Wednesday, 15 July 2020

Noctropolis (PC)

Noctropolis title screen
Developer:Flashpoint|Release Date:1994|Systems:DOS (EE version: Windows, Linux, macOS)

This week on Super Adventures, I'm playing my fourth PC game in a row! This one's from the mid 90s though, so I've escaped 2001 at least.

Noctropolis is an "adult graphic adventure", which is apparently a lot like a regular adventure, except a couple of hours in you get to see an actress's breasts for a few seconds. You won't find a screenshot of it here though, this site's safe for work (also I'll have stopped playing ages before then).

I own the game on Steam so that means I'm playing the Enhanced Edition released by Nightdive a few years back. It doesn't actually say that, it's listed in my game library as just 'Noctropolis', but it didn't boot up DOSBox when I started it so it must be the new version. Oh hang on, they mention it on the store page: "New Enhanced Edition for Steam!" So that's cleared that up.

Man, this music on the title screen sounds like it's going to break into a Batman theme at any moment. Not any particular Batman theme, just a Batman theme. That's probably a good sign, as the game's supposed to be going for a comic book tone. In fact they were originally going after a comic book licence, but they couldn't get hold of one and had to make up their own setting instead. They apparently tried to approach this problem from the other direction and get a comic book published based on the game, but their meeting with legendary artist Rob Liefeld at Image didn't lead to anything.

Before I start going through the game I feel like I should warn you that it gets a bit edgy at times. To put it bluntly, a main character gets raped off-screen and it's not dealt with all that tactfully.

It's kind of jarring seeing the modern Nightdive logo bolted on to the opening of a DOS game; it's obviously not from 1994.

Nightdive's thing is taking abandonware like this, updating it to run on modern systems, and then releasing it on platforms like Steam and GOG to trick me into buying it. They've done over 100 enhanced re-releases in the last eight years and Noctropolis is something like game #86. Somewhere around there.

They don't always manage to get the source code to the games but this time they did and were able to properly rebuild it. That means it's got support for modern resolutions, a remastered soundtrack, a new advanced options menu, plus they even fixed a few bugs and made it so you can't put yourself into an unwinnable situation. Other than that they haven't messed with it. It's not a HD remake with new backgrounds and redrawn sprites, and it definitely hasn't got new cutscenes.

I mean it's impossible to make a game look like this now.

The story begins with a voice saying "And so it begins" and the subtitles claim it's spoken by a man called 'Flux'. That's him in the middle, the shadowy figure with the cape on. He's broken a bunch of supervillains out of prison to carry out his sinister scheme, but they're not a chatty bunch so he's doing all the talking.

It seems they were all captured by a superhero called Darksheer, and if you believe that name's somehow more ridiculous than 'Captain America', 'Spider-Man' and 'The Flash', then you're absolutely right.

And now I'm suddenly this guy! He got no introduction, there was no cutscene, no narration, no hint at all to who he is or what he's doing here. I mean he seems to be standing in Gabriel Knight's book shop, but I don't think that he's him.

Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers (MS-DOS)
I mean, he's got a different shirt on.

Noctropolis came out maybe a year after Gabriel Knight, but you can tell just from the screenshots that it's made the jump to high resolution 640x400 SVGA graphics! I'm actually running it at a much higher resolution than that, because it's the future, but Nightdive have kindly kept the pixels clean for me so you can't tell at all.

You can also tell that I'm playing as a real digitised live-action person, Mortal Kombat-style! I'm sure lots of adventure games were doing this at the time as it was getting close to the peak of interactive movies, but I can barely think of any myself. Oh, Dark Seed and Phantasmagoria, there's two for you. Plus Toonstruck.

Note: I couldn't find the exact release date for Dark Seed and Noctropolis
Here, I've made a timeline chart for you. Turns out that LucasArts released their first CD-only SVGA game, Full Throttle, in 1995, so Noctropolis actually had them beat. I didn't have the room to fit Toonstruck on as well, but that would go just after Broken Sword...

Oh, sorry, I've gotten way off track here. In my defence, the game's given me nothing to do! I've got no objectives. Plus I can't even figure out how to move my character or get the menu up. I tried moving the mouse to the top of the screen, I tried pressing Escape and the F keys....

Ah there you go, it was right mouse button. Man that's an ugly box of verbs though.

Turns out that the game doesn't have any context sensitive commands, so if I want to look at something I have to switch to 'look' mode first. C'mon game, Monkey Island had this figured out and it was ancient by this point.

If I want to walk across the room on the other hand, then... I'm out of luck. The protagonist's just not interested in moving no matter where I click on the floor. Maybe I have to get him unglued from the rug first.

I can examine pretty much everything in the room, even the wooden trim, and the game's got plenty of descriptions to share, but none of it seems to be relevant to me right now. At least I've learned that I'm a book shop owner, so that's something! Okay, I'll check outside then.

Oh. The entirety of human creation and the awesome majesty of nature stretches out for countless hundreds of miles beyond that door, but sadly none of it's for me.

I'll try checking his office then.

