One day, I will stop harping on games not numbering their sequels properly. But that day is not today, as despite the number being plastered all over the in-game menus, including the shortcut icon, Dark Fall: Lost Souls gives no indicating that it is in fact the third in the Dark Fall series. And you might notice should you check previous entries that I have only played the first Dark Fall game. Thankfully, while the games seem to share a universe, they don’t follow a connecting story, meaning this is only an annoyance.
Poor naming notwithstanding, what is Dark Fall: Lost Souls? Despite not being directly related to the previous Dark Fall game I played, it takes place in the same abandoned train station. But this time, instead of you being called out by your brother to investigate some strange happenings in the English countryside, you are an Inspector, haunted by a crime you couldn’t solve. The kidnapping of a little girl, leading to the Inspector’s disgrace when he assaulted the only suspect, who was later cleared of the crime. Just as ghosts haunt the old station & hotel, unable to move on, so too is the Inspector trapped.
Dark Fall: Lost Souls follows in the vein of its predecessors in that it is a point-&-click puzzle game, where you wander between static images, finding items to collect or interact with in hopes of overcoming some obstacle. As you continue your search for little Amy’s fate to absolve your guilt, you begin to suspect she might still be alive. Or at the very least trapped with all the other ghostly tennants. Soon, you find yourself traveling to the past to put these tragic souls to rest in hopes of uncovering the mystery.
Narrative: To be completely honest, I felt the narrative was very disjointed. It simultaneously felt like there was both too much plot & yet not enough resolution. The basic idea is that the Inspector is trapped in the station until he can uncover what happened to Amy. Well, as she’s a ghost, it’s obvious what happened. But it’s never fully explained, other than hinted at some supernatural shenanigans. Maybe she killed herself? Maybe some other ghostly girls were trapped the same way? And even the spooky elements aren’t well explained. There’s no real explanation given to what this “Dark Fall” is. Maybe it’s elaborated on in the previous games? But having played through the first, if it was explained, it didn’t leave much of an impact if I can’t remember it. It just comes across as a hand-wave explanation. A magical mcguffin.
And I have to say, I found the Inspector rather dense. I’m expected to believe this guy solved crimes, & he can’t tell the see-through girl is a ghost? At no point does it come across that he has the slightest clue what’s going on. I get that he’s supposed to be obsessed with the case, but he just comes across as incompetant. While the twist as to why he’s actually there was predictable, I did like the way it was presented. Some of the puzzles are timed, & failure in these puzzles is nicely interwoven into the story. There’s no Game Over, except perhaps at the very end, & there’s a reason why. It’s been done before, but it was a nice touch to add storytelling through the mechanics of the game. Doesn’t take away that the Inspector’s an idiot, though. And how did he get there in the first place? I think it’s supposed to be implied that Amy trapped him, but nowhere is it explained how he… became trappable in the first place (trying to avoid specific spoilers).
That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy parts of the narrative. I did enjoy the sections that involved going into the past to relive memories of some of the trapped souls. Their stories were interesting, even if they didn’t really tie into the greater narrative, short of them being trapped. And while the logic behind giving the dead rest in the present being able to change the past is a bit iffy, it was still fun to see the changes in the world. Sadly, as I mentioned, these portions don’t last long, & only come about half way through the game.
Overall, while I enjoyed putting some of the ghosts to rest & the reasoning behind no Game Overs, the greater narrative felt disjoined, confusing, & lacking a real conclusion.
Mechanics: It gets the job done. It’s hard to mess up point-&-click adventure games, & Dark Fall: Lost Souls does what it sets out to do. The puzzles are definitely the meat of the game, & I’d say overall do their job well. While mostly it comes down to finding the appropriate item to use on the next obstacle, I did like that a lot of knowing where to go or what to do next mostly came down to observation. If you read all the papers & pay attention to your surroundings, it’s hard to get lost.
There’s a nice variety to the types of puzzles you have to solve as well. One of the most standout moments for me was having to turn a light on & off to illuminate phosphorescent pupae to see which one has a key inside. And again, the sections that involved going into the ghosts’ past were a lot of fun. I wish there was more than three, but I did appreciate that all three played out differently. The first involved selecting appropriate dialogue trees to calm the ghost down based on the random items in her room. The second involved checking constellations (a sign of a good adventure game is when I have to write things down — I keep a notebook on my desk for such situations). And the third involved helping stage a play.
There were also more tactile puzzles. By this I mean they revolved around responding to specific prompts in real-time in the game. I believe all of these moments were when you’re directly interacting with Amy. One game was Red Light-Green Light, & you have to listen for audio clues to know when to turn. One was Blind Man’s Bluff, & you have to try to grab Amy as she runs by. The third wasn’t a game I’m familiar with, but it was still fun.
The only real complaint I have about the mechanics was having to backtrack for scissors. Scissors, you ask? Yes. You need scissors to kill “life leeches” in certain points, but the scissors may break. You can never run out, but it was a pain to have to keep going back for more. Remember, this is point-&-click, so there’s no teleporting option.
Overall, while simplistic in terms of controls, the puzzles in Dark Fall 3 challenge the observation skills but always make sense, & have a nice variety to them.
Aesthetics: While the graphics aren’t necessarily the greatest, the game maintains a solid atmosphere. The still images that make up the environment are suitably dreary, dark, & decaying. The sound design also goes a long way in building a sense of tension. Ghostly whispers, floorboards creaking for no reason, the hum of static on the broken television… even though there’s no real fail state, it certainly doesn’t feel like it. I highly recommend playing with headphones. There were moments when it felt like the sound came from right behind me, giving me chills. Going back to one of the puzzles I mentioned before, there’s a room that when you first enter is completely dark, but you can hear buzzing & an odd, wet squishing sound. Turning on the lights revealed a room full of slimy pupae all over the place. And while I’m not a particularly squeamish person, or afraid of most bugs, the sound alone made the room a very uncomfortable experience.
Replay Value: Low. There isn’t much reason to play Dark Fall 3 more than once. It does have two different endings, but because this is based solely on your final decision, all you have to do is save before entering what is obviously the final room & redo your decision to see it. Nothing changes during repeat playthroughs, except the specifics of certain puzzles.
Final Score: 3
Last Word: At the end of the day, despite some good atmosphere & interesting puzzles, Dark Fall: Lost Souls is just too forgettable for me to recommend to all but point-&-click enthusiasts.
Title: Dark Fall: Lost Souls
Developer: Darkling Room
Publisher: Iceberg Interactive
Release Date: November 13, 2009