Review: Dark Fall 1: The Journal
There are degrees of puzzle games, and honestly I’m a fan of the straight-forward ones that go HERE IS A PUZZLE and then have you put gears on a board or rearrange a chessboard. Older puzzle games were puzzles unto themselves, where half of the challenge was determining how the actual puzzles manifested in the world. Dark Fall is one such game, so if you’re going to dive into this one you’d better have a fresh notebook and a sharp pencil at the ready.
Dark Fall takes place entirely in an abandoned train station, where years prior a mysterious event disappeared all the employees and passengers. You’re on the trail of your brother, but all you’re going to find here are empty rooms and ominous whispers. Delving any deeper into the story will require you to pore over the many letters and newspaper clippings that litter the station, some pages long.
You’ll need to do that to solve the puzzles, too, or sometimes just to FIND the puzzles. People like to talk about games holding their hands but Dark Fall doesn’t even have a hand to hold, just a cauterized stump to wave at you. There’s no highlighting, no journal, no clues, absolutely nothing to guide you to your next task in any way. Points of interest are hidden just like they would be in the real world, with lockboxes buried in the deep corners of chests and important documents tucked away under piles of clutter.
In fact, just navigating to a point of interest can be a challenge. Dark Fall uses static, rendered backgrounds which you can traverse by clicking to reach a new vantage point. The connections between scenes almost approximate tank controls, with forward and back moving you in that direction but left and right turning your view in place. That means a small room can have eight or twelve perspectives just based on two or three positions, and some of those are just staring at barren walls.
I know I’m not doing much to sell the game, but honestly I don’t think I should. Not everyone wants to keep meticulous notes on the scraps they find in case they have something to do with an obscure puzzle an hour later. I certainly don’t, but I recognize that for those who do, Dark Fall delivers exactly what is expected. With conventions dating from the Myst era, the challenges are more similar to puzzling out an ARG than clicking though a modern adventure. And I will give points for atmosphere, because some haunting sound design made even the decades-old renders creep me out a bit. If you’re looking for a real challenge in your puzzles this will deliver, just be sure you know what you’re getting into.