Well the good news is I got my character to walk to the next room and I've even learned his name! The bad news is that Peter Grey is perpetually depressed and apathetic, so he has no idea what to do next either. All I can do is try using 'look', 'get', 'open', and 'move' on everything in here until I come across something that interests him.

It doesn't help there's no way to highlight all objects, and I can't even sweep the cursor across the screen because it doesn't change to tell me if I'm pointing at something!

Actually, no, I'm wrong there, the cursor does change. It just rarely has a reason to, because almost every pixel of background has a description attached to it. A 'highlight all' button would make the whole bloody screen light up.

Clicking everything revealed that he likes pin-ups of comic book heroines, he has a broken tape player, he uses a picture of his ex-wife as a target on his dartboard, and he's about to be evicted for not paying his bills. But I'm not seeing anything to do here.

Aha, I had to pick up the comic! Not the ones stacked up all over his room, the other comic.

And there actually is a full length authentically 90s comic book here for me to read, with everything but the ads in it. Well, apart from the speech bubbles. There's no voices for this bit either, so I'm really struggling to follow the story to be honest.

It seems like there are three heroes, and they've come to confront that shadowy hooded guy from the intro at a fun park. But then suddenly there's LOUD MIDI DRUMS, RIGHT IN MY EAR. Seems that the music changes every time I click 'next page', which is a nice touch... sometimes.

I'm a few pages in and it's entirely lost me now. I don't have the faintest idea what's going on here. It just page after page with absolutely no dialogue or text of any kind. Well, except for when it said "SNIKT" in that other screenshot. Snikt is all I've got.

It's starting to seem like the guy in the hood used to be the hero though. But he retired and walked out on his crime-fighting girlfriend, which she wasn't too happy about.

Wait, I can click on the panels to make dialogue boxes appear? Well that's bloody stupid!

At least I (accidentally) figured it out before I closed the comic, or else I would never have known. I suppose I could go back and read it from the start, but I don't really want to click on all the panels individually to be honest. Fortunately a scan of the printed comic is included with the game as Bonus Content and it comes complete with dialogue bubbles, no panel clicking required! (Though the layout of the dialogue bubbles is terrible.)

Turns out that the guy in the hood was actually the eponymous hero Darksheer, so that makes more sense. That was the final issue though, the comic's cancelled now. Peter will never get to "enjoy the novelty of a Darksheer adventure" again.

Suddenly an FMV woman in a nighty materialises from the TV and starts climbing all over him!

She pulls the straps down, revealing just a little more skin than I can show you on this site... then her eyes glow red and she reveals that she's a vampire! Fortunately it was all just a dream. OR WAS IT?

C'mon Peter, lets go outside in the sunlight, I need to check if you're a vampire now.

Turns out that Peter was saved by the door bell waking him up, so now I have to check who's there. Trouble is he refuses to open the door and looking at it isn't getting me anywhere either. Can I please play as someone else? I don't want to be Peter anymore!

I started going through all my options using trial and error (again) and it turns out that I had to 'talk' to the person at the door. Okay that was actually pretty obvious, I should've thought of that. I'll let the game have that one.

There's a suspiciously well-dressed kid out there with a mysterious package and she's speaking in rhyme. This is ringing all kinds of warning bells, but I'm in desperate need of an inciting incident and I'll take anything that'll get this plot moving.

Seems like this is going to be using FMV for its conversations. Works for me; sometimes clips of actors staring right at the camera in front of an obviously fake background is exactly what a game needs.

I've got dialogue options! I'll pick option 2, that seems mostly likely to get me a sensible answer. Let's see if this package has Peter's name on it.

Okay that's a riddle, not an answer. Plus she's rhyming again! Listen kid, either be a courier or a freestyle rapper, you can't do both.

I spent a while trying to figure this one out under the assumption that it was an actual puzzle... because I'm an idiot who forgot that the protagonist is called 'Grey'.

Next the courier told me that I need to present a 'ticket stub' to claim the present, so I guess I need to prove my identity somehow? I know, I'll get the unpaid bills that are lying around everywhere, they'll have his name on them!

Man, the dude is even getting warnings that he's behind on his comic book subscription payments. No wonder he's afraid to open the door, she could be from the comic company here to repossess his TV.

So how do I give her the papers then? If I click the 'use' button it opens the inventory, but when I click an item it says I can't use it here. Screw it, I'll check a walkthrough.

Oh. The walkthrough says that I need a literal ticket stub, because it turns out that Peter had entered a "I want to be Darksheer" sweepstakes. That's why he acted so clueless and confused when someone turned up to deliver his prize!

I gave the courier the ticket stub she wanted and she shoved the package through the letter box, letting it drop on the wooden floor. Should've just opened the door Peter.

Inside was a special edition issue of Darksheer that continues the story past the final issue. Hang on, this is the scene from the intro! Only this time Flux is wearing a red cloak instead of grey.

Flux sends his five super villains out into the city of Noctropolis to cause chaos. I didn't catch all their names, but I recognise Zatanna, Dr. Horrible and Emma Frost.

