The Gang's All Here!
Review by Skinny Minnie, Jen, Orb,
and Old Rooster
The rotted stairway groans with dilapidation and then splinters
underfoot. Wizened shadows arch and fall as they lurch toward
my trembling hands. I hold the banisters in sweaty, vice-like
grips and they bow and creak out their dismay. The barren, rusty
bulb dangling haphazardly above me flickers and hisses, sputtering
out altogether as I grope my way downward toward the musty, peeling
paint of the cellar's landing ... Okay, so my apartment building
is really only eight years old. What can I say? The path to my
computer room gets a lot of use!
Third-person perspective games are my usual weapons of choice
these days. First-person, 90-degree turn, "tunneling"
point-and-clickers tend to feel like they offer two invisible
things in every game box: handcuffs and leg restraints. I am not
ordinarily a fan of note-taking, either. If I can't memorize it
to correctly manipulate it, I'd better be able to shoot it. Smith
& Wesson: The original point-and-click interface.
However, there are a few first-person, mouse-driven, pure adventure
games that have shot bull's-eye arrows right into my heart: Gabriel
Knight 2: The Beast Within ... Byzantine: The Betrayal ...
Ripper ... Although these are all older full-motion
video adventure games, there is finally a new, eerily 3D-rendered
etching for my tombstone: Dark Fall.
Chill and Thrill, Without the Kill
Atmospheric thrillers are often tainted with cheap gore. Rare
is the game (or even the movie) that can evoke perpetual fear
without it, never mind present a fluid and compelling story as
well. Dark Fall manages a continual tale of horror by merely
alluding to an unknown, otherworldly shadow of murderous terror.
There are no timed sequences, no mazes, no sliding tile puzzles,
and no blood. This is solely the puzzle-laden tale of a being
that lurks inside an abandoned 1940s railway station hotel, and
the horror that being has perpetrated upon innocent people down
through the ages. It creeps around darkened corners and knocks
on aged doors. It watches ... It waits ...
Dowerton Train Station in England has been closed off since 1947.
The shutdown was largely due to the twelve residents of and around
the Station Hotel who vanished the night of April 29th that year,
seemingly without a trace. You as the player first enter the game
in the present day, though, after just missing a call from your
brother, Peter Crowhurst. Pete is an architect setting up shop
in and assigned to revamping the long-abandoned Station Hotel
and its grounds. The answering machine message he leaves is actually
a plea for help. "I am in Dorset with two students from Weymouth
Universitythey're ghost hunters. I need you to come here!
Whatever they have been hunting has found them, and found me too ..."
The message is interrupted only by Peter himself as he eventually
breaks away from his train of thought. Someone is whispering to
him, hypnotically, from outside the door to his room at the old
hotel ... That someone knows his name ... What in God's
name is that sound on the tape? Oh, Peter, don't open the ...
After taking the train as far as it will go, you hop into a cab,
where you apparently fall asleep, waking up in an antiquated and
dimly lit train tunnel. A young English lad's voice echoes across
its dank recesses. He introduces himself as Timothy Pike, a boy
lost and unable to find his way home. You look for him, for all
the good it does. He is nowhere to be found. To move in different
directions and explore, you merely click in response to mouse
cursor changes (left, right and forward arrows onscreen). Timothy
yelps a warning when you try to enter a blackened area of the
tunnel. "It" apparently likes the dark, whatever "It"
is, so you decide stay in the light, as you are told to do ...
The 3D-rendered environments, although not totally cutting-edge,
portray distinctly ramshackle abandonment quite skillfully. There
is a high level of detail in the oodles of old accouterments and
photos from the bygone, post-WWII era as well. The train station,
hotel and grounds themselves (shown in the screenshots on the
right) propel you along through this "Fear Factor 10"
game, keeping you at the edge of your seat the whole time. The
slow, 90-degree turns of this point-and-click interface actually
serve to feed the growing tension; you can't outrun whatever lurks
in the darkness. At times, you can barely turn fast enough to
glimpse a shadow or luminescent movement out of the corner of
your eye before it is gone once again. For myself, I particularly
enjoyed making my way through certain creepy, pitch-black areas
using only a lantern, with its small, round, quite limited field
A Sound Station
There are three floors' worth of hotel rooms plus the ground
floor lobby, basement, and attic to explore just in the hotel
alone. There are also scenes outside, along the hotel grounds.
