After a few years, Mr.
Boakes is back, much to the delight of his many fans. Dowerton is also
back, the hotel and railway station being the scene of the first of the
Dark Fall games. And the dark is back, replete with all those many
things that hide within it, and creep around, and might or might not
actually be there.
I reviewed the first game when it was being burnt on
an ordinary looking CD and sent out by Jonathan himself. I said at that
time that if it wasn’t the creepiest game around, then I didn’t know what
was, and that quote was then featured on the box of the subsequent
commercial release. So I confess I have a soft spot for Dark Fall,
and I was particularly impressed by The Lost Crown, his ghost
hunting extravaganza. So what to say about Lost Souls, the first
game Jonathan has released since then?
First up, it’s prettier than the original, more
detailed in its graphics and more colourful in its scenes. Which makes it
more gruesome, but more of that later.
It also leans more to the horrific and the macabre,
rather than the creepy. Creepy is still there, but I would describe this
as a horror adventure, which is not a label I would have attached to the
Which is good, because more of the same never quite
does it for me in the same way, and I like horror.
Except that in this regard it didn’t quite hit the
mark for me. The horror elements made for a squeamish moment or two, and
some of the settings - especially when the light flicks on, illuminating a
previously dark area - were morbid, even grisly. But I didn’t feel
horrified, and it overwhelmed the creepy. There was the odd “boo” moment
as an apparition popped into and out of view, and some prickly trepidation
as to what might lie behind the next door. But I think overall it lacked
the subtlety of the earlier game, and was less by comparison.
Which doesn’t mean it wasn’t good. It also doesn’t
mean you will agree with me. Plenty of people playing this game find it
more frightening than the first, for a variety of reasons.
Dowerton remains an atmospheric place to explore,
littered with the entropy of abandonment and neglect. It’s not only the
buildings that suffer in that way; the lost souls of the title are
similarly afflicted. There is a surreal element to many of the rooms – a
set of mannequins sitting down to dinner, or a mattress skewered with
multiple pairs of scissors. Dust and cobwebs are testament to the time
that has passed since it was a lively and operating place of business, as
are the cockroaches and empty syringes.
Sound plays a big part. Creaks and groans, giggles
and wails, whispers and wind. Hear your heart pound as the adrenalin
increases or exertion takes over. Put on headphones, turn down the lights,
and immerse yourself. Close your eyes from time to time and just listen –
it’s rich and immersive.
The tale too is one which belongs in a place like
this. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t played the first game, although it
will add a little depth, and may even help build the atmosphere through
the sense of being here before. Jonathan’s script is particularly good, a
little uneven here and there, but worthy of not being spoiled by even the
minimalist divulgement here. Suffice to say that you play a Police
Inspector, looking for a small girl called Amy, and things are not at all
what they seem.
You do get glimpses of Dowerton’s past splendour,
through interactions with various of the lost souls. Helping them will
help you, and you will need to move back and forth from the “now” to the
past, to unravel what has beset them and to undo what has been done. There
are three such guests at the Dowerton hotel, who (to borrow a phrase)
checked out long ago but never left.
And then there is Amy. Troubled, and missing. Learn
about her as you poke about, play games with her from time to time, and
draw closer to what happened, and what will happen. Which will be up to
you in the end.
Echo you can learn about yourself.
The puzzling was effectively integrated into the
proceedings, and there was much of it, which meant that it was a bit of a
mixed bag. I didn’t think it was as open as the first game and, even
played on the hard setting, was not that difficult. I generally knew what
to do or where to go next, helped along by emails arriving on my PDA.
Occasionally I was lost. But as revisiting places sometimes revealed a new
development, with certain events triggering new ways forward, being lost
never seemed to last very long.
All of which helped the plot flow, and kept the game
going, which is, I think, a plus. If it stuttered and stalled through
being too difficult, the mood would be punctured and the overall
There is some repetition in the puzzles (you
reassemble about five or six torn flyers and posters) and there are some
dialogue based games and others that depend a bit on trial and error,
although the dialogue games will be less so if you pay attention to your
surroundings. Lock picking, however, is simply trial and error. You will
use an extensive inventory, although you have a fairly limited number of
items at any one time. Icons will of course indicate something needs to be
done, and the hotspots are quite generous, a little too much in some
cases. I thought that some better delineation between nearby hotspots
would have helped on occasion.
You can also find bonus items in the game (finding
them isn’t necessary in terms of completing the game), either through a
perceptive response to a puzzle or through repetition. The repetitive ones
are not my cup of tea; doing something repeatedly in the hope that you
might get a bonus seems a little too contrived. I did find three of a
stated six, and there might be others.
You can look up and down at every location, and
generally turn through 360 degrees. Whilst it can be a lot of clicking -
one to look up, another to look down again - it pays to do so, and subtle
clues will often indicate where it might be most rewarding. It would have
been nice to have had panning with the mouse, but I suspect that requires
a much more complicated game engine. Perhaps too Jonathan was thinking of
those players who get a little queasy with a free panning environment.
The system specifications are rather humble for a
modern-day game, and if you have a bigger system you can tweak the
antialiasing and a few other settings. The menu is all accessed through
the PDA, which pokes out at the bottom left of the screen, and the
inventory is across the bottom of the screen. It may well have unlimited
save slots, but as I only used one (which is really all you need), I can’t
Some conundrums in Lost Souls will lead to
your demise, but the game automatically returns you for another attempt.
One puzzle is timed, in that a misshapen creature is advancing upon you
and you must complete the puzzle before it reaches you.
One thing I would have liked was the opportunity to
skip dialogue I had heard. Re-entering the past, for instance, always
resulted in the same piece of character dialogue, and there were similar
instances elsewhere. Clicking on an object again might also trigger the
same response. It’s a small thing, but a thing nonetheless.
The voice work, with one exception, was generally
better than good. Unfortunately that exception was The Inspector, who
sounded far too forced and unnatural. The musical score, though, more than
compensated. And there are some nice little touches, including the slight
bob of the head in your first person perspective.
I did encounter some glitches. In those puzzles
where you had to reassemble a torn poster, if I moved a piece too close to
the edge of the screen, my curser became frozen and I would have to
control-alt-delete my way out. It happened more than once, so I made a
point of not going near the edges. I also got a similar lockup on two
occasions, which seem to have been the result of trying to turn in another
direction too quickly. I suspect if patches can fix these issues, Jonathan
will ensure that they eventuate.
Despite my misgivings and the little quibbles here
and there, all in all Dark Fall: Lost Souls is an excellent
adventure game, worthy of your time and your money. It didn’t rate as
highly for me as the first instalment, but it rates more highly than a lot
of games I have played. At its heart, it remains in essence the product of
one man’s passion, and, along with makers such as Knut Müller and William
R. Fisher, giving substance to that passion continues to produce
I played on:
OS: Win XP
AMD Phenom 9500 Quad Core CPU 2.2 GHz
Gx card: ATI
Radeon HD 3850 512Mb