Without Darksheer around to save the day, Father Desmond goes to the city's #2 hero, Stiletto. But she's still broken up after Darksheer left her to retire from crime fighting, so she's no use. With no other options, the priest prays for the return of Darksheer! Honestly, I have to say that I liked the comic book interludes in Max Payne better, and not just because they had voice acting.

So now I know a bit more about the plot, but I still don't know what to do next. There were two tokens in the package, but other than that I've got nothing.

Okay, the walkthrough says 'use the silver token', so I'll try that.

Well that was... different.

A bit over-elaborate though. When the doors opened I was thinking 'oh good, the lift's finally here', then it zapped him straight in the throat!

The obelisk drops Peter off right in the middle of his favourite comic book city, Noctropolis! So either it's an alternate dimension that resembles the comic book, a magic realm inside the comic book, or Peter's just gone crazy. Though it'll be amazing if it turns out that he's only travelled about five meters to the right and ended up outside his own shop.

Man, look at that perspective! I'm not sure it actually technically works, but it works for me.

Plus this time I've actually been given a clue about what to do next! There's a guy nearby hawking newspapers and I'm not sure I would've ever noticed if the game didn't point him out.

C'mon Newsman, Peter's suffering enough from self-esteem issues as it is.

I got another set of dialogue options so I chose to ask him for more information. He's not willing to give it for free though so I'm going to have to trade something for it.

Hmm, unpaid bills maybe? Notices? A special edition comic book?

He accepted the comic book! In exchange I've gotten a newspaper and a chance to ask him about everything in this hex grid. In fact I can press 'more' a few times to get extra hexes to click on. Thankfully it's put a label underneath so I know what I'm pointing at for once in the game.

I didn't really learn anything here that I didn't already know from the comic book and I'm sure Peter knows this world inside out, but Newsman did point me towards Father Desmond at least. Apparently the Succubus is coming after him, so I might as well head over there and see if I can save him from a supervillain.

Unfortunately the game's not letting me leave this part of the city. I tried clicking every street and door, but the only building Peter will go to is the Hall of Records and there's nothing in there but giant naked statues.

Ah, I forgot about the 'travel' option in the menu!

There's a nice big image of the city for you. Hey I recognise this from the final page of that comic earlier. The backgrounds in the game were all painted in acrylic or oil, or airbrushed, so someone had to paint in all those 7 million windows by hand.

Okay, I've got three possible destinations here, but Father Desmond is hiding out in the cathedral, so I'll go there first. It's up at the top, marked with the cross icon.

The cathedral's being guarded by a cartoon gargoyle! I like how its wings light up as it flies over the fire, that's a nice touch. I like the purple outline as well, it makes it look like it's out of a GBA Castlevania game. If only I had a whip, then I could go over there and sort it out no problem.

There's a kid on the wall to the right, so I talked to him and he revealed that no one's been able to get past the gargoyle so far. So that's not a good sign. Also the game has started giving Peter the option to say "I'm the new Darksheer" during conversations and I think that's the biggest clue yet that he's gone absolutely insane. Dude, you won a sweepstakes, you're not a highly-trained vigilante.

Look, I'll prove it. Let's go walk into the cathedral and see what happens.

Damn, I wasn't expecting him to actually die! I thought that he'd run away screaming or something. It's been ages since I've played an adventure game that can kill you off. I mean other than Full Throttle.

So do I need gargoyle repellent then? Or do you think that newspaper I picked up will be enough to protect me if I stick it on my head?

I checked the walkthrough and it said 'pick up the coil of wire'. Uh... what coil of wire?

Oh there it is! Can you see it, down by the 'look' cursor on the bottom left? Don't ask why there's wire there, there just is.

I spied the access panel in the bottom of the right-hand pillar all by myself and got it opened up. Then I 'use'd the wire from my inventory and Peter automatically connected it to the power. Now I've got a live power cable. Awesome, going well so far... but I have no idea what to do next. He won't interact with the cable or give me any clues about what I need to make this plan work.

The walkthrough would know, but I'm going to at least try to work these puzzles out myself before throwing in the towel, so I'm going to check out the other two locations on the map first. Maybe there's some items I'm missing.

I guess I'm not getting inside the Sunspire Tower construction site.

The guard wasn't impressed when I told him I was a building inspector, and he wouldn't accept a bribe of a newspaper or a pile of unpaid bills. Hey it was worth a try, I've gotten rid of guards with a newspaper before! Fate of Atlantis, there's a game where newspaper bribery works.

I wish I was playing Fate of Atlantis right now.

Alright, the only other place I haven't tried yet is Cygnus Construction HQ. I wonder if they have anything to do with Cygnus Comics, publishers of Darksheer.

I don't think there's anything to do out here, it's just a pretty background to establish the exterior, but I have to look at everything just in case. Like maybe the manhole cover comes off, or perhaps there's a key hidden in the blue flame.

Oh, turns out it's a fountain! See, I wouldn't have known that if I hadn't examined it.

I feel like the person writing the descriptions was the one having the most fun on this game. There's a description for everything, and most of it seems to be entirely irrelevant!

