Release Date: August 1, 2003
Note: Review originally published in 2003
A frantic late-night phone message from your brother. A creepy location rife with ghosts. An old and deadly mystery that must be solved. Hey, what's not to like?
Dark Fall is a garage game and a haunted house game and a first-person game, and as I'm a fan of all three you'd think this was an adventure game tailor-made for me.
It's not that the setup is particularly original. In fact, the beginning of the game is virtually identical to that in Amber: Journeys Beyond, Inherent Evil: The Haunted Hotel and Realms of the Haunting. But who cares? A scary haunted hotel is a scary haunted hotel.
It seems your brother is part of a team of ghost hunters. He's hit a snag and needs your help. And so off you go . . . after all, he IS your brother, right?
From the very beginning Dark Fall creates a chilly, spooky atmosphere. It takes place in a closed hotel that served a now-defunct rail station. The whole idea of a "ghost" station is a delicious one, and it provides a perfect setting for what follows.
Jonathan Boakes, the man behind XXv Productions and the creator of the game, is an obvious fan of classic first-person point-and-click adventures. He has meticulously crafted the elements of Dark Fall in a way that does homage to everything from The 7th Guest to Myst to the above-mentioned Amber.
As you explore the hotel, you begin to get to know the various inhabitants, both guests and staff. It seems that a couple of members of the hotel owners' family made a curious discovery underneath the hotel, and you begin to understand that they unwittingly unleashed a very dark presence.
As in Amber, the previous team of ghost-busters left lots of interesting equipment behind. As you progress through the game, you'll learn how to use this equipment and access information through it. It also records some very creepy stuff!
As in most adventures of this type, the game environment gradually expands as you gain access to new areas. However, the initial explorable area in the game is quite generous. But there are those locked rooms . . . and the more you play, the more you'll have to know what's . . . behind . . . those . . . doors! In fact, the unity of the game's environment allows Dark Fall to achieve the seemingly contradictory effect of a) having lots of spaces to explore and b) being troublingly claustrophobic. You know you're not leaving this place until you get to the bottom of the mystery.
Let me say right here that this is not a game for the casual adventurer. The abandoned hotel and train station have many dark secrets but they are not given up easily. This game has very little to do with the anemic recent first-person adventures like The Mystery of the Nautilus and The Cameron Files. Dark Fall requires to you pay close attention, read, make careful observations, and use your imagination to connect the dots.
The game is full of scary moments, though many of them are reserved for the careful observer. There's a beautiful moment when a ghost train whizzes by, its lights illuminating the shades of the window you're looking at. Then there's the shadow that's briefly revealed by a flickering light in a bathroom . . . a very elegant and truly scary effect. And there's an optional interactive Ouija board sequence that is simply hair-raising.
Dark Fall has lots of puzzles in various forms. There are many combinations, passwords, and other "keys" that must be ascertained by massaging the various bits of information you uncover while poking around the hotel. Plus there are the actual keys to locked doors that you must find. Plus jigsaws, inventory puzzles, and more. It will come as a relief to some gamers that there are no sliders or mazes, however.
I have but one criticism of the game, though it's a fairly serious one. The story contains so much information, both text and visual elements, that it's a real shame that you can't collect all of it in some kind of notebook or journal. Most of the letters, bills, charts, and other sources of clues cannot be placed into inventory. This forces the player to do one of three things: Create multiple saves to use to access the information later, take copious notes, or do an enormous amount of backtracking. Since none of these choices exactly enhances gameplay, it's a drag in an otherwise sterling game experience.
And let me be very clear. If I haven't adequately made the point yet, this is one scary-ass game. Turn the lights out. Turn the volume up. And prepare to enjoy getting the willies scared out of you!
It seems to me that Mr. Boakes set out to make an adventure game like one he'd like to play himself. And by careful attention to detail, excellent craftsmanship and good writing, he's managed to create a game that we want to play, too. He proves, as good garage games do, that it doesn't take big bucks to make a good adventure game. It just takes little things like artistry, creativity and diligence. Dark Fall is the best independent adventure game since Cracking the Conspiracy. Go buy it immediately - we want this guy to be at work on his next game already.
Final Grade: A
Pentium 233 minimum or equivalent
32Mb Ram (64 recommended)
24 x CD ROM (or PC DVD)
SVGA capable graphics adapter
32 bit color at 640x480