Let the truth be told here and now: I wanted to truly hate the latest release from The Adventure Company, Dark Fall. After months of eagerly anticipating this noir thriller from the guru of adventure game publishing, I loaded up the title into my desktop PC and found something completely unexpected: a game design that reminded me of the late 1980's. Where was the state of the art graphics package and super cool 3-D rendered animation designs that I've grown accustomed to over these past few years? Where was the glitz and the overt flair? Where was the 21st century computer gaming! Instead, I was left with an old school 'click and point' screen changer that reminded me of my earliest Pentium- I PC gaming days. Even with that note of disappointment, I still carried on with my game reviewer duties and continued to play Dark Fall, fully expecting a completely lack luster experience. Lucky for me that I did continue playing the game. What I found was that Dark Fall was an incredibly eerie game that not only gave me the chills, but also kept me entertained throughout.
Like all good adventure game, Dark Fall immerses the player in a rich world that allows them to escape reality and instead enter the realm of the fantastic. The story begins with a mysterious phone call from your architect brother who is surveying the old country town of Dowerton. He tells you about the town's past, with its abandonment after the reworking of the main train lines and highways away from the city limits caused an economic downturn in the community. Not only that, but the mysterious and unexplained disappearance of many locals and tourists in the early half of the 20th century also seemed to have helped with the town's demise. Now it seems that the only people interested in the once glorious town happen to be your brother's urban renovation and renewal company, as well as a few technology laden would-be ghost hunters. Asking for your help, you are invited you to travel to Dowerton in order to work out a few details. Upon arrival at the dusty and abandoned train station, you learn that things aren't quite right. Your sibling is no where to be found, nor are the two college ghost busters that your brother had also mentioned. A disembodied and ghostly voice of a small child leads you to the old hotel near the station where your quest begins to find your family and hopefully solve the mystery surrounding the abandoned town.
Being from the old school of adventure gaming, Dark Fall bases its form of gameplay around logical thinking, puzzle solving, and minor exploration. Players must search the various areas found in the game in order to find clues to the bigger mystery while also allowing the game's background story to unfold. Straight forward objective puzzles dealing with astronomy, history, chemistry and alchemy will make their way into the forefront of the game from time to time. Other times players will have to use materials and objects found throughout the various locations in the game, piecing them together or using them with other static objects, such as phones, blackboards, etc. A 'Sherlock Holmes-ian' form of deductive reasoning and sleuthing also plays a big part in Dark Fall, forcing players to actively take notes and review material on a constant basis in order to understand and figure out some of the more elusive clues and moments in the game. Add it all up, and you're looking at an adventure gaming fans dream come true.
Although the gameplay was superb, it was the aesthetic elements found within Dark Fall that really made the title shine. To say the game is creepy is an understatement. Just like a good horror film Dark Fall is filled with suspenseful overtones, eerie moments, and ghostly surprises around almost every corner. Awesome sound, such as voices in the dark and screams in the night, highlight the already dark and moody backdrops. Playing the game with all of the lights down and the sound up full was a nice and scary treat. Even the painted mattes for the background were eye catching and pleasing, adding a sense of authenticity to the early 20th century backdrop that the old hotel and train station are meant to convey.
The only real problem we had with Dark Fall was with some of the game mechanics, and to be honest we got over them relatively fast. As stated earlier, the first problem we encountered was with the games use of what can be considered a dated version of 'point-n-click' first person movement. Basically, each screen that is placed on your computer monitor is a static shot, with the only moveable element being your control cursor. By moving the cursor around the screen, useable options pop up, such as movement arrows (for leaving and entering adjacent rooms), object identifiers, and searchable items. This dated system was a little disappointing at first, especially when compared to more modern and visual first person systems used in other forms of gaming. However, the other elements of the gameplay were enough for us to ignore this system and still enjoy Dark Fall.
The other mechanic issues we had were also rather minor on the grand scheme, dealing mostly with the lack of a decent note taking system. While the inventory controls and system were easy enough to access and use, none of the extensive written material that was encountered in the game could be accesses again after leaving the area where it was found. The only way to keep track of it all was to actually take your own written notes, a tedious process at best and not the best way to keep the newbie adventure gamer interested. All in all, Dark Fall: The Journal was an excellent game. Anyone looking for a spooky noir thriller within the adventure gaming genre will definitely enjoy this game's eerie approach and production. And if being scared and filled with suspense isn't enough for you, the large amount of challenging puzzles, hours of gameplay, and cheap price should be enough for you to plunk down the hard earned cash at your retail store for Dark Fall.