That gargoyle seems to be enjoying himself as well, as he's been perching on my text boxes ever since I arrived in Noctropolis. I had to cut him off most of these ones as the image would've looked a real mess otherwise.

Hey, it's an elevator passcard, hiding in plain sight by being a tiny blue mark on the floor. Another item for my stash. You think the construction site guard might take this as a bribe?

I decided that while I was here I might as well use the passcard to see where the elevator goes, but it seems that I need clearance from the secretary as well. So I'll have to speak to her and be very careful about what options I pick when she asks me if I need anything.

Peter, mate, just... no.

Though I am tempted to pick option 2 to see if she zaps him dead with energy beams like the cathedral gargoyle.

I've played a lot of games which give you a choice of good and evil dialogue options, BioWare RPGs in particular, but here it feels like the bad options are saying something about who Pete is as a person. He has far less character than someone like Guybrush Threepwood, George Stobbart or Gabriel Knight, so I have to take all the clues I can get.

Alright walkthrough, I give up, tell me how to get into the catherdral.

It turns out that I was supposed to examine one of these fences. A message comes up mentioning that one of the spars might be loose, and that's your clue that you need to snap one of them off. But you can't tell the loose one by just looking at the art, you need to 'look' at them with the mouse, one by one. On both sides. That's 15 clicks if you're unlucky! 

Right, now I have a fence spike and a live wire to connect it to, time to do something ridiculous!

Honestly, I haven't seen enough gargoyles being electrocuted in real life to judge the authenticity of that explosion.

Though this is a bit nitpicky, but why did the live power cable kill the gargoyle, which was sitting on stone, and not the idiot holding the metal bar to begin with?

Anyway I tried to pocket the still smouldering gargoyle head, but Peter did not dare, so I headed into the cathedral. Wait, why am I even doing this again? Oh right, we're saving Father Desmond from the Succubus.

Okay, we've learned two things about Peter here. First he's fairly religious, second he was totally thinking about stealing that floor cushion anyway. He would've taken some holy water as well if he had anything to carry it in.

This is a bloody sinister looking cathedral by the way, and pretty empty too. There's no sign of Father Desmond anywhere. Though there is a confessional booth for me to investigate.

The confessional is similarly sinister, but it has given me a chance to have a direct face to face conversation with Father Desmond!

I decided to be straightforward and honest with him. Desmond is one of the most heroic people in this city, leader of a gang of child vigilantes... okay it doesn't sound so heroic when I put it like that. The point I'm trying to make here is that he's a good man and someone I can trust.

Well this escalated quickly.

I got another opportunity to say that I'm the new Darksheer, but I ignored it and told him that if he pulls the trigger he'll ice the guy who knocked off the gargoyle that's been tormenting him for days.

Bloody hell, he just gunned Peter down!

Right, okay, I'll just let the walkthrough pick the dialogue options from now on then, seeing as I clearly can't be trusted. I could Groundhog Day it and figure out the correct choices through trial and error, but it'll be much faster if I don't.

The game kicked me back to the intro again, so I reloaded and this time picked all the right choices. Desmond was so impressed that he suggested that I should be the next Darksheer and gave me a bone! It was apparently part of the spell the Succubus used to animate the gargoyle, or something. I also got the familiar hex grid of people and objects to ask him about, so now I know a little bit more about Darksheer's suit and secret lair. Plus I've learned the Succubus was a nun who got possessed by a displaced demon during one of Desmond's exorcisms.

I'm a bit stuck though as I don't know what to do next. Father Desmond was supposed to point me to my next lead but all I got was exposition and a bone. Though Stilletto's apartment has been added to the map, I'll try there.

I really like these FMV clips used during conversations. The acting isn't exactly A grade (though Desmond was good), and they don't match the painted backgrounds at all, but they suit the campy tone. Plus this technology was still pretty new, and the developers had to come up with the video capture and chromakey software from scratch on their own, so the game turned out pretty well considering.

I successfully resisted the urge to tell Stilletto she looked like shit, and the conversation went pretty well I reckon. I mean she slammed the door in Peter's face, but that's a definite step up from being shot. Plus Peter actually got to meet his hero! (He's got pictures of her up in his office and it's obvious he's got a thing for her.)

Alright, the walkthrough says that I need to go to the Hall of Records and talk to the clerk about the bone. But I've already been there, it's empty. Nothing in there but giant naked statues.

Wait, hang on, is this silhouette under the TV screen supposed to be a clerk? I've zoomed in and cropped the image so you've got a better chance of seeing him.

The clerk told me exactly who the bone belongs to, somehow, and also where I can find more bones!

Though hang on a minute, I'm going to check the hint book that came with the game first because I'm dying to know how it's possible to drop a subtle hint that I need take a man's jaw to the Hall of Records without saying it outright.

Oh. Well, okay that makes it seem almost reasonable. Anyway time to head to the Mausoleum!

Huh, it's not marked on the map yet? Time to go back and talk to the clerk about everything in the hex grid and then head to the Mausoleum!

Getting inside wasn't too much trouble, but now I need to figure out how to... uh... why am I even here anyway?

