“What Makes a
This question was once tossed out upon the web by Inferno, a fellow
gamer. The subject of that discussion was “Dark Fall”, just
self-published by a new developer, one Jonathan Boakes. Inferno
concluded that this game itself “was” the answer. At the time, I
loved the moody artistically driven graphics, the story line and was
creeped out more than I thought possible. I also looked forward to
anything else Mr. Boakes cared to spook us with. But was it the
definitive response to what makes a game scary? Well maybe…I’ll get
back to that later. Time has passed, the newness has worn off and
another game is out and about. Yup, it’s here... “Dark Fall: Lights
Out”, or “DF2” as it is known around gaming circles.
So where is our intrepid game developer, now that his second game
has been released? Simply put, at the top of his craft. For the
first time, the opening scenes and closing credits were enough to
grab my gaming interest and left me one happy gamer. The game loads
with a black screen, the lonely sound of lapping waves and a
haunting melody that slowly builds as artfully rendered opening
credits flicker elusively across the screen. The beacon of an
isolated lighthouse pierces the darkness as the view seamlessly
dissolves to the menu and load screen. Then the opening cinematic
begins and what a treat it is. You experience a black and white
medley of disturbing images. Is it a displaced memory, a dream, or
perhaps a nightmare? Reality merges into the mystical, as you then
segue into the open of the game. The main game graphics of the first
environment resemble a colorized black and white film and add to the
surrealistic feel of the game.
The Dark Is Rising...
Though this game appears to be a sequel to Dark Fall, it is really
just one in a series of loosely related ghostly tales. While gamers
will have a great time spotting all the side references to the first
Dark Fall game strewn about, it isn’t essential to play the first
game to understand events in DF2. One thing missing from this game
that was present in game one and would have been helpful, were
sub-titles when listening to dialogues. There may have been some
technical issue for not using them, but they are always good to see
in a game.
At first glance, the storyline in DF2 seems more simplistic than
that of the first game. But, if you take the time to sift through
all the available materials, ghostly ramblings and side events - the
story has depth and details not present in the first game. This is a
modern day ghost story, which weaves in and out of time and
resonates within the pathways of our daily rambles. But don’t be
fooled by the suggestions of sci-fi and talk of time travels. At its
scary little heart, this is a pure ghost story. As much as any
classic tale of a headless horseman or suicidal abandoned bride. It
seems spirits are not isolated to decaying manor houses or lonely
country lanes. They may exist within the brightly lit confines of
suburban communities, a space station or even perhaps within our own
In DF2, our story begins in 1912, in a misty harbor town that echoes
with clanking boat fittings, fog and lapping waves. It could be any
one of the many aging seaports along the Cornish coastline. We are
Benjamin Parker, a cartographer or mapmaker in layman’s terms, and
have traveled here to chart the area’s rough shoreline and rocky
straits. On this fateful night, he has been given the secret task of
taking a small boat to a forbidding lighthouse. A place called
“Fetch Rock”, that appears on no map. He must try and learn what if
anything has been going on up on that ragged rock, in that isolated
tower. It seems something foreign may be haunting its winding stairs
and the men who dwell there. Upon arrival, the mystery deepens. The
place is devoid of life, but odd sounds and remnants of recent
existence are everywhere. Soup steaming in bowls, a broken door and
signs of sudden disarray. So where could they have gone and what
could have happened here? That is what you must uncover through
exploring this time and place. Where you go from there is for you to
discover for yourself. One word of advice…leave a light on near by,
you will thank me later. Really, you will.
I Met A Man Who Wasn’t There…
There was in one sense a multitude of characters in DF2 and in
another there was a shortfall. Many of those we encounter in the
game are but echoes from the past. There was one key character, at
the start of the game, which had a very interesting perspective. The
graphical style of this game figure appears to be a direct homage to
the Barracuda game, Titanic. I enjoyed the paranoid and surreal look
of this person and my only regret is that there were not other
similar encounters. And there were some spots that felt very
isolated. One locale from the distant past, felt very lonely and
bereft. There was little outside interaction other than the
ever-present taunts and hints delivered by our nemesis within this
game. Despite saying this, I did not feel that the game was sparsely
populated. Why? Well, because of the wide variety of spectral
visitations, whisperings and comments from those who were no longer
with us. Did I still feel lonely? Well, yes .. Perhaps a
little, I would love to see a few more full-bodied (even if they are
spectral) characters in future games.
Things That Go Bump In The Night …
With game two out on the shelves, one thing is now clear. If you see
Jonathan Boakes on the box, expect one spooky ride. A rich layer of
sound effects and musical stray notes are his hallmark. Further,
what was notable in game one has been taken to a whole new level
with Dark Fall: Lights Out. In the new game, the ambient sounds and
events are randomized. So you never know quite what to expect when
passing from place to place. Walking along, one may hear any mix of
eerie murmurings, sounds, musical pieces, signature violin chords or
even one particularly nasty laugh. This game leaves the player
unsettled and ill at ease as they roam its corridors and here is
where this game excels. I actually played most of this game looking
out over 19th century London rooftops, while attending
the game shows there. Yes, it did add to the atmosphere.
Unfortunately, I also startled several hotel employees on various
trips to the room, as they caught me yelling out things like …“Now
what? arghhhh not a %$#% creepy laugh!!”. They looked around the
room repeatedly for whomever on earth I could have been talking to.
I just smiled enigmatically and went back to my eerie wanderings
around Dark Fall 2.
The look of the game in DF2 is an interesting montage of styles.
