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Throwback Thursday: Veil of Darkness

Throwback Thursday: Veil of Darkness

Throwback Thursday: Veil of Darkness


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Editor’s note: This review was originally posted June 5, 1993

Veil of Darkness presents some difficulties for a reviewer: it is almost impossible to classify. At first sight it looks like an RPG (not surprising because SSI is famous for its AD&D-based RPGs) but after awhile it starts feeling a lot more like an adventure. But what really matters in the end is that Veil of Darkness is a neat game.

The story starts with a young pilot flying his small cargo plane over an almost forgotten valley in the Carpathian mountains – in case you don’t know that is in Romania, the country famous for Count Dracula. And sure enough, in some dark castle there is a sinister figure watching the plane with obviously ill intent. Suddenly the plane’s controls go wild and the pilot has to fight hard to keep the plane under control. Not very happy with this failure, the dark figure launches another assault: an army of huge black kamikaze bats. The bats break the plane’s windshield and engines and the aircraft plunges towards the earth. Incredibly, the pilot survives the crash and manages to crawl out of the plane before losing consciousness. After a while two people come and carry the passed out ex-aircraft owner off to a nearby village.

When the actual game starts, you are in the role of the handsome young pilot (what a surprise). You just regained consciousness and when you vision focuses, you find yourself looking at the face of a very pretty young woman. She tells you (in perfect English nonetheless!) that you are now safe and that her father would like to talk to you. And she asks what your name is – you can name your character whatever you want. You also get to choose between three combat difficulty levels – pick the easy level if you don’t want to have any trouble winning fights.

At this point the game looks like an RPG. The world is shown in isometric view similar to that employed in some of the greatest RPGs like Ultima VII or Fallout. Your character has an inventory and you can equip items. The amount of stuff you can carry is limited by its weight – if it’s over limit you will move (and fight) slower. You also have hit points – from 100 to 300 depending on combat difficulty level.

After a while of playing however it becomes obvious that the RPG element isn’t all that strong. You can equip items but there are just weapons, no armor or anything else. You have a number of hit points but the maximum never changes. You don’t get any experience and can’t gain any levels. And for me at least, gaining levels and experience and improving the player character is what makes RPG an RPG.

But back to Veil of Darkness. You explore the nameless village (it’s rather small) and soon find out that all is not well. In fact, a number of things is wrong – murders, mysterious illnesses, strange deaths, unexplained disappearances, vicious monsters… and there seems to be some sort of curse (or veil of darkness in other words) hanging over the entire valley. The place is clearly in dire need of a hero.

It turns out that the valley is suffering under the rule of Kairn, a powerful vampire who lived in 17th century (it is unclear when the game is actually taking place – it could be 1930’s). He used to be human noble – son of a local lord – but he killed his father and all his brothers in a plot to gain power. He is incredibly corrupt and evil and commands a sizable army of undead. Every inhabitant of the valley is trembling in fear of Kairn and won’t even think of taking any action against him.

But there is also a very old prophecy. This prophecy talks about a hero who shall “descend from the sky on a bird of steel” – could that be you and your plane? (What a silly question. Of course!) The prophecy contains a long list of wrongs that the hero must right before lifting the curse. Being a rational young man you of course dismiss the prophecy but gradually have to accept it (how predictable). The prophecy becomes your to-do list and after accomplishing certain tasks, relevant parts of the prophecy will fade out, letting you concentrate on the tasks at hand. I don’t need to tell you how it will end because it’s pretty obvious. Kairn’s life expectancy was dramatically lowered when he made your plane crash.

I will now examine the gameplay of Veil of Darkness. Because the game is not quite an RPG as I explained above, the interface is fairly simple and does not require a degree in rocket science like some RPGs. There is no character development whatsoever which is in fact a little disappointing: playing at the hardest level the battles become unpleasantly difficult towards the end of the game and it is far easier to simply run away from the monsters rather than killing them – you get no experience for killing monsters anyway and except for a few rare cases there is no benefit in dispatching enemies instead of just avoiding them.

