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Infocom's Lovecraftian game set on a campus: mixed puzzles, great creatures, February 3, 2016
It's hard for me to review this game (the first horror IF game by Infocom, and one of the first horror games ever) without comparing it to later Interactive Fiction based on Lovecraft's work. Specifically, Theatre, Anchorhead, and Lydia's Heart come to mind. How does this one compare?
First, size. The Lurking Horror is on the small side, due to PC capabilities at the time of publication. It is about the same size as Theatre, and much smaller than Anchorhead or Lydia's Heart.
Next, setting. The game is set in an alternate version of the MIT campus called GUE Tech during the winter. This worked well for me in the end, with the creepy Department of Alchemy, dark buildings and deep basements, and the gross muddy areas. It gave them game a more campy feel though, like Theatre, as opposed to the bigger games.
NPC's and enemies. While The Lurking Horror has a few okay PC's, it really shines in the creature department. I had played for a few hours without encountering more than one 'creature', and nothing that threatened me, so I was quite shocked when I (Spoiler - click to show)buried an axe in the chest of the maintenance man without any reaction from him. The further the game got, the more disturbing the creatures got. The enemies are more like Theatre's than the later games.
Puzzles. The Lurking Horror has some puzzles that are just dumb (especially the carton in the fridge). Later on, though, the puzzles get more fun, especially as you use the same objects in more and more ways. In the end, the puzzles are more like Lydia's Heart than the other two games, although there are much less puzzles overall.
Overall, it seems to me that the Lurking Horror was a great success that became eclipsed by later games. Theatre ('95) seems to be strongly inspired by The Lurking Horror, while Anchorhead ('98) seems to be inspired at least partially by Theatre (as it includes some similar puzzles). Lydia's Heart ('07) was more of a successful reboot of the Lovecraft idea using newer technology.