You can always come and go freely as you please, giving gaming
linearity a right cold boot in the arse, mate! During all this
exploring, it won't take long before you hear communications from
the ghostly English victims of the hotel's former glory days (and
beyond). Through both telephones and the handling of old, personal
artifacts, souls impart snippets of advice for your survival or
merely the feelings they had during the final, frenzied hours
of their existence. The ghostly conversations, although occasionally
two-way with you via text parser-like typing, are mainly much
like any hotel itself. They are a patchwork quilt, or one-way
snippets if you will. A hotel, having separately inhabited rooms
instead of being a complete "home," does not reflect
its inhabitants' complete lives by far but only the times where
their paths crossed at this one junction.
Voiceovers are exceptionally good for a computer game, conveying
shock, annoyance, happiness, helpfulness and fear, all with equal
aplomb. Sound effects, although sparse, are eerie and placed for
maximum effect. The music of harps, pianos and synthesizers can
be heard at various points, underscoring both the musical talents
of certain hotel inhabitants of the past and emphasizing the scarier
episodes in the story.
Ghost in the Machine
You will appropriate some interesting "ghost hunting"
equipment (goggles, sensors, cameras and the like) as your journey
to find out what has become of your brother unfolds. (You do remember
Pete after all, don't you?) Polly White and Nigel Danvers, the
alleged "ghost hunters" that were living in the hotel
with Peter, have their own back story and tales to tell, via both
aural communications from the great beyond and their abandoned
computers and equipment. Polly in particular was schooled in otherworldly
talents like Ouija board manipulation (I hope you didn't think
you'd get away without using one of those in a ghost story of
A Puzzling Plot
You will come upon many interesting and unique puzzles in this
game, but every one is intrinsically woven into the artifacts
and lives of the hotel's past inhabitants, and they cohesively
flow, as does the whole spooky tale, toward a grand finale puzzle
section and story ending. The puzzles range from simple to moderate
in difficulty. Inventory is sparse, usually numbering ten items
or less, although items no longer needed are still carried with
you and shown in the upper left of the screen with the rest. Simply
approach an area or puzzle where an inventory item is needed,
wait until the cursor changes to a wrench to indicate inventory
interaction, and then click on an item carried. The correct item
will set a scene in motion and give the desired results, be it
suitcases opening, coin-operated phones working, etc.
When approaching puzzle areas, click on the forward arrow to
get closer. A hand indicates there is a puzzle to be completed
or an item to be examined; locked treasure boxes and hidden compartments
abound. A magnifying glass indicates a closer look at a specific
item is possible. When done, you must click on the downward-pointing
arrow near the bottom of the screen to zoom back out. You must
also close drawers and closets again before being able to back
out of those areas. The puzzle answers, although a little cumbersome
at times and a bit reliant upon secret codes and ancient symbols,
are always there for you. The answers may, however, be spread
out not just over the hotel's floors, but also on the grounds
outside as well. There are many scenes here, and even if you have
a fine memory you will want to take a few diligent notes (or screenshots
if you're a writing rebel like I am), unless you don't mind backtracking
for answers. Pay attention to seemingly innocuous doodles on drawing
pads, as well as the wealth of written notes left about concerning
not only hotel duties and the careers of the occupants, but the
scandals, alliances and secret loves occurring within. Refer to
the screenshots at the right for a few visual examples of the
many puzzles. Some are hidden in old-time artifacts, others refer
to astronomy or mythical symbols, and there are a few cryptograms
and anagrams as well (you've got to hide messages from "It"
however you can, you know), but all tie in nicely to the main
The grand finale itself consists of three puzzles called "trials"
that culminate in an endgame sequence, where you must at long
last confront and trap the evil that has managed to wreak havoc
down through the ages. I was a little disappointed in the flatness
of the ending after such a stressful thrill ride of a story, but
the tale itself departs with a satisfying twist, if a slightly
The Big Black Bug Bled Black Blood
I had the unusual experience of playing Dark Fall not
just on one computer, but on several. I spend a lot of my summer
