Lights Out: Dark Fall

Review

posted 10/22/2004 by Randy Kalista
other articles by Randy Kalista
Platforms: PC


There are three things you need to do before playing Darkfall II: Lights Out. One, put the lights out (naturally). Two, crack open a window to let in a light chill. Three, turn the volume up. This first-person mystery adventure begs to be heard more than seen, although the visuals are on par for the genre. These Myst-style slideshows unravel at a measured, unhurried pace, and require your inner literary self to emerge. Through the examination and collection of seemingly innocent objects, writer Jonathan Boakes has composed an absorbing tale. The majority of this fiction is established in the commonplace and in the mundane, descending a mildly psychotic staircase of discovery and events.

The real life disappearance of three men in Scotland from the Flannan Isle Lighthouse in 1900 kicks off the entire premise of Lights Out. The game extensively incorporates a famous poem written by Wilfred Gibson (who?) about this particular incident. This unsolved mystery also spawned no less than one opera, an episode of Dr. Who, and a song by Genesis. But I digress.

You are the skilled yet seemingly underappreciated cartographer, Benjamin Parker. Sent on an insultingly irrelevant assignment to chart a section of coast in Cornwall in the UK, your commission is quickly diverted toward the disappearance of three lighthouse keepers on Fetch Rock. Some time-traveling antics serve as a clever study in time capsules and the power of history versus historicity.

Once you engage your Suspension of Disbelief mechanism and willingly immerse yourself within the atmosphere, Lights Out manages a few chilling moments. The soundtrack, often discreet or altogether absent, adds exponentially to the environment. Violin strings carry along moments of revelation, injecting a strand of otherworldly sentimentalism into your discoveries. Cornwall in the early 1900s probably doesn’t hold any special place in your heart, but an odd sense of nostalgia seeps in from the musical score nonetheless. The jarring sound effects--footsteps, foghorns, door slams, dull groans--all create a startling number of jumpy moments. Although these are ‘cheap’ scares (like the cat-jumping-out-of-a-closet technique moviemakers use during high-tension moments) you’ll embarrassingly realize just how on-edge you’re getting. All in all, these intentional accents in the sound effects receive a top-shelf prize for the random jolts they give. They won’t scare the holy living crap out of you--remember the first time you played Doom?--but they suffice for these understated surroundings.

One superbly crafted moment occurred as I came across a letter within the game. I read down the page at a leisurely rate, not fully grasping that the musical score was dying out. The letter then described a madman ascending the stairs of the lighthouse--just as a cadence of zombie-paced footsteps came thumping ominously from my computer’s speakers. That was one amongst many times I was impressed with the impeccable sense of timing bled into the soundtrack.

Again I’ll mention that there is plenty of reading to be done in-game. Rock-skipping past these elements will do you a disservice since a fair share of enrichment stems from these readings. Not to mention that several clues also reside within the texts. The script itself is nicely crafted, and Jonathan Boakes’ storytelling acumen is apparent throughout. Properly interwoven with respectable voice acting, this is quickly adding up as a worthy title.

The interface is clean but has an inventory bar permanently residing at the base of the screen--a slight knock against a fully immersive experience. Not to mention the “Save Load Quit” options as a constantly visible eyesore at the top. Boakes also chose to ignore player complaints from the previous Dark Fall title which likewise didn’t have in-game note taking utilities. So keep a notebook handy. Also, saving your game blinds you with a Windows menu instead of an in-game menu, acting as yet another painful reminder that you are playing a video game, not existing fully engrossed within the Fetch Rock mystery. Movement will also prove frustrating on some occasions, especially as your pixel-hunting for well-hidden clues; some obvious, others obscure. But practitioners of adventure games will find this to be an excellently crafted selection, and will only cost you a Jackson.
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