Dark Fall: Lost Souls - PC - Review
In today’s age of big-budget, flashy games with huge art teams and fancy physics engines, Dark Fall: Lost Souls feels like a throwback to an earlier era of gaming. Even by adventure game standards, Lost Souls feels simplistic. The environments are mostly flat backgrounds. You can only turn at 90-degree angles. There’s minimal voice work and even less animation. Strictly from a gameplay perspective, you’ve probably experienced more complex games in the extras of a DVD. So I hated, right? Well, no. Dark Fall: Lost Souls is actually a pretty solid adventure game, thanks to a solid story told in an effective, minimalist style.
The third game in the Dark Fall series, Lost Souls stand on its own just fine if you haven’t played the original titles. A first-person adventure, the player steps into the shoes of The Inspector, a disgraced officer who failed to find a young girl who was abducted years earlier. Determined to locate her, The Inspector finds himself at an abandoned train station in the British countryside, haunted by his failures and by other spirits roaming its halls. Amy, the missing young girl, appears to him from time to time and goads him on, perhaps a figment of his imagination or something else entirely. As the game unfolds, the player learns the truth about The Inspector, Amy and Mr. Bones, the vagrant that was suspected in Amy’s disappearance.
Taken on its own, the actual plot of Lost Souls isn’t unique. It’s the type of story that’s been told time and again in horror movies and literature. But compared to the low bar set by most video-game plots, it is effective, intelligent and clear. More impressive than the actual story is the way that it’s told. Dark Falls’ creator Jonathan Boakes was able to convey a lot of information using very simple storytelling techniques that fit perfectly within the gloomy world of the game. The Inspector is consistently prodded forward by mysterious text messages sent by an unknown individual called Echo. Not only do these messages contain hints as to where to go next, they also provide coded clues to the truth behind the story. Articles and books you find scattered around the world help fill out the backstory and explain the events around Amy’s disappearance. The objects you discover over the course of the game help you understand who once populated the now-abandoned train station and its attached hotel.
Equally important to the storytelling is the game’s use of sound. Filled with haunted, creepy noises, the static world of Lost Souls comes alive thanks to clever ambient sound and triggered effects. You will hear Amy giggle behind you or a horrible monster moan from the shadows, but when you turn to face the noise, nothing is there. I must admit that there were several times the steady stream of spooky sounds got to me and I found myself getting a little bit rattled. Like some of the classic horror film directors, Boakes knows that what we can’t see is scarier than what we can. His use of sound makes the flat world of Lost Souls feel much more active than it otherwise would – and much scarier.
Despite my general praise for Lost Souls’ storytelling, it’s not a game I can recommend to everyone, even all adventure game fans. Like many games in the genre, some of the puzzles are maddeningly obtuse. The supernatural slant to the game gave the designer license to come up with some pretty obscure puzzle solutions, such as one puzzle in which you must listen to series of tones and recreate the pattern by shaking a can of bones in order to get the phone number for the station hotel. Convoluted puzzles aren’t the game’s only shortcoming, either. Later in the game when it becomes more dialogue heavy, some of the voice actors’ lines are repeated in what was clearly an attempt to save money. It’s not a huge deal, but does tend to break the fiction when you hear a character respond to two questions with exactly the same words and inflection. But if a few rough edges and a decidedly old-school game design don’t bother you, then Dark Falls: Lost Souls may be a game for you. It can be clunky, slow and frustrating, but offers up some better storytelling than many games with a hundred times the development budget. Sure, its cliché at times. But it’s also genuinely creepy and compelling, and it may make you reconsider playing with the lights off.
Point-and-click gameplay is as basic as it gets. Some will love that, some will hate it.
The environments are nice and creepy, but static. Only a few elements of the game are even animated.
Creepy and unsettling, the sound goes a long way towards creating the mood. Only some repeated dialogue lines keep it from scoring higher.
You can't actually die, although many of the puzzles can be roadblocks.
Lost Souls is a solid throwback to the glory days of CD-ROM era adventure gaming.
A solid story well told and creaky gameplay mechanics result in a good game, but one that's definitely not recommended for a wide audience.