Veil of Darkness (1993)

Veil of Darkness is one of those games from the past remakes were invented for: it's all around technically clumsy attempt at trying to mix up two genres, adventure and RPG. While it's an interesting game, it's also frustrating because of poorly executed combat, terrible inventory system and big dungeons, which don't really provide anything positive to the game itself.  While the combat is necessary a couple of times, most of the times you can just run away from the enemies, as killing them don't really give you anything, as there's no levelling up system. In all, I'd say the whole combat system was tacked on a game that didn't really need it or wasn't even designed for it.

Let's rewind a bit. Veil of Darkness is an RPG/adventure game hybrid, released in 1993 by SSI of D&D gold box fame and developed by Event Horizon. The plot in its all simplicity goes like this: you are a cargo plane pilot, minding your own business when an evil vampire lord Kairn from some reason on an another decides to cause your plane to crash to a remote valley in Romania. After you've recovered and you've given yourself a name, it soon comes apparent that you're a hero foretold in an ancient prophecy. It's up to you to save the valley from the grasp of the evil vampire lord. It sounds cliched, I know, but surprisingly enough, Veil of Darkness does carry enough atmosphere to surpass the setting.

Cinematics are of good quality and look pretty good even for today's standards. There are retro-themed games published every year that look worse than this.

The atmosphere is the reason I think there's a good game in Veil of Darkness. If someone were to remake it, it could be made shine by removing some elements and by polishing others. The inventory system for an example is very cumbersome. You can't  combine items by clicking them on each other, you need to put two items to your hands and then click your hand action button. And you need to access the said inventory by dragging it up from the bottom of the screen. If you want to use a healing potion or an item, you need to place the item on your hand and again click the hand action icon. This means that during a combat you can have a weapon in one hand and a single healing item in another. Not really a speedy system, but then again, unless you are completely surrounded, running away is pretty easy. Still, not a masterclass of user interface design in games by any means. It might be a barely passable grade, but just a hair.

As Veil of Darkness is an RPG, the inventory is also limited. You can't haul everything you see, as there's a weight limit as well as amount limit. You can carry extra stuff with you by picking up sacks and other containers, but it won't take long to have an inventory full of similar looking sacks, from which you need to find a correct item. This again has been done in an oddly cumbersome fashion, as the only way to see in the pouch or sack is to place it on your right hand, which opens a smaller extra inventory, showing what's in the container.

The inventory. In order to combine items, you need to place them in your hands and click a right action button (two buttons where little men look left and right). The coffin on the right shows your hit points, the face shows if you're currently under some weakening effect, though the effects are also shown on the grey slate on the left bottom. Backpack icon shows how much you are carrying by filling up when picking up objects.

Then again, a lot of things in Veil of Darkness are clunky, be it navigation or just talking to people. Even talking has been made oddly cumbersome, while there's no reason it should be. The system is seemingly interesting, as it works with keywords, which you can select from a list or just type in yourself. The problem here is, that the system itself is fairly stupid. The lists are reset every time you stop talking to someone and the dialogue tree is always started from the beginning. People say the same things again and again and if you've forgotten a keyword, you just need to click through the conversation again in order to see the word you want. Though if you already know the word you want, you can just type it in. It would be better though if the conversation topic lists would remain for each person you talk, as that would again make things more fluent.

The combat system works a bit more like a puzzle. While it's seemingly a timed turn based system, each monster either suffers more damage from a certain type of weapon or can only be damaged with a certain weapon, like a holy sword, mace or holy water. Holy water is the most annoying weapon to use, as it needs to be thrown. It wouldn't be an issue if the movement controls were a bit better, but now it's too easy to face a wrong direction, missing the enemy completely. Luckily there are three different difficulty levels, so if you want a bit more relaxed game, go with the easiest mode.

A standard game view. Nothing much to say about this.

Then again, the combat itself is nothing more than a filler activity, as you don't really gain anything from it. No experience, no new weapons, no money. You just beat the enemies down and after that, the coast stays clear forever, which is a good thing. In a bit more well known, at least I think, adventure/RPG hybrid series Quest For Glory the combat does have a purpose. It serves like it should in an RPG, a means to gain experience, gear and money. Here, however, the game would be just as good without it. Not that Quest for Glory game had a great combat system, but at least in those games, there was purpose about it that didn't feel like an activity meant to hide that the game itself might not have been so long with the only adventure in it.

There are other RPG elements which do give a nice touch though. Some monsters can cause a disease or poison you, so you also need to keep a lookout for herbs and healing remedies. Some of the ailment cause you to loose hit points faster, some might weaken you, so it's always a good thing to keep some stuff with you. Most of these consumables are free, found from nature, but some need to be bought. You also need money in order to get some plot items, so it's important to keep money at hand. Money isn't however gained from combat but found here and there, so you also need to explore most of the boring dungeons as well. While there are health potions in the game, the quickest way for full health is in a gipsy camp, where the local healer lives. And like a good Samaritan, she works for free.

A gipsy healer making a healing elixir.

The adventure puzzles are pretty much what you'd expect a 1990's game to have. You collect things here and there, use them elsewhere and so on. Most of the time there's logic about it, but there are one or two puzzles in there, which made me roll my eyes a bit.  All in all the adventure part follows the trends of the era and in many ways aren't even the worst design of the time.

The main bulk of the game is portrayed from an isometric view. You can play either with a mouse or with a keyboard, but at least I noticed there were some oddities with both under DosBox. Key presses weren't always registered, which lead the character to get stuck, the mouse had a bad habit to jump to the inventory screen, which caused me to accidentally pull the menu up, which was annoying, I don't know if this is original behavior or something DosBox caused, as otherwise, the game ran fine.

The play view doesn't really have that many options for the user. You don't have icons for different actions, like for opening a door. You just walk towards a door and it opens if you have a key or is otherwise unlocked. Some doors won't open at all if there's nothing important to them. You can talk to people by clicking on them if they have a speech icon and that's pretty much it. All the other actions are done in the inventory and as I stated earlier, that system just plain sucks.

As I said, games like Veil of Darkness are the reason remakes exist. It's rare that something a bit more obscure would ever be remade, as companies do tend to jump on properties that have name recognition value, despite how good or well preserved the original title would be, Veil of Darkness is an atmospheric game, which suffers from bad design choices, but it's also easy to see that if it were given some spit and polish, it could be a pretty good game.

If you want to play Veil of Darkness, you're out of luck if you're looking for a digital version of it, as it's not sold anywhere.

Get ready for a smack down!