Review: Dark Fall 2: Lights Out
The original Dark Fall came from a school of adventure gaming that really isn’t around anymore, the old Myst rendered-image hunts of yore. We’ve moved away from those for good reason, because they can be frustratingly obtuse and irritating to navigate, but that’s not to say they can’t be good games. Dark Fall 1 made a decent show of it in the limited realm of a haunted train station, and Dark Fall 2 tries to do the same with a haunted lighthouse. Unfortunately, the places where 2 tries to be more ambitious are the places where the limitations of the genre sting the most.
Dark Fall 2 is inspired by the real-life mystery of the Flannan Isles Lighthouse, where over 115 years ago three lighthouse keepers vanished with nary a trace. It’s a fascinating story and fertile ground for a horror game, and so this one picks up in 1912 with you tasked with investigating a trio of vanished keepers. The lighthouse on Fetch Rock lost its charges back in 1900, inspiring rumors of curses and hauntings which your employer wishes to dispel. Setting off from town in the dead of night, your search of Fetch Rock will lead to a time-hopping journey from the far future all the way back to the Stone Age.
That’s right, I said time-hopping. It’s not a spoiler, they tell you right there on the store page, but beneath the lighthouse you’ll find a gateway that allows you to jump to three alternate time periods, including modern times. I’m sure that somewhere there’s been a quality horror tale that incorporated time travel but this one is not remotely close. The start of your journey in a small, foggy port town thick with gloom sets an excellent stage for horror, and the abandoned lighthouse follows through with the promise of creepy airs. Then you follow a ghostly voice to the portal and appear in bright, sunny 2004 and explore a little tourist trap museum. Even if you were convinced by the stiff pre-rendered graphics or the awkward shadow spooks in 1912, this sudden tonal shift is sure to obliterate any pretense of horror left in the game.
This is all assuming you even get that far, of course. Just like its predecessor, Dark Fall 2 has you navigating networks of pre-rendered scenes with mouse-driven tank controls. Clicking on the left or right sides of the screen turn you, and clicking the middle moves you forward if there’s room to move. This worked tolerably well in 1 because the small rooms of the station kept navigation from getting confusing. Not so here in the winding streets and spiral staircases of the ambitious sequel, where a path from dock to door can contain 20 to 30 scenes depending on how many turns you take. Most of these scenes have nothing of note in them, making it virtually impossible to find the items and interactables you need to proceed in the clogged mazes of images.
I’m not kidding, I had to consult a walkthrough to find the very first thing to do in the game. There’s a door in the middle of the port town you have to enter that requires you to turn perpendicular to the street on one particular screen out of a dozen. After that I had to consult the walkthrough again to figure out what I had to do in my own room, which was flip a particular book to the last page. Trying to suss these tasks out myself had me clicking on endless screens of plain walls, pointless shelves, and functionless items. You could honestly remove 90% of the scenes in this game and not lose any gameplay, just additional transitions between the few scenes that DO matter.
I gave Dark Fall 1 a passing grade because despite not being my cup of tea, it had enough promise to perhaps satisfy someone. The puzzles made sense if you could follow them, the movement was clunky but functional, and the atmosphere was surprisingly creepy. Each one of those three key elements is weaker in Dark Fall 2, so much so that any one of them would have sunk this title. It’s agonizing to simply move around, if you find something to do it won’t make sense, and that effective atmosphere evaporates the moment the plot picks up. I would liked to have seen an evolution of the series here, taking cues from modern design to enhance the retro features, but the exact opposite happened and the result is hardly worth the trouble.