RETROSPECTIVE – Dark Seed II (Cyberdreams, 1995)

Dark Seed II’ is a 1995 psychological horror game and sequel to the point-and-click adventure game ‘Dark Seed’, which was itself released in 1992. It continues the story of the protagonist ‘Mike Dawson’ and his adventures in the H.R. Giger inspired ‘Dark World’.

Unlike the original game the main character is not portrayed by the real ‘Mike Dawson’ (the designer and producer of the original game), who had by this time left Cyberdreams.. ..instead being portrayed by an actor named Chris Gilbert.

‘Dark Seed II’ was written by the novelist Raymond Benson, who would later go on to write James Bond stories.

‘Dark Seed II’ was released for Microsoft Windows 3.1x, Apple Macintosh (both in a similar box to the original game) the SEGA Saturn and the Sony PlayStation.. ..although the latter two, as with the original game, were only released in Japan. Again, it is largely based around the fantastic biomechanical artwork of H. R. Giger.

Synopsis (contains spoilers)

darkseed2-1

Mike Dawson returns – Windows 3.1x version

Mike Dawson is now living at home in Crowley, Texas with his mother, after selling up his Victorian house in Woodland Hills. Although he is trying to put his horrific encounters with the Ancients behind him he is still plagued by nightmares and is recovering from a mental breakdown brought on by his previous adventure.

Mike grew up in Crowley and he hopes that being in his home town with his mother will give him some much needed solace.

A year has passed since the first game, but Mike is still very much haunted by his recent past. Worse still is the fact that his former girlfriend, Rita, has recently been found murdered shortly after they rekindled their relationship at a High School reunion. Poor old Mike is firmly in the frame for the murder and everybody in Crowley suspects he did it, with the exception of his old friend Jack.

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Windows 3.1x version

Again, it quickly becomes evident (from watching the TV!) that the Ancients are somehow behind Rita’s murder and Mike must again cross between the alternative realities to find what is happening and to clear his name.. ..maybe also to escape the Ancients, once and for all!

Unfortunately, the Ancients have no intention of leaving Mike alone and are again intent on using him for their plans to take over the world.

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The SVGA resolution finally does the Giger artwork justice – Windows 3.1x version

It is not long before Mike dies in the game (which can be for a number of reasons/actions) and as a consequence, once again, he encounters the strangely beautiful ‘Keeper of the Scrolls’ in the ‘Dark World’. She informs him that he is destined to die, but on this occasion she will be able to return Mike to the real world. However, if Mike dies a second time he will return to her to be plunged into a river of blood for eternity.

The ‘Keeper of the Scrolls’ also informs Mike that the Ancients have created a monster which she referees to as the ‘Behemoth’ and that it has sucked the ‘life force’ from the Earth (this scenario can also happen near to the ending of the game if Mike fails to race through the ‘Maze of Mirrors’ – located in a carnival that has come to town – before the Behemoth, as it will then cross into the real world and become immortal).

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Windows 3.1x version

Once Mike has talked to several people in different locations around Crowley, including repeated conversations with his friend Jack, he enters the Dark World, once again. As before Mike needs to make the crossing several times in order to collect various items and solve puzzles. However, on one occasion he does not realise he is still in the Dark World, as this time it looks exactly like his mother’s house. Indeed, during this section Mike thinks he is taking to his mother (as usual, busy cooking) until, shockingly, her head explodes!

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Windows 3.1x version

Mike then sees a vision of Rita shrouded in the vapours of his dead moms cooking. Rita explains that the Behemoth can be killed using a special sword, which is held by another Ancient called the ‘Keeper of the Sword’.

After Mike obtains the sword the ‘Keeper of the Scrolls’ advises him to take a short-cut through the ‘Maze of Mirrors’ and he should then be able to meet and kill the Behemoth.

Mike does so and then proceeds destroys the Ancient’s spaceship (again!), being congratulated by the ‘Keeper of the Scrolls’.. ..or at least, seemingly the ‘Keeper of the Scrolls’.

He wakes up in his psychiatrist’s office and finds Jack there next to the body of the obviously recently murdered psychiatrist. Mike accuses Jack of being the killer, who laughs and informs Mike that he is actually the murder.. ..as he and Mike are in reality the very same person! Mike now realising that Jack is his ‘Dark World’ counterpart (as seen in the opening titles) attacks Jack but is overpowered and killed by Jack using the same knife that he just killed the psychiatrist with.

