Category Archives: Puzzle

Lost in Dark Fall: Lost Souls

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.

Dark_Fall_Lost_Souls_cover

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.


ss_583b1d65bc2e8f261e54eb9e6822ef1db001dac0.1920x1080Narrative: 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.

Score: 3


431632-dark-fall-lost-souls-windows-screenshot-party-inviteMechanics: 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.

Score: 4


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.

Score: 4


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.

Score: 2

Breakdown

Untitled

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.

– GamerDame

Title: Dark Fall: Lost Souls
Console: PC
Rating: T
Developer: Darkling Room
Publisher: Iceberg Interactive
Release Date: November 13, 2009
Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under 3, Adventure, PC, Puzzle, Reviews

Game Review: Post Mortem

Way back in 2015 (does that count as way back?) I reviewed a murder mystery-adventure game called Still Life.  In the review, I lamented that this game was, unbeknownst to me at time of playing, the second in a trilogy.  Two years later I’m finally getting around to playing the first, confusingly named Post Mortem, thus not hinting at any sort of connection at a glance.

Somewhat fortunately, Still Life (& its direct sequel Still Life 2, which I’ll be playing next) is more of a spin-off than a direct sequel to Post Mortem.  And after going back over the plot of Still Life, I can attest that, aside from introducing one of the main characters from Still Life, there’s no real carry-over that took away from my understanding of the subsequent title.

256px-Postmortembox

So what is the plot?  Post Mortem plants us in the role of Gustav McPherson, who after retiring from being a private investigator moves to Paris in the 40’s to become an artist.  At least that’s his goal, until one evening a mysterious woman enters his studio to hire him to investigate the brutal murder of her sister and brother-in-law.  Possessing passive psychic abilities, Gus received a vision of the murders as they were committed, and thus agrees — the large sum of money the lady offers doesn’t hurt.  The oddly ritualistic murders lead Gus down a trail of occultism and shadowed motives.

Gameplay is very old-school point-&-click adventure game stuff.  You direct Gus around various environments, snatching evidence and clues, talking to people, and doing general detective work.  There’s a strong emphasis on speaking with people, with the correct dialogue choices in some cases affecting the path you take later in the game.  For example, tell the front desk clerk at the hotel where the murder occurred you’re an insurance rep & he’ll let you in, but tell him you’re a detective & he’ll kick you out, blocking off that part of the investigation.  And of course there are puzzles to unlock various evidence or progress the story.


Narrative: I’m not an expert on the subject, but at least to me Post Mortem gives a very strong film noir vibe.  It literally starts with a sultry femme fatale walking into the office of a man who’s given up on being a detective & being all secretive about offering him a very shady, & lucrative, job offer.  From there we deal with corrupt police giving a show of investigating the murders but being useless & corrupt, artist/bar owners who double as fences, street-wise prostitutes the detective falls in love with… all the usual suspects in film noir.  Betrayal & uncertainty abound around every corner, all set within the seedy pretentiousness of old Paris.  When I think about it, a lot of Post Mortem feels like it draws directly from other sources.  First film noir & detective fiction, then from occult fiction.  Towards the end of the game we’re dealing with alchemy, immortality & the Templars, of all things.  It’s difficult to tell if these beats are intentional homages & genuine inspiration or just following a formula.  Things like the Templars & the occult are pretty commonplace today, but Post Mortem originally came out in 2002, before Assassin’s Creed made such themes more salient in gamers’ consciousness.

That being said, I did find the story a bit of fresh air, thanks in large part to Gus’ character.  He’s not some brooding, guilt-&-alcohol riddled PI, as seems to have become the norm in such stories today.  Although the game does mention he’s “retired” for unknown reasons & suggests he fled to Paris, it’s not really focused on aside from giving him reluctance in the beginning.  Though at times he’s written a bit like a wet-cloth, Gus comes across as a generally nice guy who strives to uncover the truth to bring justice to the right people.  He acts like a normal person would, psychic abilities notwithstanding, & thus makes for a good proxy character for players.  He gets frustrated when people impede his path, shows compassion & caring for those wronged, & generally isn’t motivated by greed.  Even the secondary characters, although suspicious at times, never come across as strictly evil or one-note.  They seem, for the most part, like normal people in extraordinary circumstances.

As for the story itself, I felt it came across a bit disjointed.  I feel this is a standard adventure-game problem, where you know your overall goal, but end up randomly bouncing around places for so long that by the time you get what you need to progress your goal, you’ve forgotten it.  For example, early on I recognized that I either needed the old newspaper-pen routine to get a key from a locked door.  By the time I got them, I’d forgotten what I needed them for.  Sometimes it is more straight-forward, like being told by the police you need a sketch of the suspect so you go see the barman who saw the guy.  There were also times when Gus seemed to know things before I’d asked or come to conclusion I’d never thought of.  Some questioning branches repeat, such as learning from mystery woman about the Head of Baphomet, only to ask another question later about it as if he’d never heard of it.  Or toward the end when I took a picture of a dead guy, which I presented as evidence that Gus claimed proved he couldn’t have been the murderer because he’d been dead for too long.  Which was true, but at no point did the game suggest this was the case.  I think, to that end, another big problem is that Gus never comments or speculates on anything he sees during the investigation.  He’ll write notes sometimes, but the game never prompts you to look at what he’s written, so a lot of times I’d find myself doing things without understanding the connection but blindly stumbling into it.

