Release Date: December 2009
Dark Fall 3: Lost Souls (DF3) is a classic. In fact, it is a double classic. It is both a classic adventure game and a classic ghost story.
You might think, because this is Dark Fall 3, that the story is the third part of a series. But that is not the case. All three stories are quite independent and can be played in any order. This story takes place in an abandoned hotel/train station in England. This is the same station which was in DF1, but several years have passed. The facility was closed down in 1945 after six people, including the hotel owners, mysteriously vanished in a single night. In the first game, which takes place at the turn of the century, the hotel is like a time capsule with many of the rooms perfectly preserved after 50 years.
But now it is 2009, about ten years later, and the squatters have moved in. There is vandalism, litter and graffiti everywhere. In DF1 you had to re-capture the Dark Fall in order to save your brother and the six spirits trapped with him. In DF3 you are a different character, an inspector, who is obsessed with finding a missing girl. Some of the ghosts may be the same, but you and the story are different.
I said that this game is presented as a classic ghost story. There will be some people who won't like that. We live in the age of CSI and The Discovery Channel. We like to know how things work. This is only a recent phenomenon. Throughout most of history ghost stories were told just to be scary. You might never learn who or what the ghost was, where it came from or how it got its power. It was enough just to be scared. So don't expect any great revelations, the Dark Fall is not here to teach you.
That being said, the story is wonderful. It has all the elements you need – an obsessed protagonist haunted by his past, a missing girl with a dark fascination for the occult and an abandoned building housing a horror from the past. The story plays out very well with new information doled out at regular intervals and several subplots to keep your interest up. I never felt like the story was just an excuse for the game; the game and the story were one.
So what about the game? As I said, it is classic Adventure – you explore, collect objects, solve puzzles (both inventory and logical) and interact with NP Characters. There are no clever gimmicks or innovations to the genre; just good, honest adventure gaming.
The play is fairly linear, which I prefer. I personally like a good idea of what I need to do next. Oh, you are free to explore to your heart's content, but the story will only advance as you work on the problem at hand. There were only a couple of times when I finished a challenge and was not sure what to do next, but simply moving about a little provided me with the directions to the next challenge. I found it very satisfying.
The graphics are outstanding and what we have come to expect from Johnathan Boakes.. Although you may notice that in the past Jonathan's style has been creepy and spooky while in this game he gets a bit more horrific. That is not to say that knife-wielding hockey masks are leaping out and dismembering people. Rather, the decor has become a bit more moist with pulsating organs and unnatural creatures, and the characters have more personal issues. The overall effect allows for easy immersion. But this is not a place I would have the courage to explore alone. I chose to play with the lights on.
DF3 is apparently using a new game engine which improves the graphics a bit. Dust specs now dance in the moonbeams and your breath fogs in the chilly night air. It also allows you to look up and down a bit; which is both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing in that you get to see a bit more and find a few more hidden objects. It is a curse in that you must click both for up and down and you don't get that much for the effort. It is as if you had a stiff neck and could move your eyes, but not your head. This causes exploration to become a tedious “look north, up, down, down, up, east, up, down, down, up, south...” And you cannot forgo the exercise or you will miss important stuff. 3D panoramic viewing would have been much easier on the player.
Puzzles are again classic and fair. Most of them are inventory-based, but there are a few logic ones thrown in. The usual advice to Look Everywhere applies. My only complaint was that several of the logic puzzles had time constraints – if you didn't finish them in time the ghost would kick you out of the room and you would have to start over. You have infinite retries and since the challenge is one of intellect and not dexterity, I failed to see the point. I would have preferred an uninterrupted contemplation of the challenge. Still, they were all good puzzles and fit well into the storyline. I never felt that a puzzle was thrown in just to lengthen the game.
After playing so many mediocre games from the big publishers, DF3 was a welcome treat. Even with the slight annoyances I’ve mentioned, I grant this game an A-. If you like adventure games, you must get this one. And while you are at it, get DF1/DF2 Director’s Cut. DF2 has been improved to the point where it is a very good Sci-Fi adventure game in the guise of a ghost story. We need to give Jonathan all the encouragement we can to write another.
Final Grade: A-