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Windows 3.1x version

Sheriff Butler and his deputy then arrive on the scene, apparently totally oblivious to Jack’s presence, concluding that Mike is indeed the murder of Rita and the psychiatrist, as well as the Mayor and others that have been killed throughout the duration of the game. They conclude that Mike was a deranged serial killer who then committed suicide.

Jack is finally seen leaving the Dark World on his bike, leaving it ambiguous as to whether Mike really was a serial killer, or if the entire saga was a delusion and part of Mike’s ongoing mental condition.

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Windows 3.1x version

Is it any good?

Not really.. ..which is a real shame. The artwork is still fantastic and benefits from being at a higher SVGA resolution and colour pallet than the original, but ‘Dark Seed II’ falls short of the original, for a number of reasons.

But, let’s start with some positives as there are some improvements.. ..the interface has been refined and the graphics have again been done very well (using similar techniques to the used for first game), in many cases looking much better than the original (particularly the ‘real world’ scenes).. ..it is certainly the more colourful of the two. The music is also largely better, bringing an appropriate level of atmosphere without being intrusive. We also have a proper map this time, which is a very welcome addition.

I also quite like the ending.. ..whilst predictable from about half-way through, it is still enjoyable and more satisfying (in some ways) than the rather abrupt ending of the original game.

However, the major downfall in ‘Dark Seed II’ is with the weak character development.. ..I didn’t connect with this Mike as much as I did the original; in that game I was really rooting for him.. ..in this one I was not particularly surprised that he could be a murdering psycho.. ..I also didn’t really care!

None of this is helped by the voice acting, which is largely awful.. ..conversations are over verbose, poorly scripted and often of little point to the games plot. Unfortunately, you need to go through them as they are trigger points for continuation. There are many of these triggers and you also have to do a lot of back tracking in ‘Dark Seed II’, more so even than the original game.

Also, like the original game, there is still too much ‘pixel hunting’ (for example, it took me ages to find the ‘buzzer’ in the morgue) and most of these puzzles are laboured and simply not fun. The ‘Maze of Mirrors’ puzzle is particularly frustrating, requires a keen eye and is a point where many players have admitted to giving up on the game.

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The infuriating ‘Maze of Mirrors’ – Windows 3.1x version

The ‘Behemoth’ is also a disappointing.. ..it is great that you actually ‘fight’ a boss monster this time around, but I found its design to be very weak, mainly as it has no relationship to the rest of the H. R. Giger artwork and is poorly envisioned.

Do I recommend you play it? Not really.. ..whilst it strives to improve on the original, ‘Dark Seed II’ is too marred by its many gameplay problems to recommend; they unfortunately serve to overshadow the improvements made to this sequel.

However, if you liked the original game or admire H. R. Giger’s artwork, you may find it interesting. If you do decide to play ‘Dark Seed II’ have a walk-through handy.. ..the game can frustratingly difficult without one.


Insight – development of the game

By the time ‘Dark Seed II’ was produced much of the original team at Cyberdreams had left and by the time of its release in 1995 the company was already starting to face financial problems.

David Mullich produced and oversaw the development of the game, while Raymond Benson wrote the script, dialog and puzzles. Benson was heavily influence by David Lynch’s work, particularly as he was (with several million others) engrossed at the time with ‘Twin Peaks’.. ..indeed it was Lynch’s influence which was responsible for the games ambiguous ending.

Benson had previously worked at MicroProse where he had recently been laid off along with c. third of the other staff. He was approached by Mullich to work on ‘Dark Seed II’. He accept and worked on the script and puzzles over a three month period from his house. According to Benson the team already had access to Giger’s artwork and so the artist was not directly involved in the production of this sequel.


Console ports

The game was ported and released at around the same time as the Windows 3.1x release for the SEGA Saturn, Sony PlayStation and the Apple Macintosh. The Mac versions is graphically very similar to its PC brethren, but the console versions run at a slightly reduced resolution.

The game was published by Bandi Visual and B-Factory on the Saturn and the PlayStation. Unlike the original game the Saturn version no longer supported the Saturn mouse.


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