Dark Fall: Lights Out

Posted by Matt Barton.
First posted on 19 June 2006. Last updated on 24 January 2010.
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Dark Fall: Lights Out
Forget about guessing the solution! This giant meta-puzzle requires that you first solve a whole series of smaller puzzles scattered all throughout the game.
Dark Fall: Lights Out
Maps, maps, maps! I sense a theme here.
Dark Fall: Lights Out
Clue or decor? Who knows?
Dark Fall: Lights Out
This is another clue whose purpose is far from obvious. Do a sketch or take a screenshot!
Dark Fall: Lights Out
This clue involves both shape and color. Make note of both!

This game is part of the Adventures in Terror (also known as British Horror Collection) released in December 2009 by Iceberg Interactive.

Adventures in Terror - British Horror Collection

The compilation includes 3 games previously released separately in 2002-2006:

Dark Fall: The Journal Classic Edition

Dark Fall: Lights Out The Director's Cut Edition

Barrow Hill

Dark Fall: Lights Out The Director's Cut Edition

Dark Fall: Lights Out The Director's Cut Edition is an update to Dark Fall: Lights Out. Released in December 2009 and published by Iceberg Interactive, the Director's Cut Edition has been re-mastered for Windows XP and Vista. It also includes new scenes and puzzles not found in the original.

About the author

Matt Barton is an assistant professor of English at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, United States. Aside from his academic interest, his passions include playing adventure games and writing about them.

For more information on Barton, visit Matt Barton's Tikiwiki.

In 2003, The Adventure Company released the critically-acclaimed Dark Fall: The Journal, an one-man project by UK developer Jonathan Boakes. The original game in the series played like a creepier Myst. Whereas Myst's lavishly detailed but lonely landscapes inspire a Zen rock garden—Dark Fall's emptiness feels more like a nightmare set in a spook shack. A solid mix of clever puzzles, intriguing story, and a thoroughly engrossing atmosphere resulted in a small but memorable masterpiece. Though Dark Fall: Lights Out (also known as Dark Fall II: Lights Out) is somewhat misleadingly cast as a sequel to Dark Fall: The Journal, it is really a new game cast in the same mold. While the game is not as creepy as its predecessor, its intricate story, ambience, and well-wrought puzzles managed to hold my attention through to the end. If you are a fan of Myst-style adventuring and like being spooked, Dark Fall: Lights Out deserves a slot on your gaming queue.

Boakes is a designer who is known to pace his games very well, limiting the number of areas, puzzles, clues, and other variables to a convenient and manageable level. Dark Fall: Lights Out is certainly no exception. Gradually, the story unfolds of a mysterious disappearance of 3 keepers at Fetch Rock lighthouse in Cornwall in 1912. The player's avatar is a mapmaker named Benjamin (Ben) Parker, who has been assigned by the Royal Society to map the area. Although Ben is at first bitter over this seemingly trivial assignment, he soon gains interest after hearing of strange occurrences at the light house—men going insane, rocks changing location, and mysterious sightings (both visual and aural). There is also a question of why the site's key geographical feature (Fetch Rock) does not show up on earlier maps of the area. Ben arrives too late to help the keepers, and almost immediately gets himself caught in a surreal maelstrom of mystery and possible murder. Suffice it to say that the story is a decadent mix of sci-fi and gothic horror.

Dark Fall: Lights Out, like its predecessor, is an exquisitely crafted game and quite obviously a labor of love. The graphics are lavish but static photorealistic images, though there are occasional animations. What is really impressive about this game, however, is the ambience. For example, venturing into areas sometimes triggers a supernatural event, such as the brief appearance of a ghostly visage or flicker of the lights. These are very subtle and often leave me wondering, "Did I really just see that?" The sound effects add masterfully to this psychedelic cocktail. I lost track of the number of times for which I was surprised by a sudden cough or spooked out by not-so-distant footsteps (in a supposedly deserted area). Boakes obviously knows what it is like to be spooked by a creepy environment. Some of the best hair-raisers occurred when I was reading journals and scraps of diaries. After reading scrawled lines like "He's coming!", an expertly-placed sound effect of a doorknob rattling suddenly played, jolting me right out of my seat. Clearly, this is a game meant to be played alone for full effect.

Boakes has used a number of third-party authoring tools in order to minimize the development cost for this game. Specifically, the game interface is built entirely on the Macromedia engine. Locations and objects are constructed using Strata's Strata3D, whereas character models are made using CuriousLabs' Poser 5. Sounds are mixed with audio effects using Sonic Foundry's Sound Forge.

Dark Fall: Lights Out is among the rare games that manage to incorporate a meta-puzzle—a single giant puzzle whose solution requires solving a plethora of related smaller puzzles throughout the rest of the game. As the game progresses, Ben travels back and forward in time to discover the secret of the keepers' (and his own) disappearance, exploring a Stone Age village, an early 20th-century lighthouse, and a futuristic launch facility. Some of the better puzzles correspond to clues in other times (e.g., what Ben does in the past affects the future). Of course, experienced adventure gamers can probably guess what is coming whenever they solve a difficult puzzle is the revelation of a strange rune or series of coordinates, all of which add up to something important. As such, I advise taking notes. I also advise making frequent screen captures, since some of the symbols are somewhat intricate and tricky for non-artistic players to sketch.

On a negative side, the game's difficulty, or perhaps tediousness, is greatly increased by the need for vigilant pixel-hunting. Exits are often very easy to miss, and it is never clear which objects can be added to the inventory and which are purely for decoration. Players may grow tire of navigating up and down spiral staircases, each of which requires precise clicking (and lots of it). Towards the end of the game, this problem is amplified by a considerable chunk of backtracking. Clearly, a zoom feature that allows rapid travel between distant locations (such as in Myst) can be helpful here. Another problem is the abundance of red herrings. Players who enjoy reading lots of text on the screen (particularly text written in a "handwriting" script font) may find plenty to entertain themselves here. It is only after the players have completed the game can they then realize what texts are relevant and which are superfluous (or, to be more charitable, mood-setting). A similar problem involves a time travel device that is activated when Ben makes contact with certain objects and surfaces. Unfortunately, these locations are rather arbitrary, so that even diligent players may need to visit (and revisit) every location, and pick up or zoom in on every object, multiple times in order to find them all.

In short, Dark Fall: Lights Out is the perfect game to wile away a weekend, but do not play it during the day. No, this game, like its predecessor, is best played in the dark, preferably with headphones. Adventure fans who are willing to forgive a game for a few minor faults can find many satisfying rewards at Fetch Rock.

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