Rather than use uniform graphics throughout, each place in the
timeline of this game has its own distinct look and style. There is
the surrealistic opening locale, harbor town. Then there is a place
from ancient times that has a Rivenesque look to it. There are two
other main environments and they had slightly varied looks as well.
The overall ambiance created by the graphics and amazing sound
effects is the best thing about playing this game. Bravo…Mr. Boakes…
Gameplay, Haunting and other odd events…
The game itself has a very nice interface. Those who shudder more at
the thought of keyboarding through a game, than an evil cackle, will
be happy with the old familiar point n click style of gameplay.
There is also a minimum of inventory items used in the game. Another
pleasant inclusion is a smart cursor and it indicates when you need
to employ an inventory item with a particular object in the game.
All you have to do (assuming you have the needed item in your
inventory) is to click on it in and it automatically is applied. One
very essential item to find and add to your interface is the ghost
specs. Well they actually have more technically impressive title of
EVP detection device, but “ghost specs” works ok for me. Finding
this device is not only essential to uncovering vital clues and info
needed to finish the game; it also adds a layer of interactivity to
places and objects previously viewed. With them, you can view events
that, although not game critical, will add layers to the story line
and give life as it were to the missing people who have vanished
from this place through out time.
do have a quibble with some of the pixel hunts you have to engage in
to locate needed game items, key locales and clues in the game.
There are no real mazes to speak of, but the game has many pathways
in each site and some areas previously closed off will suddenly open
to new places once a trigger event has occurred. It doesn’t occur
regularly, but players should be aware that if they feel stuck, they
need to carefully search places and leave no object unturned that
highlights with a look icon.
Another feature of the game play is the non-linearity of the game.
Some clues or devices needed in one environ may exist in another
place. The truth is if you really feel stuck and frustrated in one
area simply leave it and go explore another. Except for the absolute
end puzzle, anything in the game can be solved in any order the
player wishes. They are all just one part of a larger tale of the
eerie events in this place through out time. One added suggestion,
since the game invites a careful exploration many times of the same
locale, it can be frustrating to open a coded door and have to re-do
it each time you go back. Once open, a door should stay open. Not
much really in way of suggestions for future improvements, but no
game – even one as hauntingly well done as this – is perfect.
There has been a lot of talk over time about how the Dark Fall games
are haunted and even Jonathan Boakes has spoken of “haunted” events
associated with the making of his games. Truth or hype, well who
really knows, but I now have an odd story of my own to add to the
mix. There is a side “ghost story” created by the author for this
game, it tells the tale of the sad fate of two doomed lovers. While
I was reading it, the TV suddenly turned on. I glanced up and the
remote was safely on the other side of the room. I got up turned off
the TV and went back to the story. Then again the TV turned on and
again and again. I weakly joked to myself about bad circuits or
loose wires. Finally it stopped. After I finished the game I was
startled to read that others had similar experiences. I read one
such post myself. Uhm.. Maybe Dark Fall has awakened the spirits of
more than just this bored gamer. Did I tell you to leave a light on
nearby? Maybe… better make it two.
actually almost sent this on for publishing without even including a
section on in-game puzzling. Not that there weren’t stand-alone
challenges and such. There was actually a very good mix of in game
challenges in DF2. You encounter mechanical devices, enigmatic
locked doors and boxes; inventory based and environmentally based
challenges. Some may seem maddeningly obscure and even impenetrable
at first glance, but as with the first game there are adequate clues
to solve anything you meet up with. So if the answer seems
impossible, you need to start carefully going around the real estate
and search high and low for the related clues. Note taking is fairly
essential for most players, if they want to get through this game
without help. So, if the idea of taking a pen to paper sends you to
sleep – prepare to miss some things or lose track of the clues. I am
not saying you shouldn’t play the game – it’s too good to miss out
on. Just consider yourself cautioned, that if you fail to take notes
of the many verbal comments, written materials or visual clues, you
will likely get stuck at some point and need further hints or even a
WT. Which is fine. It is not how you play your games, but how much
you enjoy them in your own way that matters most to this reviewer.
So did I enjoy the challenges in the game? Yes, I did. There were
enough to engage me in the game, they were not so difficult that I
ever really got stuck and gathering the clues and hints meant I was
encouraged to take my time with DF2 and examine everything I
encountered very carefully. All of which, enhanced my game
involvement and enjoyment. So why did I almost leave out any
discussion of the puzzling in DF2? Hmmm, that's a good question. I
think it is partially because I really didn’t ever feel stuck. And
also because the graphics, sounds, general ambiance and story line
captivated me to such an extent, I sort of forgot about the
challenges in the game. But rest assured. The puzzles are in there.
They are also well crafted, visually stimulating and are a good mix.
So what makes a game scary?
Well I suppose many things serve to make a game scary.. After
playing both Dark Fall games I think the answer is obvious. Jonathan
Boakes, he makes a game scary. Despite some minor imperfections,
Dark Fall: Lights Out is one of the best games I have played in some
time. There may be a game or two that I graded a bit higher due to
overall production values, technical precision, lack of flaws and
other items. But there are games, as there are movies that although
not the most perfectly made that year, beat out the rest for being
the best entertainment of the year. So far, I have not played
another this year that kept me this engrossed, spooked me at every
turn without one drop of blood and kept me motivated to play nearly
non-stop. This reviewer’s bottom line is fairly simple..
Dark Fall: Lights Out is one devilishly delicious game and a serious
contender for Adventure Game of the Year.
All I can say is keep them coming, spooky man, keep them coming.
Overall Grade: A -
Gameplay and enjoyability: A+