All I know is that there's a coffin here that's due to be moved someplace else and I can't open it without a key. But I must get it open! It's the only thing I can do. Fine, I give up, I'm the worst at adventure games, I'm checking the walkthrough again.

Oh I was supposed to push one of the corpses to reveal the key. Well I suppose that does make some sense, if I was supposed to assume that the key was still in here and hidden somewhere convenient. Plus I'm supposed to be using the empty coffin to sneak into the crypt. Because no one's going to notice that the wrong person is inside, and I can lie here for days if necessary.

My genius detective skills have led me right to the Succubus' lair, but Peter has failed to consider that she's a powerful supervillain who can completely dominate men's minds. She overpowers him effortlessly and he wakes up alone with two puncture wounds on his neck and an 8 minute countdown.

Right, now I'm stuck in a sealed crypt and my only clue is that there's some lace under the altar that I can't get lose. I tried thinking it through logically, then I tried clicking on everything with every different verb, then I gave up and checked the walkthrough, like I do with every puzzle.

Turns out I somehow managed to skip clicking 'move' on the statue back there, which opens up the secret passage under the altar (the clue was the lace).

Next I found myself in the Succubus' bedroom, with a bed, a cherub holding a spear, and some metal bars that needed to be prised loose.

I have to be honest, I accidentally read 'pick up the spear' when I was looking at the walkthrough earlier, but I figured out I had to use it on those bars all by myself! Not that it matters, as all I needed to do was 'use' the spear in my inventory and Peter handled the rest all by himself.

I raced back to the cathedral to save Desmond from the Succubus (because if she wasn't in her lair she was likely over here) and immediately got stuck again. Plus that timer's still ticking down.

The walkthrough basically says:
  • Move the pillow (in front of altar) and get the detonator.
  • Get the middle statue (in front of altar).
  • Get the chalice (on altar).
  • Get some holy water (upper right).
I moved the pillow but I don't see a detonator or a chalice! Man, even when I'm following a bloody step by step walkthrough I'm still getting stuck. What the fuck is up with this game?

Well at least now I know what happens when you run out of time. Poison eats your brain.

Alright, I'm going to read that last section of the walkthrough again, every step since I entered the Mausoleum, and figure out what I did wrong. Assuming that I even did anything wrong.

Okay, here's what I didn't do: there's a book in the Succubus' bedroom I was supposed to read, hidden under her pillow. There's no hint that it's there and you don't need to read it to escape, but if you don't find it then the items in the cathedral won't appear later.

Yay I did it right this time! All necessary items have appeared!

But this is where the game gets edgy, as the Succubus' book revealed that she knocked Peter unconscious and slept with him to get pregnant so she could possess his baby. Peter is understandably a bit freaked out by this and tells Father Desmond exactly what happened.

Father Desmond basically dismisses it, saying "Don't dwell on it, my son". And that's the end of it. It's apparently no big deal.

I deactivated the Succubus' bomb in the altar and she decided to switch to plan B, dropping by to kill Desmond personally. Gotta admit, he's not my favourite character in the game right now, but I like the actor's performance so I'll have to try to save him. After this next cutscene's finished.

I'll apologise in advance for this GIF because I've edited out the video clip of the Succubus talking and the bit where I had to click in my inventory to save the day. It's not 100% authentic is what I'm saying.

Succubus' walk cycle is amazing. I don't know why the director ended up going with that choice, but it really helps add to the feeling that we're sitting in a theatre watching a terrible play.

They're doing a bit of audience interaction though, so I need to step in to throw a chalice full of holy water at the right moment. She's not actually a vampire, but it works on demons too, it's fine. Of course if she was a vampire, then killing her might have done something to that timer that's still ticking at the bottom of the screen. Hey I wonder if Pete can die of poison in a cutscene.

The Succubus' true form is revealed... and it's Litil Divil?

It's a bit weird watching a live action character fall over in front of a painted background while a cartoon demon escapes her body, but the animation's pretty decent! Shame they didn't have the candles flickering in the foreground, but it's keeping the GIF's filesize down so I shouldn't complain.

So Peter has defeated the first supervillain by heroically throwing his drink over her. But the really surprising thing is that the nun who was possessed has survived all this and is going to be okay! No one mentions or cares about the fact that she was basically raped as well and is now pregnant with Peter's kid.

To be fair they're a little distracted by Peter keeling over because of the poison eating his brain.

Peter wakes up to find that Stiletto has dragged him all the way to Darksheer's own Lazarus Pit: a pool of Liquidark, and he's fully healed! Then she starts kicking the crap out of him to test his qualifications.

I picked the dialogue responses with 'ACTION' on them to see how badly he'd get his ass handed to him, but somehow he managed to fight back and hold his own, which comes as a massive surprise as me (the fact that he also yelled "You bitch!" came as less of a surprise). Does Pete have some special forces training he's been keeping quiet about or something.

After trading a few blows I told her that there had to be a better way to settle this, and she said yes and walked out. I feel like I've screwed everything up again, but I'm not sure what I did wrong!

Okay, here's what the walkthrough says I should've done to keep her around as a sidekick:

Turns out that Response 2 is the way to go!

