Before starting The Crow’s Eye, I expected it to bean interesting puzzle game with a lacklustre story. What I actually got was the exact opposite on both fronts.
The Crow’s Eye starts like many similar games before it: you wake up in a room and have no idea who you are, where you are, or why you’re here. Usually you wander around for far too long to try and find the answers to those questions. This time however, 3D2 Entertainment introduce you to the mad professor that put you here almost immediately. From here on is an interesting story, cheap scares, and a mixed bag of puzzles.
In The Crow’s Eye you play a man trapped as part of an experiment in a once-respected medical college, Crowswood University. In the now deserted Crowswood, documents and recordings reveal the story of a police detective investigating the disappearance of five students in 1947. Your character however, roams the empty halls in 1966. These documents and recordings reveal more stories than just the investigation, and that’s the aspect of The Crow’s Eye I found most engaging. I almost played it all in one sitting as the unraveling plot and side stories kept me intrigued.
Some of the puzzles throughout The Crow’s Eye felt out of place; part of the reason why is they’re not frequent enough to feel properly part of the world. The design of each puzzle is simple enough so that the moment you see it you know exactly what you need to do. I would have preferred more of the puzzles that required thought instead of the game’s reliance on jumping puzzles.
These jumping puzzles come in areas that are reminiscent of Portal; it’s mostly a case of traversing from platform to platform. By using adrenaline you slow time and appear to jump further, but this only adds to The Crow’s Eye’s easy difficulty. These jumping puzzles are the least engaging part of The Crow’s Eye; they’re the puzzles that feel most out of place at Crowswood University – which, as the game progresses, feels like the largest university in existence. The early areas of Crowswood’s design really complement the atmosphere that builds at the start; empty class rooms, toilets, offices, and labs help add to the vacant and deserted feeling of the University. The graphics help to give off the dark, empty feeling of the place. Unfortunately, the further you venture into the game, you’ll find yourself in areas that don’t quite fit in to the strong sense of place that was initially established.
I’ve already mentioned that The Crow’s Eye has an air of Portal about it, and it also seems to be heavily influenced by Bioshock. From the cassette recordings you find strewn around Crowswood right down to the UI, there’s a strong sense of Irrational Games’ dystopian shooter. Later on in the game, you’ll even encounter certain characters that strongly resemble splicers from the first two Bioshock titles. Listening to the detective and professors talk about what they were going through in The Crow’s Eye was just like picking up recordings of J.S. Steinman or Tenenbaum in Bioshock.
The recordings here are well voiced, and there’s no doubt in my mind the actor playing the villain had a lot of fun; his character shares certain inflections with Batman’s Joker. Like Bioshock these recordings add side stories of other characters not integral to the main plot; these characters have interesting stories and add more to the mystery of this University and its disappearances. The documents around Crowswood are well-written except for a few mistakes I’ll attribute to character rather than developer.
The Crow’s Eye certainly attempts to scare you, but unfortunately its first jump scare dampens the tension and atmosphere built early on. The scares feel fairly cheap too; something suddenly attaches to the screen and you must move the mouse from side to side to get it off. Any feeling of dread dissipated quickly after my first “scary” encounter – I was disappointed that the tension and atmosphere built was wasted on something so tame and almost laughable.
It’s a shame that the intrigue built in the stories of The Crow’s Eye are let down by many of its mechanics. There’s a crafting system that never felt like it needed to be there. You can craft bandages, but you only lose health by the aforementioned jump scare – which only happens twice – or by falling off during jumping puzzles. The puzzles that engaged my brain were well-designed, if not a little too easy for the most part – it’s a shame that these weren’t favoured over the platforming sections.
Despite my reservations, The Crow’s Eye is an enjoyable experience that’s worth taking a look at. Exploring Crowswood and finding pieces of story is engaging enough to keep you playing, intrigued as to what’s going to happen next. The end itself goes full crazy, and if you’re not sure what’s going on it’s fine, because the villain goes through all of it via a large expository dump. It’s the narrative you discover through exploration that holds The Crow’s Eye together; reading and listening to people slowly lose their minds – as perhaps your character does too – makes the psychological thriller element of the game take centre stage. It’s just a shame that the horror never quite gets there.