Overall, while I appreciate the mystery itself & some of the characters, the story could be told more competently.

Score: 3


Mechanics: I mentioned it in the last paragraph, but I’ll mention it again here as it’s both a narrative & mechanical fault I had with the game: the lack of feedback between game & player.  I really didn’t like that Gus never comments aloud on anything during the investigations.  Although the game keeps track, it’s entirely up to the player to solve the problems.  On its own, that’s fine, but they need to make the gameplay aid that.  I wish that whenever you read a file or Gus makes a note about something, it would automatically take you to his notebook to see what he wrote.  You don’t even automatically read anything you pick up, or know what it is until you examine it in your inventory.  This caused a major problem for me at one point when the game bugged out & I couldn’t read any notes.

This seems to be a common bug people experience after picking up de Allepin’s file from Dr. Kaufner’s office where once you’ve read the file you can’t read any other note but will see “cannot locate source” messages in your notebook.  After this point, I was limited to only being able to access the coroner & journalist notes.  This doesn’t prevent you from playing further, but without Gus’ notes you’ll be running blind.

I found that, after picking up the book on Templars, if I went to the notes by selecting the book, instead of pulling up documents from the menu, I could access my files appropriately.  Not sure if that will work using other documents to access.

Gameplay revolves mostly around two activities: talking to people & solving puzzles.  Sadly, I was disappointed that the game favored the former.  I play adventure games for the exploration & puzzles, which Post Mortem pushed to the background.  Yeah, a detective would ask a lot of questions to witnesses, but I would’ve preferred a better balance.  In fact, puzzles only come into play in the last third of the game, & there were only five in total (including one that basically auto-solves once you’ve found all the pieces).  It’s a shame because they were pretty good puzzles, taking a bit of brain power to solve without being impenetrable.  There was a nice variety, as well.  I would’ve liked more detectiving in this detective story.

Two other mechanics that I’ll briefly touch on, because I liked them, were that you can control your view with the mouse rather than having to click to turn in any direction, & that the ending you get depends exclusively on how well you investigated & collected evidence.  There were a lot of things you can collect along the way that doesn’t play into any puzzle or seem to help the case progress other than confirming the player’s conclusions.  But it’s all worth it in the end to go through the final big dialogue tree, presenting all this evidence you’ve been collecting up to that point.  It’s very satisfying to be like, “Bam!  Here’s their passports showing they weren’t who they claimed.  And here’s a written statement from the person who hired them.  And here’s the strange powder you found in the murder room that I made in the dead man’s house.”  Actually, it’s kinda funny how lax the law was in Paris in the 40’s or whenever this is set.  They don’t seem to care about me claiming to break into places, including crime scenes & influential banker’s houses where I claim to have found the man dead, or withholding evidence.  My modern sensibilities were like, “Why did you pick up the murder weapon with your bare hands?”

Overall, while there were some really nice puzzles in the game, as well as some chuckle-worthy shenanigans, I felt the lack of feedback between game & player & emphasis on sending me chatting with random people rather than looking for clues dragged the experience down.

Score: 3


Aesthetics: Obviously, since this game was made in 2002, the graphics look dated.  For the time, they were probably on-point.  Other games made during this time were Morrowind, Hitman 2 & Eternal Darkness, & I think the graphics matched those games.  The cutscenes still look pretty nice, as do most of the environments, even if they look a bit blurred now.  I found the character movements generally pretty smooth, although the characters posture oddly at times.  During dialogue, Gus always stands with his hands clasped together like he’s holding a case — which he is in cutscenes but never in dialogue.  They also have a lot of repeated stock movements, but at least they always fit with what the person was saying.

The audio I don’t think held up quite as well.  There’s nothing wrong with the background noise or music, & I liked that each environment has its own theme.  But the acting… my God.  The voices themselves are fine, & usually the acting is okay.  But there were quite a few scenes where I was laughing at their attempts at emotion.  *affect dry tone* Yes, Gus, I can tell you’re really broken up over your friend’s brutal murder.  You sound like you’ve been crying for hours, Bebe.  But bless them, they’re trying.

Score: 3


Replay Value: Low to moderate.  As I said, there are some different paths based on choices, but they all lead to the same end.  There are basically four endings, a good & bad based on if you found all the evidence, & then two twists on each of those outcomes based on your last choice.  I’d say save your game at the start of the final act &, if you don’t have all the evidence, go find it.  Otherwise, there’s not much point to playing a second time.

Score: 2


Breakdown

Untitled

Final Score: 3

Final Word: While there are some nice elements to Post Mortem, there are definitely better adventure/mystery games out there.  I can’t see this really capturing anyone’s attention, & it feels like nothing will be missed by skipping it.  If you can get it as a bundle with the Still Life games, maybe check it out.  Otherwise I’d pass.

– GamerDame

Title: Post Mortem
Consoles: PC
Rating: M
Developer: Microids
Publishers: Microids, The Adventure Company
Release Date: Febuary 28, 2003

Leave a comment

Filed under 3, Adventure, PC, Puzzle, Reviews