Dark Fall: Lost Souls

Posted by Patrick Talbot.
First posted on 08 February 2010. Last updated on 08 February 2010.
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Dark Fall: Lost Souls
The torn poster is a notice about a missing girl in Dowerton.
Dark Fall: Lost Souls
Amy asks the Inspector if he is still looking for her.
Dark Fall: Lost Souls
The haunted Station Hotel hides many dark secrets.
Dark Fall: Lost Souls
Cryptic text messages from Echo carry a sinister warning.
Dark Fall: Lost Souls
A birthday party invitation from Amy awaits the Inspector.

The adventure game genre has a tradition of being able to present compelling stories with gripping atmosphere. The horror faction of the genre, however, has been littered with many "misses" and only few "hits". The "misses" assault you with cheap shocks and empty scares. You are taken aback for a few seconds at a sudden jolt, but then the experience is quickly forgotten. The "hits" immerse you into gloomy and dismal dispositions with little or no hope of escaping fully intact. Even if you survive to the end, the experience will still haunt you and give you the shivers just thinking about it. These are the games that you seldom forget. Dark Fall: Lost Souls, developed by Darkling Room and published by Iceberg Interactive, is an examplar of a game that falls squarely in the latter.

This third game in the Dark Fall series follows the story set in Dark Fall: The Journal and Dark Fall: Lights Out. The game does not require you to know what has happened in the previous games. In this sequel, you play the role of the Inspector, a dishonored police officer who has once been charged but failed to find a missing girl abducted years ago. Determined to save the girl now, the disgraced policeman finds himself in an abandoned train station in the English countryside village of Dowerton, where he is haunted by the guilty conscience of his past failure as well as by the ghosts who dwell there. As he reexamines old clues and uncovers new evidence at the train station and the adjoining hotel, he learns the truth about Amy, the missing girl, and her suspected abductor, the mysterious and ultra creepy vagabond, Mr. Bones.

Dark Fall: Lost Souls is amongst the most atmospheric and terrifyingly creepy games I have ever played. The overall atmosphere focuses on the macabre and grotesque imagery that can really make your skin crawl. The scripted storyline takes inspirations from Edgar Allen Poe. The settings are reminiscent of the Silent Hill series, but the graphics are more detailed. The sceneries are crisp and vivid, though they are mostly static renderings resembling photographs, akin to the Myst series. However, you can pan around in most scenes at 90° with each turn for a full 360° view of the surroundings. The game supports a resolution of 1024x768 pixels. Unfortunately, widescreen support is done by pillarboxing.

Dark Fall creator Jonathan Boakes makes full use of sound to add to the game's horror atmosphere. The game is filled with creepy, haunted noises that immerse you deeper into its settings as you investigate the abandoned town of Dowerton. The ambient sounds and scripted events and triggers work with terrifying effectiveness. For example, as you begin your search for the missing girl, you can hear a girl giggle behind you. Yet, when you turn around, you see nothing there. Then, as you search for the source of the sound, you can hear a monstrous moan behind you, only to see nothing again when you turn around. The ambience intensifies even more if you play the game while wearing headphones. Boakes clearly shows that what you cannot see can be much scarier than what you can see. Even so, the game also hits you suddenly with macabre images that flash only for just a brief moment, long enough to make you want to scream. There is no grotesque or gratuitous violence in this game. Rather, the game relies mostly on psychological horror to deliver a scary experience.

Control for the game is straightforward using a mouse. All menu options can be selected using your cell phone, which is tucked away at the bottom of the screen but which can be easily accessed by right clicking on it. Inventory items are lined up at the bottom of the screen and can be selected by right clicking. The cell phone is equipped with a flashlight, which is needed to illuminate dark areas for clues or items.

Other elements of the game also add to the skin crawling experience. From the sudden appearance of ghosts to the cryptic text messages that are sent to your cell phone from a mysterious character named Echo, the game persistently conjures up within you a feeling of nervous paranoia.

The puzzles are not too difficult, varying from reconstructing torn newspapers or posters to putting fuses to electrical circuits to light up dark areas. There are puzzles that can lead to your death if they are not correctly solved. To the designer's credit, if you fail, the game will automatically take you back for another try at them. There is also a particular timed puzzle that still gives me the shivers just thinking about it. It involves a ghost called a Shadowkin, who approaches you as you attempt to put the circuits in the correct order in an old television set. The ghost does not come to you too quickly, but with the use of lighting and sound, I wish it has just come faster to end the suspense.

The voice work is well done. Emma Harry, who provides the voice of Amy, and Boakes himself, who provides the voice of Mr. Bones, are exceptional. I am a little disappointed with the Inspector's voice, which tends to be overdone and forced.

Overall, Dark Fall: Lost Souls delivers an unforgettable horror adventure experience. Boakes is clearly passionate about his created world, and his passion shows readily in the game's design, script, sound, and music. The game manages to transport you to places more scary than a ride at an amusement park. Indeed, Dowerton's train station and adjoining hotel will rival any haunted house, real or otherwise.

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