James Bond I could buy it, Indiana Jones maybe, but this guy? No.

I mean I can totally believe he'd try something, especially seeing as he's got her poster on his wall, but I don't buy that he beat the city's #1 vigilante in a fair fight and I don't buy that she's immediately fallen for him as well. Unless she's still very, very drunk.

For correctly choosing to kiss her I was rewarded with the hex grid of topics to ask about again. Then I used 'move' on all the columns in the background until I found the two that contained Darksheer's superhero gear.


No training necessary, I'm totally ready to be the city's new hero right now.

Here's one last pretty picture before I turn the game off.

I don't know why we're here. I think some relative of the guy the jawbone came from lives here maybe? Nothing to do with me anymore, I'm clicking 'quit'.

Though actually first I have to know, what does happen if you leave that fight between Stiletto and the Succubus in the cathedral going until the poison timer runs out?

Bloody hell...


I read somewhere that the developers had to create a lot of the technology used to make Noctropolis from scratch, and I can believe it. Not because the FMV is substandard for its time, in fact it's pretty decent, but because the whole game feels like it was made by talented people who'd heard someone describe what an adventure game was and then decided to try to make their own. The interface is full of annoyances that were solved years before it came out, the storytelling is amateurish, and the puzzle design is bloody terrible... I think. You've seen what they've been like so far, you can make up your own mind.

Part of the problem with the puzzles is that the game seems really reluctant to nudge you towards the correct solution or even tell you what your goals are. Like at the start, where I just appeared in a shop with no objective, no motivation, and nothing cleverly leading me to notice the one object in the room I needed to interact with. It doesn't go out of its way to make items stand out from the background either, so even when I was reading a walkthrough (which was often/always) it still took me a while to find the ticket stub I needed, or the power cable, or the Hall of Records clerk. On the other hand, once you've got an item you don't need to work out what to do with it. Just travel to the right location, click 'use', and Peter will automatically solve the puzzle for you!

Plus I noticed that after a certain point the solution was usually "click 'move' on every bit of innocuous scenery in the background until something happens".
  • Move the dead body to find the hidden coffin key.
  • Move the statue in the background to open the secret passage.
  • Move the pillow to get the book you didn't know about.
  • Move the other pillow to find the hidden detonator.
  • Move the column to find Darksheer's crime fighting gear.
  • Move a second column to find the rest of the gear.
On the plus side, if you want beautiful painted backgrounds, moody music, and every inch of scenery to have a description attached, then the game has a lot going for it. Even better if you like low-budget videos with low-budget acting. That's what drew me to the game in the first place to be honest and I wasn't disappointed. There's lots of people talking directly to the camera in this and I was tempted to keep playing just to see what insane thing happened next. It's just a shame that the story is almost as bad as the gameplay.

At first it seemed like there was going to be some depth to it, with a heartbroken and depressed comic book fan getting lost in his favourite fantasy as his real life falls to pieces. It's got that Total Recall thing going on where you can't be sure if any of it's actually happening or if it's all just a delusion. But I eventually began to figure out that it's missing the part where the protagonist ever questions his reality. It could've also gone a bit Last Action Hero and had the hero commenting on the tropes of the genre, but it's not interested in that either. Basically what I'm saying is that Noctropolis gives you less to think about than the average Arnold Schwarzenegger movie... except for maybe Batman and Robin. And that movie at least tried to give its characters more than one dimension! The game's more Pumaman than Batman to honest.

The longer I played Noctropolis the more obvious it became that the shallow wish-fulfilment hero-fantasy that Peter's ended up in is entirely as it seems; there's no twist coming. I get the sense that it was made by people with a sense of humour who were having fun with it, but the story's bad 90s comic book trash and from what I've seen it gets worse from here! It dials the fantasy up to 11 by the end and not in a good way, as you have to sit through an exposition dump about elementals and the purified quintessence of darkness itself, or whatever.

So I can't recommend playing the game yourself, but maybe it'd be worth watching a longplay? It's under three hours long if you're not getting stuck on puzzles, so it won't take your whole evening if you want to see how far this rabbit hole goes. Or if you want to see a character go topless for a scene and the hilarious way that Peter murders a dog. Man, I was all set to sympathise with the poor guy at the start, but Peter's just a dick.

If you want to play a mid-90s adventure game about a real person getting stuck in an imaginary world I'd suggest Toonstruck instead. It's not perfect, but it's got much better writing and it at least it tells you what you're supposed to be doing sometimes. And if you absolutely need it to be a comic book world you're sucked into, there's always Comix Zone. Sure it's an entirely different genre and the difficulty is a bit of a bastard, but the music's great!

Thanks for reading!

If you want to talk about Noctropolis or my website, or take a guess at what the next game is, you've got two options! You can leave a comment in the comment box below, or you can visit the brand new Discord server:

It's been around a couple of weeks now so you're leaving it a bit late to be an early adopter, but I think you'll still get away with telling people that you were there from the start if you join right now.