Apropos battles – they’re real-time and you can’t do much in the way of controlling your character. You simply click on the weapon(s) you have equipped and your alter ego will automatically attack the nearest opponent. There is a twist to it however: you find a number of weapons in the game but most of them are only effective against particular enemies. For instance ghosts can only be attacked with a silver sword or skeletons with an old mace (this took me a while to figure out). And of course the best weapon against vampires is holy water. Only unsophisticated enemies such as wolves or bats can be bashed with just about anything.

The combat is strongly affected by the difficulty setting. Not only are the maximum HPs very different but also the weapon effectiveness varies greatly – on the easiest level the weapons are four times as powerful as on the hardest. So while on the easy level most of the battles are a breeze and the monsters never stand a real chance, at the most difficult setting you have to constantly watch your health and be prepared to run away when overwhelmed.

Many monsters not only cause physical harm but can affect your character in various other ways – illness, weakness and worse. There are cures against each of these afflictions, most often in the form of herbs that you can find in the wilderness. There are healing potions to restore your hit points as well – but the easier way is to visit a healer. 

That is fortunately not a problem because in Veil of Darkness there is a very easy way to travel from one place to another. You get a map of the cursed valley which will be initially almost empty (showing only the village you’re currently in) but will get much more densely populated later. You can travel to any place on the map by simply clicking on it – I really wish every adventure game included an easy travel mode like this. The only catch is that there are several mazes in the game; while inside the maze, the map of the valley is replaced with map of that particular labyrinth and you will not be able to travel outside – a bit annoying but I suppose otherwise the maze would be pointless. Fortunately there is only one large maze in the game (plus several smaller ones).

Talking to inhabitants of the valley is a somewhat unusual procedure. Whenever you speak with a person, certain words they say will be underlined, hypertext-style. You can either click on the “link” immediately or finish the section of the dialog and be presented with a list of topics. In addition to that, it is possible – and sometimes necessary – to type in words or names directly to ask about them. Fortunately it is almost always fairly obvious what you should type in.

That said, the game is not always easy. One of the signs that Veil of Darkness is more an adventure game than anything else is that you can get stuck relatively easily if you miss some vital clue. The overall difficulty is not extremely high but because the game is very nonlinear and you can finish most of the quests in virtually any order, you need to keep track of many things at the same time.

Another tip-off to the true genre of Veil of Darkness is that it doesn’t take too long to win the game once you know what to do. It only takes some five hours to finish – but that’s the second time. The first time it’ll take substantially longer.

Before I forget I’ll briefly describe the game’s artwork. Veil of Darkness runs in the classic VGA resolution of 320×200 with 256 colors, although parts of the game (the map and some animations) run in nonstandard higher resolution mode, probably 320×400. But naturally low resolution is nothing surprising in a game released in the first half of 1993. The sound is likewise not very stunning – no voiceovers (naturally – this is a floppy game) and in fact no digitized sounds at all, just AdLib (or possibly Roland LAPC-1) music.

On the whole, I liked Veil of Darkness. The game is not technically brilliant – but that’s not what makes a great game anyway. It is easy to play and more importantly, fun to play. As I asserted before, it is more of an adventure game than a RPG – a hardcore RPG addict would surely be disappointed but an adventure gamer probably won’t be. The artwork is about what one could expect from a game nearly ten years old. The story is perhaps too predictable but there are several interesting twists (no, I won’t tell you about them). While Veil of Darkness is not the greatest game of all time, I did not find any serious flaws in it. Combined with pleasant gameplay, that is certainly good enough to get an A- from me. 

Final Grade: A-

System Requirements:
DOS 3.3

Michal Necasek

Michal Necasek

Michal Necasek, called Mike or Michael by people who can't properly pronounce his first, let alone last name (that includes over 99% of Earth's population) is an experienced gamer and prefers adventure games to other genres. He started playing computer games a lot about 13 years ago when he got his first computer, a Commodore 64.Being a very inquisitive person, he always wanted to know what made PCs tick. Now, after ten years, he has a fairly good idea - good enough to earn him a salary as a software engineer specialized in low level graphics programming. Although he received considerable amount of education, his computer skills are largely self-taught. Born in then Communist Czechoslovakia, Michal is now earning dollars in California and enjoying it.

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