaboration with a Role Playing Game company, Multisim, and an associated RPG was published in French: Dark Earth (1997 Multisim; rev 1999) designed by Benoit Attinost. [NT]

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