  1. Oh, Landstalker's next. Nice!

    "Can I please play as someone else? I don't want to be Peter anymore! "

    Yes,you get this feeling early on when playing this game, and sadly it never leaves you All the way. Peter sucks as a Hero (and as a protagonist as well).

    Noctropolis was one of those games that I wanted to like more than I actually did. I liked the atmosphere the style and (most of) the writing, but gameplay-wise it was a pixelbitching nightmare and the story is messy. I Kind of see what the designers wanted to accomplish with a protagonist like Peter (Peter is more or less a regular guy who wished He was a superhero, and while he gets his wish, he is also way in over his head)... But playing him struggle just isn't very fun, you never really get the feeling that you've accomplished anything. Which might be realistic, in a way, but that doesn‘t gel well with the otherwise campy (yet still painfukly 90s 'edgy') comic Book style. (And don't get me started on how the writers treat Stiletto, with her bring a badass vigilante one second and a helpless Girl the other, among other... issues.)
    The artwork's pretty nice though

  2. Next game is Alundra!

    I joke, it's Landstalker, a completely different Zelda clone with a big-shoed, pointy-eared protagonist.

    That comic is very 90s indeed. Lots of grimacing and teeth. And "Darksheer" is top 90s grim and gritty nonsense. I am reminded of the Batman/Wolverine amalgam published by, um, Amalgam: Dark Claw!

    It is about weird that when the protagonist enters the comic, everyone is rendered in video rather than a comic style, but I suppose it wouldn't be much of a showcase of the technology if they abandoned it after the first scene.

  3. It's difficult to express how completely awful Noctropolis is. I want to write it's the worst thing ever, but somehow, after hearing that Ray was going to play it, I played it to the end, which puts it above many other games.

    The Adventures of Peter Grey, International Man of Misery:

    Peter's motivations make absolutely no sense, and don't match up with the player's experiences and knowledge. Peter and the player are working off two completely different sets of information.

    You rarely if ever get to experience Peter's emotional state as well. Unless he's suddenly dying of something (which is often), Peter has no spontaneous reactions to anything and has no personality of his own. He doesn't talk to the player and the dialogue options are all over the place.

    You could put Peter from Noctropolis and Simon from Simon the Sorceror side by side - they're both ordinary people who get sucked into different worlds who must save the day. Simon reacts to things, has his own life, and is surrounded by objectives and clues. Peter just materialises in the city (sorry, 'steps out of the portal' according to the text) and that's that. He doesn't even react when the newspaperman tells him the terrible truth that the concept of comic books doesn't exist in Noctropolis! And then Peter doesn't object or whine or have any kind of conflict about the idea of giving up the hyper-rare, one of a kind post-final issue of Darksheer that only he owns. He might be too giddy about being a part of the comics he loves, but there's no way to know.

    You'd think a comic book character would be able to express their thoughts either in a broody monologuey way, or in a more explicit comic book corner caption way? Is that too obvious?

    Maybe we're supposed to be inserting ourselves into Grey and choosing dialogue options like we're in a role-playing game. You'd end up with something like Mass Effect, where you get to pick an approach, and the plot will shoot along to a conclusion regardless. Noctropolis' approach is to just kill you if you say something it doesn't like. (Which takes you back to the start, rather than the most recent saved game. What is this, Darkseed?)

    Guybrush talks to the player all the time, Rif of the Fox Tribe from Inherit the Earth has Okk and Eahh to talk to, Rob from Beneath a Steel Sky talks to the player and Joey. The only exposure to Peter's personality is his reactions to failing to interact with objects, and talking to other people where he has a weird personality that lurches into extreme pointless lies or lechery from zero-200 mph.

    He'll harass women, he'll claim to be Darksheer despite having absolutely no reason to believe that he is. I thought that was a joke at first, but it wasn't funny. Later on, when he actually becomes Darksheer, nothing changes whatsoever.

    Something that frustrated me is that the game spends absolutely no time establishing Darksheer as a concept or what kind of life the previous Darksheer led. You get told about the origin of the role, but what exactly did he -do-? I seemed to be more interested in the persona than the game was. I kept expecting to be told or shown something about how Darksheer would normally operate, but the actions and reputation of the previous Darksheer are something that the game doesn't want to go into. There's no crime board in the Shadowlair with Darksheer's previous cases. There's no Darkcomputer filled with the history of the badguys for you to read up on.

    The conversation with Davey at the start at the cathedral is annoying because there are multiple independent topics you can pursue but he leaves after you finish one of them and you have to reload to hear the others. He's one of the few people with any interesting background information about the setting and you never gain his confidence so to ask him about hex topics. Also the hex topics menu is confusing and sucks.

    1. This game is about Peter-as-Darksheer, except he doesn't do anything remotely heroic in this game.

      You're not slowly gathering a selection of improvised tools to become an adventure game detective comic book hero capable of opening more and more different types of things or defeating different types of antagonists. Most of the notes I have for this game begin with 'for some reason'. You're finding and inexplicably discarding things. It's just weird adventure game bullshit.