vacationing at a seasonal campground, and I happen to have a Windows
98 Athlon PC with a space-saving LCD monitor there. My main rig
at home is a Windows XP Athlon machine with a CRT. The first thing
to "bug" me was the sole full-screen resolution of 640x480
offered. LCD monitors run clearly in only one native resolution,
usually 1024x768 or 1280x1024 depending upon the monitor. I wound
up stuck playing the game in a small window, my only other choice
being a full-screen 640x480 setting that was so blurry I quickly
went back to 1024x768 with a sigh. When I came home from the campsite
due to foul weather, I transferred my saves to my Windows XP machine
at home, and was once again irked by the 640x480 full-screen mandate;
WinXP itself does not natively support that bygone of bygones,
and you must run the compatibility wizard first every time you
want to fire up Dark Fall in full screen. I actually decided
to play it in a window even in WinXP as I normally run in 1024x768
there too, and desktop icons rearrange in haywire fashion whenever
you switch down to 640x480.
This transfer of gameplay from Win98 to WinXP conveniently brings
me to the "Seeing Black Blood" portion of our bug program.
Once I had backed up my Dark Fall saves and installed them
into WinXP (all Dark Fall saves are .txt files that default
to the My Documents folder), the bleeding began. Some of my saves
were okay, while others gave I/O error messages when I would try
and load them. The faulty saves would then finally load, but were
missing all inventory items! I found a save not too far back from
my latest one that worked fine, but then when I progressed a ways
and went to save again in WinXP, that new save was whacked out
when I went to load it later; I got the same I/O message error
and missing inventory items. This left me the choice of either
starting back again from the previous good save and trying to
finish the whole rest of the game in one shot without saving again,
or transferring my saves to yet a different PC. Luckily for me,
I have quite a PC fetish and am usually armed with six to eight
extraneous PCs at any given point, running every version of Windows
there is. As an experiment, I loaded all of my same Dark Fall
saves into a Windows Millennium PC, and lo and behold, every
one worked, even the ones that gave I/O errors with WinXP! As
I similarly had no save game troubles in the original Win98 machine
I began the game with, I would recommend this game more to Win98
and WinMe-based computer owners than I would to those running
Spelling out Other Bugs
Another small bug I encountered was that every time I exited
the first-floor buffet area off of the kitchen in the game, I
was flung directly into a second-floor hotel room upstairs without
even ascending the stairway!
The only other complaint I have with Dark Fall is the
lack of proofreading within the written communications of the
game. It is hard to say what Peter, Polly and Nigel etc. needed
more: assistance from professional ghostbusters, or English grammar
and punctuation classes!
Dark Fall Won't Hear Our Call
There is no paper manual included with Dark Fall, but
there are both instructions and hints on the game CD. The game
itself actually comes as a completely blank, burned CD in a printed
DVD case. Don't leave the CD hanging about near your homemade
MP3 CD collection, or you may have an additional Dark Fall
mystery to solve! The $29.99 price tag is quite stiff for
such low-budget media, and perhaps the "burn-at-home"
copies of the game that Jonathan Boakes provides may be behind
some of the I/O errorswho knows? Unfortunately, no one will
ever find out, because several emails to Jonathan by staffers
here early on have gone completely ignored. At any rate, about
the only mystery presented by a blank, burned CD is the one of
how, in comparison, the major adventure companies can issue professional
releases at the same price, or even at a significantly lower $19.99
price point. To be fair, though, some major releases are bug-laden
All in all, despite the game's worrisome save game problems with
WinXP (I believe Jen had the same troubles with Windows 2000 too,
mentioned in her comments below), its restricting full-screen
setting, and the lack of professional polish throughout its many
written communications, I would recommend Dark Fall to
any adventure gamer desiring a subtle horror story rife with fine
puzzles. It is in many ways a wonderful offering, the graphics
being quite good considering the whole game was created almost
entirely by Jonathan Boakes alone. Dark Fall kept me glued
to my monitor over its entire length, which is truly saying something
in my case as many big-budget, blockbuster adventure game releases
wind up serving merely as sleep aids for me. All things considered,
I still feel compelled to rate Dark Fall as a star, albeit
a rusty, flickering one!
