The Lost Chronicles of Zerzura – Preview
With the door creaking shut on the last title in the atmospheric Black Mirror trilogy, their developer, Cranberry Production have moved on to pastures new, this time shunning the rain shrouded English countryside and setting their sights on warmer climes. The Lost Chronicles of Zerzura, due for release in the coming months, is set in Spain – Barcelona, to be precise – and focuses on young inventor, Feodor Morales. While the gloomy, haunting locations of Black Mirror 2 and 3 conjured a rich atmosphere of dread, trepidation, and sadness, Zerzura isn’t resting on pleasant, sun-dappled laurels, with its story unfolding in a time languishing in the evil shadow of the Spanish Inquisition.
When we join the story, Feodor and brother Ramon are on the brink of conducting a test flight of yet another flying machine in the hope of beating Da Vinci to the punch. Of course, things go slightly awry and Feodor is left to pick up the pieces and try again while his brother slips off to bury himself in his books and mysterious artefacts, oblivious to the impending danger posed by the Inquisition, to whom their financial backer has threatened to report their ‘heresy’ if they don’t succeed. After pottering around and developing a new design for their flying machine, things turn decidedly dark for the brothers as the threat becomes a reality and the Inquisition kidnap Ramon, leaving Feodor to flee the burning remains of their life before setting off in pursuit of his brother.
The story itself is instantly absorbing, with the presence of a talisman relating to a mysterious city lending the plot a few more strands of intrigue, and revealing a supernatural/mysterious angle that transforms the game from the more straightforward drama that it first appears to be. Feodor is a likeable enough character, but perhaps lacks some of the depth of Black Mirror’s grumpy, sarcastic protagonist – a shame, but we’ll be keen to see how he develops. His talents as an inventor, however, lend themselves perfectly to the point and click mechanic, with a myriad of inventory puzzles begging for such skilled hands to tackle them. From designing and constructing a flying machine, to repairing a ravaged ship, the puzzles are varied and interesting, although not overly taxing, and blend well with the story without ever breaking the fourth wall with anything unrealistic or needlessly obtuse.
From our time with the preview build, it was apparent that Cranberry have done another sterling job, presenting a gorgeous looking game with an absorbing and twisting story, but the feel of it was surprisingly different from their previous releases. Whereas the Black Mirror games felt insular, with the story playing out in and around a few potent locations, lending it an air of haunted intensity, Zerzura feels grander… more like an open adventure romp across numerous countries, reminiscent of Indiana Jones more than something contained and darkly charged. While this is a refreshing direction, it meant that it lacked some of the intensity that it could have perhaps had.
From what we played, the story was engaging and we genuinely wanted more, but it lacked in atmosphere and tension, which was a real shame; with the threatening presence of the Inquisition looming over the story something darker would have been expected, but perhaps that is yet to come, and we’ve good reason to expect that it will… after all, this is Cranberry we’re talking about. Their dark touch is still evident, however, and they aren’t afraid to tackle unpleasant and even gory events, with plenty of bloodshed on offer to give a more threatening edge to Feodor’s journey. What we’ll see when we do catch up with Ramon’s captors is anyone’s guess, but we suspect – or at least, hope – that Cranberry will skilfully manipulate the tone and tension, as they have with previous titles to great effect.
As expected from one of the top-end adventure developers, the game looks and feels ‘high quality’, with the usual stunning backgrounds not failing to disappoint. The characters are presented as 3D against 2D backdrops and each scene is a feast for the eyes, with a high level of realistic detail to be absorbed. The harbour in particular was impressive, with the hulking Galleon of the Inquisitors dominating everything, while gulls flapped lazily on the bowsprit and a dog skittered about amid broken paving stones and barrels. Equally, the devastated deck of a corsair ship offered an interesting overhead perspective, chock with bloody details of a gruesome carnage, and the town of Catalonia had an easy charm, overshadowed by the imposing church in the background – a grim reminder of the horror carried out in its name
Sound is spot on, with background and ambient effects fleshing out the realism, and a satisfying score which was suited to the rolling adventurous feel. In the build we played, sadly, there were only English subtitles present to accompany the German vocals, so we have yet to discover whether the game falls victim to one of Cranberry’s flaws: chequered voice acting. Accents in past games have consistently tripped the developer up, offering some real cringe-worthy moments, so our fingers are crossed that things have improved on this front.
Overall, The Lost Chronicles of Zerzura is an engaging and gorgeous adventure, presenting smart – if not very complex – puzzles and an intriguing plot that we look forward to delving into further. While we have our reservations about the slightly bland lead and the lack of atmosphere and tension thus far, we’ve not written these things off just yet. Cranberry have become masters of the genre, consistently delivering the goods – albeit with some flaws – and this release looks to be no different. Regardless of all else, Zerzura delivers a visual treat worth lingering over, and if Cranberry stay on course and continue to play to their strengths, we expect it to up there with the best of them come release day.
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