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Lora's Adventure Game Reviews: Dark Fall

Dark Fall (Game release date: 2003)
A suspenseful, atmospheric ghost story with an interesting plot but an unfortunate dearth of interesting puzzles.

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Highlights: Outstanding suspenseful mood, ghosts have interesting stories Lowlights: Lack of interesting puzzles, mediocre interface

This is one seriously spooky game. I played it with the lights out and found myself jumping or gasping aloud on several occasions. That Dark Fall should have been able to accomplish this with no deaths, no blood or gore, and no visual gross-outs is a real testament to the writing skill of the game designer, Jonathan Boakes. This guy understands suspense like few filmmakers do.

Unfortunately he hasn't quite got the gameplay part figured out yet. There's just not much for the player to do during most of it. 90% of the player's objectives during this game boil down to finding a new piece of paper and reading the next installment of the plot from it. It's almost an interactive novella more so than an adventure game. There are a mere handful of puzzles to be solved, and all but three are exceedingly easy.

So if the idea of an interactive novella sounds intriguing to you, I would definitely encourage you to run out and get Dark Fall. It's well-written and the plot unfolds beautifully as you poke at it; the sound effects are outstanding, the ghosts are compelling, and the whole thing is genuinely scary. I personally had a lot of fun with this game. But if what you're looking for is a real puzzle challenge, you'll probably be happier looking elsewhere.

Style: Dark Fall is a puzzle-adventure style game with a 3D first-person view of the environment and a simple point-and-click interface. The plot is a supernatural mystery story. The game is untimed and no manual dexterity is required. Combat and leveling are not elements.

Series: Dark Fall has had one sequel, Dark Fall: Lights Out. I have not played that one yet.

Finding Dark Fall: This is a fairly recent game and can still be found in computer stores. Here it is for sale online from Amazon.

Getting Dark Fall to Work: I didn't have any problems running this game, but be advised that running it will reset your monitor's refresh rate to 60, which may cuase flickering on some systems. If that happens to you, just open the Display Properties window after you're done playing and manually reset the refresh rate to a higher number.

Hints For Dark Fall: I do not have a walkthrough page for Dark Fall myself. There is a terrific hints page at UHS which reveals only one hint at a time, so you won't accidentally learn the answers to future puzzles while scanning for the one you're stuck on.

Pitfalls In Dark Fall: There are no subtitles in this game and many of the lines of dialogue and important sound effects are distorted, whispered, or otherwise hard to hear. Definitely not a game for the hard of hearing or anyone who can't give a game their full listening attention for whatever reason.

Game Length: 10-15 hours, rather short for a puzzle adventure game.

Age-Appropriateness: This game is rated T (for 13 years old and up), due to absolutely nothing other than suspense and creepy sound effects, as far as I can tell. There's no blood or gore, no deaths, no cursing, nothing. A kid younger than 13 could play this game easily-- the puzzles are easier than in most "Nancy Drew" games-- but it would probably be too scary for most of them. It's rare for a non-violent game in which nothing bad can happen to you to be so genuinely frightening, but this one is.

Lora's Dark Fall Review: (Good)

Plot and Quests: Dark Fall's plot is confusing in places-- I sometimes wasn't sure where I was or what I was supposed to be doing-- but I found this more forgiveable because of the disjointed, dream-like quality of the game, which made the confusion feel both purposeful and atmospheric. The backstory about the various ghosts is excellent and piecing it together is fun.
Puzzles and Mental Challenges: There are a few good puzzles in this game, but only a few. Most of the puzzle box and secret door mechanisms were disappointingly simplistic, and there aren't many to begin with. Better puzzles could have turned this good game into a great game.
Characters: The only characters in this game are the ghosts haunting it, who are (eerily enough) completely unseen. Your ability to interact these ghosts is very limited, but from the writings they left behind and the messages they are able to communicate to you, it is possible to piece together their life stories and personalities, which are quite interesting.
Gameworld: The decaying train station and faded hotel are perfectly depicted, and the stories of the ghosts fit together seamlessly. The attention to detail in this gameworld is outstanding. You really do get the feeling that you're wandering around a haunted building.
Gameplay: Very, very simple. You basically just move from room to room, periodically getting the pants scared off you en route, and learn some more about the plot or one of the ghosts in there. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Interface: The interface is a very rudimentary point-and-click affair, which wouldn't be so bad except that the hotspots are tiny and badly defined, so you have to stop what you're doing and pixel-hunt around for the way to exit each screen (usually a small spot located someplace random on a door.) Inventory is easy to use. Oddly enough, saving the game is a jarring, unpleasant experience-- it yanks you out of the game and hands you a Windows screen you can use to save with. A real mood-killer. Luckily you don't actually need to save too often in this game.
Ambience (Graphics, Sound, etc.): The graphics are an old-fashioned slideshow presentation that is often annoying to navigate around, but like the original Myst, that doesn't keep this game from evoking an absorbing mood. The sound effects, in particular, are pitch-perfect: fading in and out in eerie ways, murmuring just below your ability to comprehend them, blaring out at just the right moment to make you jump.

Lora's Recommendations: I would recommend this short, atmospheric little game to anyone who likes ghost stories and doesn't need a stiff puzzling challenge to be happy. If you go in expecting Riven with ghosts, you'll be disappointed; but if you'll feel satisfied with taking part in a really interesting story that scares the daylights out of you a few times, you couldn't go wrong with Dark Fall.

If You Loved Dark Fall: Then you may also like its sequel, Lights Out. Also, if you haven't yet, you should play the classic Myst series of games (Myst, Riven, Exile, and Revelation). The puzzles in those four games are better than the ones in Dark Fall, and they are set in an absorbing gameworld to boot. Other puzzle-adventures you may enjoy include the surreal psychological thriller Sanitarium or the grislier, more menacing Black Mirror.

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