Have you ever been up early in the morning, while the moon is still out, & felt the sudden urge to immerse yourself in something scary? That’s how I felt the other day. And while I had several terrifying games to choose from, like Condemned: Criminal Origins (which I will get around to playing), I didn’t feel like dealing with something as stressful as fighting roving bands of psychopaths. So, instead I downloaded a game I’ve had in my Steam files for a while; Dark Fall.
Dark Fall (or Dark Fall: The Journal) is a horror/adventure game where you play as yourself. The game begins with you getting a phone call from your brother asking for your help. He’s been doing surveying work at an abandoned train station in England &, based on what he says on the phone, something is very wrong. The message ends with him pleading for you to come before he states that there’s something outside calling his name, & he stupidly decides to open the door. Upon arriving, you’re quickly greeted by the ghosts that haunt the station, & learn that someone has unleashed an amorphous evil from beneath the inn. Now it’s your job to find a way to seal the entity & free the ghosts trapped.
Dark Fall is a point-&-click adventure game where you explore the station looking for clues. The spaces are filled with scraps & clues, as well as items to aid you in overcoming various obstacles. No other controls are needed for the game, with the exception of a few instances where you type in questions as you speak to spirits. The main goal is to collect all the incantation symbols to seal the entity Dark Fall back up, but naturally these are hidden behind various definitions of doors with obscure “locks.”
Narrative: Overall, I’d call the plot of Dark Fall average. The story is mostly delivered through reading various notes & diary entries, which might turn some people off. But the stories are interesting, & each entry shows the personality of the person it’s related to. However, a lot of the time, especially at the beginning, I felt like I was getting fed multiple storylines that didn’t have much to do with the overarching plot. But these different threads do all tie together in the end. I just wished the information was paced out a bit better. Their connection isn’t really seen until the last third of the game, & before that it’s tempting to just gloss over everything as extraneous details. Color text, as it were. Another problem I had was that the order I found the entries seemed odd. This might be more related to the order I solved the puzzles or explored the station, which is good from an open-gameplay perspective but perhaps not the best way to drive a cohesive story. For example, the aforementioned journal I didn’t gain access to until the last bit of the game. But I suppose it does lend to the air of mystery. So in summary, the plot is enough to compel you through the game, but came feel a bit scattered. Score: 3
Mechanics: The gameplay is old-school point-&-click. You have no free movement. Even just moving around a room requires you to click in the designated area. Fortunately, it never devolves into a pixel hunt. Not everything is selectable, but everything that is selectable is a real thing. There’s a nice variety of puzzles & obstacles to overcome. Of course there’s the standard locked doors (one of which requires using the old “pock the key out of the lock” mechanic), but others require a bit more thought. Twp puzzles I particularly enjoyed was decoding the secret messages & breaking into the ghost hunters’ computer to read their findings. That being said, some of the puzzles can be very obtuse, & often I found myself with all the pieces, but unaware that they related to the current puzzle. I also think this game could’ve benefited from having files or some way to keep track of the clues you’ve found. Definitely the sort of the game the requires you to keep paper on hand. Otherwise you’ll be backtracking to remember an important clue. Also, while I have no problem with a game that doesn’t have the player in actual danger, I would’ve liked to see more from the Dark Fall entity. Despite being talked up as stalking me, I never felt its presence during the game. Not even in the final area. In summary, functional point-&-click controls but some obtuse puzzles. Score: 3
Aesthetics: While not on the same level as more modern horror games, Dark Fall’s greatest strength is in its atmosphere. Dark Fall isn’t a shocking game, but the sort that leaves you constantly tense. Both the sound design & lighting really add to this feeling. Lights flicker, shadows fall across cameras, & the hotel creaks. One scene that I remember vividly was when I first entered the second floor of the hotel, the lights in the hall went out one by one as the music swelled & I couldn’t move. The whole time I was saying, “No. No. No! I will not stand here like an idiot while paranormal things happen.” The game, as a whole, excels at showing the story. The little details in the rooms really get you immersed in the setting. There’s no real music, & the voiceacting is okay. I’m no expert on British accents to say anything to their authenticity, but nothing stood out to me either way. Overall, despite being somewhat dated, the atmosphere is spot on. Score: 4
Replay Value: Limited. The game is fairly short, depending on how quickly you can solve the puzzles, & there isn’t much reason to play it more than once. Score: 2
Final Word: I doubt Dark Fall will sway non-fans of the genre, but for those who enjoy adventure games heavy on the atmosphere & puzzles, it’s an enjoyable enough purchase for its low price. If nothing else, I’m looking forward to playing its more recent sequels.
Title: Dark Fall (Dark Fall: The Journal)
Developer: XXv Productions
Publisher: XXv Productions, The Adventure Company & Darkling Room
Release Date: July 1, 2002