The eerily rendered graphics, first-person perspective, and intricate time-traveling storyline of Sierra On-Line's Lighthouse may invoke a minor case of Myst déjà vu, but the trip down memory lane will be short-lived for most. Lighthouse has exceeded the adventure bar set by the overwhelmingly successful Broderbund hit, but the result will leave a lot of fans of the genre more frustrated than fascinated as they explore a strange new parallel world and strive to outwit the ominous Dark Being.
Set on the mysterious, murky Oregon coast, Lighthouse is the story of a young writer seeking to unravel the mysterious disappearance of her physicist neighbor, Dr. Kirk, and the strange kidnapping of his infant daughter Amanda. Her discoveries take her beyond the realm of the present and into a mystical world full of strange mechanical gadgets and beings.
Graphically, Lighthouse is, at its heart, a moving picture book. Beautifully detailed structures and landscapes intertwine with fluid video sequences (triggered by the player) to create a totally immersive experience. From the shark-like submarine gliding effortlessly through the water to the quirky Ornithopter (a flying machine) soaring through the air, each segment is spectacularly executed.
Unfortunately, the same does not hold for gameplay. The well-designed adventure entices the player from one experience to the next with puzzles that test the mind, but the solutions to these teasers are occasionally vague and obscure. For what is basically a point-and-click inventory game, it's far too confusing to reason out what items can or need to be gathered. This mysterious feel may intrigue some players, but most will quickly tire of having to click on practically every item in sight. Also, many of the clues needed to solve the puzzles are so obscure that players may spend more time scratching their heads than working towards finding the doctor and his child. For example, if the player is concerned by a crying baby (who we're actually supposed to be taking care of) and opts to follow a creature carrying that child into a portal, a tangle of frustrating gameplay awaits him on the other side. The correct answer is to stay in the house, and let the infant in your charge disappear - a solution that is almost completely illogical.
Completing Lighthouse is a formidable and lengthy quest for even a seasoned gamer. Novices and wanna-be adventurers, beware. Most of the puzzles (the majority of which are mechanical in nature) are not for the faint of heart, and require a hefty dose of intuition. At times the only reprieve will be a peek at a walk-through or a query to the local user group.
With 14 solutions to this epic, it's obvious that Sierra has taken great care to craft a story it hopes will provide gamers with days and even months of adventuring pleasure. Even so, with the lack of some desperately needed direction, the average adventurer may decide the enjoyment is not worth the effort - and the game's depth will never be fully appreciated or experienced. While the complexity and lavish graphics of Lighthouse certainly raise the standard for adventure games, it might be beyond the abilities of the audience captivated by Myst. On the other hand, the mighty hard-core, adventure-loving gamer will probably see this title like any other adventure - a challenge to conquer no matter how obscure it seems.