At this time I would like to turn you over to Jen, Orb and Old
Rooster, who would like to share their impressions in this quadruple-header
Dark Fall review. I shall now bid you goodbye, mates, as
I have a lot of remodeling to do around my cellar ...
I have seen many parallels drawn between Dark Fall and
probably because both use the four-walls navigation/view technique
and both draw together the stories of several ghosts. However,
Amber's three ghosts' tales were pretty fully fleshed out,
and you only get snippets of the Dark Fall spirits' histories.
Amber is one of my all-time favorite games, and Dark
Fall didn't quite measure up to that standard. For me it was
hard to care about any of the characters, even the more recently
departed ones, because they were treated just too superficially.
As far as gameplay, I liked it a lot at first when the puzzles
and their solutions were flowing like water, but it soon devolved
into a look-everywhere-again-ad-infinitum pixel hunt to find overlooked
hotspots. The sound effects, very effective at first, became repetitious,
and since each one was triggered in the same place every single
time, the game lost its creepy luster after the first hour or
two out of the 10 or 12 it took me to finish the game.
Some of the puzzles were pretty clever, but others required trigger
actions that were too far away from the results, engendering yet
more tromping around the hotel. All of the little puzzles' solutions
ultimately provided the needed clues to solve the one endgame
megapuzzle, which was not so mega after all because, and I'm trying
not to give any spoilers here, just one look at it, actually pretty
early on in the game for me, was enough to know exactly what to
do, based on everything I'd seen up to that point.
Dark Fall's graphics are fine, sound effects are suitable,
and like I said before, the creepy atmosphere, at first anyway,
is very well-done. Dark Fall would have shined had it been
released seven or eight years ago, but today it plays like a game
that was, well, released seven or eight years ago. Jonathan Boakes
is indeed a very talented amateur ... but an amateur nonetheless,
and it shows.
I played under Windows 2000 and, in addition to not liking that
640x480 requirement, I encountered script errors in trying to
load some of my more recent saves. However, it proved to be no
big deal to go back and reacquire the lost inventory items after
restoring an earlier, working save.
I really wavered between the egg (I hated the repetitious traveling,
and atmosphere only carries a game so far) and the thumb up for
my verdict but I am going with the thumb up because, despite all
my griping, Dark Fall really is an impressive first effort
for the one-person design team and is actually better than some
recent big-company releases. I'm not sorry I played it but neither
am I gaga over it. How's that for decisiveness?
Point-and-click, first-person adventures have always been my
favorite sorts of games. Dark Fall, while not necessarily
a milestone, fits neatly into the group of well-regarded, independently
produced games that adventure game players are always looking
for and crowing about when they find.
Made to be atmospheric and spooky, Dark Fall seems to
be repeatedly and favorably compared to Amber: Journeys Beyond.
My feeling that it was very similar in design and ambiance
to Inherent Evil: The Haunted Hotelanother clever
indie title. In fact, there were several occasions throughout
gameplay where I was really reminded of Inherent Evil, simply
by the design of a particular area. Dark Fall does one
better than its predecessor in that it has unlimited saves, and
in unlimited locationsIE had a major design flaw
in that players could only save between levels.
The style and feel of the game is right up my alley. It is really
a classic, old-fashioned adventure game design and formula, and
it works as it's supposed to. Two other games with similar roots
came to mind while playingComer
and the Mac-only The
Castle, although I really feel that in this instance
Dark Fall improves on the formula.
