33: Dark Fall: The Journal

Publisher: The Adventure Company
Developer: XXv Productions
Year: 2003
Platform: Windows

Review: Produced seemingly out of nowhere, Dark Fall is the labour of love from Jonathan Boakes, a British game designer who finally struck it big with this offering. And the returns were well deserved. Despite having limited resources to create it, Boakes stretched the limits of his game engine to create a highly atmospheric mystery.

After receiving a desperate call from your brother, you take a train into Dorset, England. He has been working on plans to redevelop an abandoned hotel and train station, and just as was suspected happened here seventy years ago, he along with some local ghost hunters have gone missing. Unraveling the mystery is your obvious goal, but enjoying the atmosphere is most of the fun. There’s something to be said about a game that can be won in about seven minutes if you know what to do, but can take hours upon hours of note-taking and puzzle deduction to arrive to the conclusion.

The hotel and train station are exquisitely detailed with a plethora of historical pictures, posters, and hand-written notes to really plunge the player into the 1940s. Everywhere you turn there is an added touch to really make the hotel come to life. Though there is not one character you interact with throughout the game, you feel like you truly get to know about a dozen people simply by seeing their rooms and evidence of their existence. And as movement and the limited inventory puzzles are quite intuitive, the atmosphere can be enjoyed without too much frustration.

Of course, the game is highly touted for being scary, which is also its major draw. Personally, I found the isolation, graphics and simple sound effects quite effective at producing chills, especially when played with the lights out. However, nearly all of this effect was excised when I discovered that there is no way to die. I realize that striking an effective balance between a risk-free environment and the instant-death room games of yore is tough, but for a game to truly be considered horror there has to be something to fear. If there is no way to make a mistake, then nuances which may originally be considered frightening are reduced to mere intrigue.

I would still recommend this game to those who like exploration and investigation. A few puzzles are a bit esoteric and recall the true horrors of Myst, but most are fairly intuitive and logical. And with many optional touches, such as using an Ouija board and solving some old cryptograms, Dark Fall has a lot to offer puzzle enthusiasts. Just don’t expect to lose any sleep over it.

Contemporary RatingHigh. Impressively intuitive from an independent designer.

Cruelty Rating:  Merciful.  No risk to be had in this horror game.

2 thoughts on “33: Dark Fall: The Journal”

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