      You can't use any cool hero moves or gadgets. That's a lie, you get Darksheer's signature tools: the Liquidark Grenade (singular) and the Noctoglyph, which you use once each in the whole game, and never at the point where you think they'd be of most use (despite being explicitly reminded that they recharge as if you could use them at multiple points). Ray mentioned that you don't have to move Peter around the screen to interact with objects on screen, which is true except for -one specific screen- where you have to manually avoid moving searchlights in a tiny room with an awkward camera angle. If you get seen, game over. The ability to become invisible momentarily, or a device that makes the room temporarily dark would have been really, really handy there, don't you think?

      When you get the Shadeskin and read the books on the origin of Darksheer, you find out that one of Darksheer's innate powers is to become 'invisible in dark environments'. Hell of a power there, dude. Not at all anything to do with just wearing black in a city with no sun.

      You only get to see Peter with Darksheer's hood up in the ending credits image. All the rest of the game he looks like a damn idiot dressing up as Darksheer. But that's fine, because that's how every other character seems to see him too.

      The major change in becoming Darksheer is that now Stiletto follows you around and does absolutely nothing of use or interest despite having the most on-screen time, the most FMV time, and the worst acting of all time. She doesn't quip off you, solve puzzles for you or sit there admiring Peter while he does detective type things by himself. She is the anti-sidekick. The non-reflecting foil. The dull side, if you like.

      You steal a whole bunch of stuff for no reason.

      You (rot13 gevpx n qbt vagb whzcvat qbja n 150 fgbel fgnvejryy.)

      You (rot13 snvy gb pngpu guerr ivyynvaf). Do you even rescue all the people that Tophat captures?

      Say, how does Peter get around Noctropolis anyway? He doesn't own a car, has absolutely no money...

  4. The most dangerous character in the game -by far- is Father Desmond, who is the only character that just shoots you.

    The most sympathetic character, also Father Desmond, disappears for no reason when he'd be the obvious source of advice throughout the game. Speaking of advice, the obvious move would've been to make one of the comic books a sort of hint system. Or maybe that would make the player too dependent on it?

    The imagination of the puzzle designer is so lacking that you have to dismantle two different fences to get two different spiked iron rods to do two different things and the items aren't interchangeable. You also end up with a THIRD spiked iron rod from a statue. Later on you find a completely unrelated gigantic dental pick making the number of un-interchangeable spiked rods Peter acquires up to four, three of which are used as crowbars. It must have killed them to make the row of spears in the opera house unusable. Later, you're confronted with a truck full of hand-held gardening tools that Peter 'can't see a use for' but accepts the idea to take garden seeds and growth solution instead. You use two different tools to cut glass since the actual glass cutter, which you have to go to great lengths to steal from a location completely unrelated to the puzzle at hand, disappears for some reason.

    Surprisingly, the game attempts a payoff to the adventure game bullshit and deathtraps, but it lost me after about twenty words. The final bad guy's scheme is pretty comic book, as far as my experience of comic books go: it's a load of wacky, metaphysical bullshit. I have a gut feeling that it would be at home in something like Witchblade maybe?

    I'm not saying that Noctropolis sucks because it doesn't do things the way I want them done, but the way I want them done sounds pretty cool and the game doesn't do it like that.

    The 'fighting' scene between Peter-as-Darksheer and Stiletto is incredible. Because it looks awful and Peter is a depressed bookshop owner who nearly died of vampire poisioning, I kept expecting the fight options to be a hilarious joke, but no, it was just weird and gross. It should've been obvious to me by that point what kind of mood the game has.

    Also Flux is clearly a Weaver from Loom - and not to be mixed up with Flux Wildly from Toonstruck.

    1. Wow. I came for the review, stayed for the bonus extra-negative guest review.

    2. :)

      Noctropolis deserves it. It is bewildering.

  5. “the hilarious way that Peter murders a dog”

    Jesus, really?

    1. Right at the end of the game, Peter and Stiletto have to get past an angry dog to get into the final room. The solution isn't violent in the 'attack dog with crowbar' sense, but that dog is almost certainly dead or at least in a lot of pain. (rot13: Lbh qnatyr n fnhfntr sebz gur prvyvat ba n ebcr. Gur qbt whzcf ng vg, zvffrf, naq snyyf qbja gur zvqqyr bs na vapbzcyrgr 150-fgberl fgnvejryy, tbvat 'ubbbbbbbbbjy' nf vg snyyf.)

    2. I guess I shouldn’t be shocked. This game seems super bizarre.

    3. Imagine if Night Dive had tweaked the puzzle so that you had to cover the sausage in cat hair before the dog would go for it.

      It would have transformed Noctropolis into a postmodern commentary on the state of interactive fiction in the 1990s.

      Imagine also if they had tweaked it so that the puzzle only worked if you dangled the sausage between the hours of 21:00-22:00, and if you missed that time window you died. That would have been awesome.

      No, no. Imagine if you got the hair from the cat about half-an-hour into the game, but *only* if you were in the right location at exactly the right time, and you didn't realise until six hours later that the game was unwinnable without the cat hair. Imagine that.

    4. But... I don't want to imagine any of those things! There's a reason I haven't played any Space Quest or King's Quest games yet.


Semi-Random Game Box