I loved the post-war London setting, and I am so happy to see
a designer pick a unique location. At the risk of being stoned
to death by adventure gaming stalwarts, I am dead-dog tired of
Egypt. The great parts of this setting are all of the wonderful,
intricate cultural details, which one for one are very lovingly
crafted. From newspaper clips to boxes of products to posters
on the wall, one is consistently reminded of what era the environment
has lodged itself to sleep within.
But my favorite thing about the game is the initial degree of
exploration available. In fact, the whole game is completely wide
open and can be explored and played in whatever sequences one
wishes, which to me is the right way to put together an adventure
game. And there is some really nice rendering in closeup looks
at objects in the environments.
A really good piece of news, something to the designer's credit,
is that the system requirements are low enough to afford any Macintosh
owner with Virtual PC the ability to play Dark Fall right
off the shelf, so to speak. I ran it on a 466 MHz iBook running
System 9.1, and it ran beautifully and flawlessly, with no bugs
One thing I did not care for is the blackouts when moving in
between game locations. I don't know if animations of going up
or down stairs would have made it too cumbersome production-wise,
but the fact that the player does not see the stairs then is dumped
off in a new location is a little disorienting.
It's a sweet little game with a lot of nice details.
To play on an old standard a bit, please hum along with me: "There's
a small hotel, with a wishing well, I'm glad that I'm not there!"
What M. Night Shyamalan does for understated but terrifying horror
in his films The Sixth Sense and Signs, Jonathan
Boakes has accomplished with Dark Fall. It's the unspoken,
unseen, yet hinted-at terror that makes us really squirm. Our
imaginations, with but a little prodding, can conjure up visions
of imminent doom much more unsettling and hard to confront than
a few Resident Evil zombies down the road! Typical of the
anticipatory dread engendered is a comment early on: "It's
right outside the door ... It knows my name ... I've
got to open the door!"
Dark Fall, to be sure, made me think of Amber and
series, but mostly I'm remembering one of my favorite adventure
gamesJohn Saul's Blackstone Chronicles. There, instead
of a hotel, we have a shut-down mental hospital being explored,
with its share of very sad, sometimes bizarre, ghostly and ghastly
Accompanying my plaudits, though, are a few concerns. I find
the 640x480 resolution an unfortunate choice, wishing the minimum
full screen was at least 800x600. Further, one shouldn't have
to play a new release in Windows XP compatibility mode. In that
regard, I did experience a couple of save game crashes with my
XP 1.8 gig system. The 90-degree screen movement is sometimes
limiting and is not something we're used to with newer games.
Although the freedom of exploration and nonlinearity are generally
positives, there are occasions where a piece of information is
needed that will require "going back" if not already
secured. I prefer games that don't let you proceed to a new section
until you have what you need. Of course, good note-taking can
alleviate this concern. Finally, I found the intended darkness
of the game occasionally a bit too dark in terms of hotspot searching.
On the other hand, these "warts," or lack of 2002 production
techniques, are more than compensated for by wonderful ambient
sounds and voice acting embedded in a terrific story. The game
grew on me, and with the cohesive and well-integrated puzzles,
I came away suitably impressed by the work of a very talented,
perhaps gifted, writer. Congratulations!
As to a rating, my impression is closer to a thumb up than a
star. What brings the rating down are those concerns about the
lack of modern production and the aforementioned warts.
A Note from the Developer
"... [R]ereading the Dark Fall review on the
site, I realised that it only covers the original v1 version (of
which only 75 copies were printed). The game now ships as v4,
with the i/o errors, proof-reading and colour settings repaired.
I occasionally get enquiries from possible customers asking whether
these bugs were fixed. Would it be possible to update the review,
to avoid this?" (March 2003)
Release Date: June 2002
Four Fat Chicks Links
32 MB RAM (64 MB recommended)
24X CD-ROM drive
SVGA capable graphics adapter
32-bit color at 640x480
Keyboard and mouse
Where to Find It
Links provided for informational purposes only.
FFC makes no warranty with regard to any transaction entered into
by any party(ies).