September 26th 2011
V For Videogames
The owls are not what they seem in Black Lodge
article by: Matt
Perhaps the closest we’ve got to anything like David Lynch and Mark Frost’s weird, gripping TV masterpiece Twin Peaks in games is last year’s Deadly Premonition. Deadly Premonition’s setting of Greenvale is Twin Peaks with the serial numbers filed off, right down to one of the characters being a carbon copy of the Log Lady only with a cooking pot instead of a bit of wood. It’s protagonist, FBI Special Agent Francis York Morgan (call him York), also shares a certain eccentric bent with Kyle McLachlan’s portrayal of FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper. The game had even more blatant references to the show when it was called Rainy Woods, such as sinister dwarfs in a red velvet room, and it’s commonly believed both its name change and torturous development period can be attributed to a phonecall from David Lynch’s lawyers.
Now the multi-talented Jak Locke has given us Black Lodge, a retro imagining for PC and Mac of what a Twin Peaks game on the Atari 2600 might have looked like. Assuming the 2600 had been capable of much more than it actually was – Locke takes a few artistic liberties here and there. Still, I’m not a stickler for absolute authenticity so long as the game has a solid retro feel and Black Lodge has that in spades – the manual and box art included with the .zip file look exactly like what you’d get from that time in gaming. Locke even warns that players who don’t read the instruction manual are as doomed to confusion as they would have been back in the real Atari 2600 days. Yes children, once upon a time you had to actually READ a game’s manual unless you wanted to play like a total scrub.
Black Lodge puts you in the shiny shoes of FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper right after he becomes trapped in the mysterious inter-dimensional establishment of the title, an endless shifting maze of rooms and corridors lined with red velvet curtains and populated by a very strange bunch of people indeed. As Dale you have to flee through the lodge to escape a silver-eyed doppelganger while avoiding the other residents and even the furniture as you go. If you get caught you’re transported to a room called the Den of Souls, where you have to prevent your shadow-self from merging with the murderous entity BOB by zapping owls out of the air with your lodge ring so they fall onto BOB or your double. You have three lives and these lives power the ring, so if you get caught on your last life then all you can do is watch helplessly as BOB and your mirror image merge with each other. All while a giant white horse looks on dispassionately like some uncaring equine god.
Yep, it’s certainly a Twin Peaks game alright.
Retro fans will dig the old school graphics and gameplay elements, and devotees of the show will get a huge nostalgic kick out of Black Lodge as soon as they hear its opening chiptune rendition of Jimmy Scott’s “Sycamore Trees” from the show’s delirious final episode. The atmosphere in particular is appropriately unsettling and quite creepy too for a retro-styled title. And that’s about it unfortunately. Despite a random element to some of the rooms the game gets repetitive after a couple of plays and the only thing to keep you going is the promise of a tantalising easter egg if you reach 5000 points, which is much harder than it sounds. None of these make the game bad in anyway, they’re just things to keep in mind if you’re not big on the show or prefer your retro experiences with a bit more meat on them. It’s free though, and a sweet little tribute to a great TV series, so it’d be churlish to complain too much.
It’s also all we’ve got. Lynch’s ongoing refusal to continue the story in any form makes the chances of an official Twin Peaks videogame practically zero even though it could be totally bloody awesome. Imagine a game with the open world freedom and slightly off-kilter atmosphere of Deadly Premonition coupled with the tech of L.A. Noire, in which you play an FBI agent visiting a sleepy town in the Pacific Northwest to find out what exactly happened to Agent Dale Cooper. Come on devs! Surely one of you can write up a pitch strong enough to win over David Lynch? Right? Somebody’s got to get Coop out of the Black Lodge so it might as well be us.