I keep reading about the death of the adventure game genre, and the ever diminishing stock of adventure games at my local gaming store seems to partially validate this opinion. However, Dark Fall is a game that gives me much hope for the future of the genre, since it is produced and distributed entirely by a small, independent company (XXv Productions). The lack of a large distributor means that I will never find Dark Fall on a local store shelf, but most adventure games don't seem to show up on the shelves anyway. So why does the existence of an independently produced, independently distributed game make me hopeful? Because Dark Fall is an excellent game, was obviously created with a (relatively) small budget, and has every chance of making the author a handsome profit. Dark Fall exemplifies a business model that could (and should) have small adventure game companies springing up around the world. I am eagerly awaiting the day when my budget won't stretch to purchase all of the newly released (and highly rated) adventure games.
Oh -- if you haven't figured it out yet, you can only purchase Dark Fall on-line, directly from the producer. Don't let that slow you down, since the entire process was quite painless, and the game was mailed the next business day. I even received an email telling me exactly when the game was shipped.
I don't usually talk much about a game's plot, but I will at least describe the general outline of Dark Fall. Dark Fall is a mystery set in an abandoned and haunted train station and hotel. As you snoop into people's rooms and belongings, you learn more about the people themselves, the history of the hotel, the story behind the hauntings, and more about your purpose in the game. This all sounds very complex, but the game's pacing makes it all seem very natural and unforced.
Graphics (quality, animations, cut scenes)
The graphics were all done using Macromedia, pre-rendered throughout, rather dark in tone, and with a grainy feel to them. However, the graininess and low lighting levels suited the game's atmosphere perfectly, so the lack of a multi-million dollar budget for graphics has not damaged this game in any way. The graphics don't give me the impression of artistic mastery, but they are also a far cry from feeling cheap. I'll steal a phrase from Mama Bear and call them "just right".
Animations and cut scenes are minimal, with no human figures moving around, merely objects or lights. In all cases, the animations were smooth, and suited to the game in all ways.
Sound (music, voices, special effects)
Dark Fall hereby gets my award for the best use of sound effects in a game. There is no constant musical background; instead, you are exposed to snippets of human voices, bits of music, footsteps, doors opening or closing, floorboards creaking, light fixtures buzzing, a piano playing, and so on. At no time did I feel like I was being bombarded by sound effects, but the total effect was stunning. The only other game I have played that used sound with this much effectiveness was Myst.
The are no extended dialog sequences in this game, but there are plenty of human voices throughout. The voice acting was perfect, without exception.
Story (plot, theme, depth)
Dark Fall never came out and dumped a bunch of voice narrative in an attempt to tell you a story. Instead, it immersed you in the story and revealed it bit by bit through various written diaries, notes, short voiceovers, and so on.
The end result gave me a feeling of mystery, with matching delight when I uncovered more about what was happening.
Characters (depth, development, interaction)
You never see any characters, except through pictures. However, what you do learn through the various notes, diary entries, and voice snippets is enough to make them feel like real people. Most of the characters stay pretty much a mystery, but for something that happened in the past, this also seemed appropriate.
Puzzles (difficulty, uniqueness, suitability, ugliness, linearity)
You can't die. There are no timed sequences, no sliders, and no mazes. There is one cryptogram which was somewhat tedious. There was one sound-based puzzle, but it consisted of more pattern than tone, so even tone deaf people should have little trouble.
It was nice to play a game contining puzzles that required a bit of thought for a change. Even then, they are all eminently fair; I only needed one hint in entire game, and that was because I didn't hunt hard enough for an item that we needed. There isn't any pixel hunting in the game, but you really do need to search absolutely everything.
Again, Mama Bear has the final word here: "Just Right".
Controls (user interface, save/restore, sound/video adjustments)
Dark Fall is mouse driven, with node-based movements, and you could always look in any of the four compass point directions at any node. This sounds constricting, but at no point did I ever feel lost -- confused, yes, but never lost.
The save game interface was quite pedestrian. You are presented with a normal Windows save-file dialog, so you could save games under any name you chose, and in any directory you chose.
You had to change resolution to 640x480 manually before starting the game.
The game had many places where you could look closer at something and interact with it (like a desk drawer). One minor annoyance was the requirement that you always close the door or drawer before the game would allow you to back away and move elsewhere.
Bugs or problems
I did notice that Macromedia left large number of files in my Windows temp directory that needed to be cleaned out after finishing the game. Other than that, the game ran flawlessly on my machine.
There is no installation for Dark Fall, as it plays directly off the CD. I copied the CD contents onto my hard drive, and the game worked perfectly.
The CD that arrived had no label, and had one perfectly black surface, and one silver surface that looked like the data side. I couldn't get it to read the CD at all, until a visit to the support page told me that the black side is the one that contained data. The CD should have had a label to remove that bit of confusion.
- Great puzzles
- Great story
- Wonderful sound effects
- Immersive and spooky
- CD needed a label to indicate which side goes down
- Inability to back away until you closed drawer or door
- A warning about the left-over temp files would have been nice
Dark Fall is close to being a flawless game, and it is a lot of fun to play. It is also the first game I have ever played that truly managed to achieve a spooky atmosphere.
Buy this game, turn down the lights, and have fun being in the middle of a well told ghost story.
Dark Fall easily earns a spot in my "Top Ten" list of games.
This article copyright © 2002, Murray Peterson