Dark Fall: Lost Souls is a point-and-click adventure which has the perfect setting for a horror tale. A graveyard, you say? A crypt? A disused abattoir? No. It’s set in a railway station, the home of some of the most unimaginable terrors. Station announcers with a nasal tone that can put you to sleep. Forever. Vending machines which charge a pound for a single packet of crisps. Trains that never arrive. And as for the buffet kiosk’s sandwiches… Suffice it to say, if you want to find a quick route to the next life, there probably isn’t a swifter one than that prawn mayonnaise baguette.
But Dark Fall’s derelict Dowerton railway station – and adjoining hotel which the game also utilises – is a much more awful place than even Network Rail could dream up. Those who played the original Dark Fall adventure (this is the third one) will recognise the setting immediately, as it’s the same, but even spookier this time round. Incidentally, Lost Souls is a standalone story, and no previous knowledge of the Dark Fall saga is required.
As you stumble around the game’s half-lit platforms and rooms, the echo of old trains can be heard, alongside the giggles of murdered girls and slow ticking of the station clock. Occult diagrams and deranged sketches litter the walls, with mannequins posed in the station café’s seats, some pointing into the darkness at clues.
There’s a definite ‘less is more’ theme here, with the unsettling noises, a haunting musical score and a general low-key, gently disturbing vibe offset by the occasional moment of jumpiness. Such as when an apparition suddenly flashes into existence in the darkness in front of you and hisses a few words of semi-coherent warning.
Not only are the dimly lit rooms filled with ghosts, who mutter clues about the disappearance of a young girl on bonfire night – the central plot – but they’re also liberally scattered with puzzles. Some are standard inventory-based “use this on that” affairs, but there are plenty of actual puzzles such as jigsaws to conquer, and many logic related teasers.
There’s a jigsaw puzzle in every third or fourth room; perhaps a ripped up newspaper headline that needs to be pieced back together to glean a clue about the hotel’s deathly past. Plus there are other traditional sorts of puzzles: electric wires that must be correctly connected up, or multi-coloured wheels which must be rotated in a certain sequence so all their colours match.
Dark Fall’s conundrums are somewhat abstract at times, but they’re generally satisfyingly logical to solve (skip the rest of this paragraph and the next if want to avoid a spoiler). At first, the section where you have to roll animal bones on a table to enlist the aid of the spirits seems confusing, until you realise that the bones in a tin make a different noise if you shake them to the left or right side of the table.
Those noises are replicated in a tape recording of a previous summoning you find, and once you twig this, you can copy the exact sequence of sounds played on the tape. Then you successfully make contact and the rolled bones spell out an important clue.
This adventure isn’t without obtuse and annoying moments, however, which more often than not are down to the interface. One of the main issues here is that an object’s “hit box” – the active area the mouse pointer registers around a clickable item – is far bigger than the object itself. To the point where in some instances, you think you’re clicking on, say, a chair next to a table, when you’re actually still clicking on the table. It’s just the table’s hit box covers the chair as well.
Now all this might not sound like too big a deal, but in some cases it caused us to miss a crucial item. At one point there’s a coin hidden in a piece of furniture, but we completely missed it because there was a readable book on the furniture in question as well. In other words, we assumed the hit box around the furniture only related to the book, an assumption all too easily made given Dark Fall’s typical click detection.
This caused us well over an hour of frustrated wandering and fruitless searching. Which, we might add, was made worse by the fact that moving around in this game involves lots of slow panning of the camera that can’t be skipped. This artistic direction feels moody and atmospheric at first, no doubt as intended, but when you just want to get around the hotel and find something, it becomes quite irritating. Having to look up and down at the ceiling and floor constantly in such a sluggish fashion, just to make sure you haven’t missed anything in the rafters, doesn’t help make searching any less painstaking, either.
However, on balance there is more to enjoy about Dark Fall than there is to get worked up about. The puzzles are generally logical and fulfilling to crack, and the plot the game weaves is genuinely unsettling. It definitely pulls you in, and the mysteries behind this chilling, derelict old station and hotel demand to be unfolded.
Company: Iceberg Interactive