Dark Fall: The Journal, developed by Jonathan Boakes, was sort of like The Blair Witch Project of adventure games when it was released by The Adventure Company last year. It didn’t have any special effects or amazing cinematic sequences, but it was creepy and effective nonetheless, and I liked it enough to give it an 82%. Now, over a year later and probably with a healthier budget to work with, would Jonathan Boakes be able to continue his magic in Dark Fall II: Lights Out, or would we get the equivalent of a Book of Shadows? Keep reading to find out.
In Lights Out you play Benjamin Parker, a cartographer. You consider yourself more of an artist than a map-maker, and so when you’re assigned to map the coast near the remote island of Fetch Rock, you figure it’s a punishment and a way to get you out of sight rather than any sort of needed task. But when you arrive at the island, you discover there’s a lighthouse there even though there isn’t any record of one, and soon you’re embroiled in a mystery involving the past, present and future, where some sort of presence seems to haunt the island, and where people keep disappearing.
Lights Out is a very similar game to the original Dark Fall. When you explore the island for the first time (in 1912), you find that the three-man crew has disappeared, and that means, to try and figure out what happened, you have to search through their belongings and read a lot of notes, letters and diary entries. Later, when you travel through time and explore the lighthouse during modern times, you find there’s a ghost hunter around, and you get to use some of her gear, including special glasses that allow you to see paranormal activity. If you replace “island” and “lighthouse” with “train depot,” the above could be a description of Dark Fall.
But if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? That can work, and the early parts of Lights Out work very well. The lighthouse is dark and claustrophobic, and there’s a certain amount of creepiness wondering if it’s really abandoned, or if somebody is watching you and waiting to jump out just when you least expect it. Where Lights Out has problems is when you start traveling through time. The first jump is fun enough, because you find the lighthouse converted into a museum (and you get to see some theories about what happened during your first visit, including that you must have killed the crew of the lighthouse and then drowned yourself in the ocean). But then you jump to the distant future, and you learn that the explanation for the disappearances and other strange goings-on has to do with a machine, because the machine was given “AI.” Ugh. I don’t really want to see a mechanical explanation for ghosts, especially when it’s as obscure as the one presented here. After playing the game, I didn’t really understand what the machine was supposed to have been doing, why it would have made people disappear, or how it might have allowed you to travel through time. That’s pretty much everything, and so the end was a little unfulfilling.
The puzzles are a little unfulfilling, too, partially because there aren’t very many of them (I think there are eight of any substance), and partially because they’re not very complicated. The main “difficulty” in the game is in doing the pixel hunting required to find all the clues for the puzzles. For example, at one point you’re visiting Fetch Rock as it was in 2000 BC, and you’re walking through the rocks of the island. Well, in one of the dozen locations you can visit, in a tiny hotspot the game gives absolutely no clue is there, is a place where you can zoom in the view and discover a floppy disk. The disk, of course, gives a clue to a puzzle, and the puzzle is a snap with the clue, but how many people are going to discover the disk without consulting a walkthrough? Not very many. There are several other examples I could give, and they combine to make Lights Out much more annoying and frustrating than it needs to be.
For me, the quality of an adventure is based on its story and its puzzles. Since I didn’t overly enjoy either area in Lights Out, the game isn’t one I’d really recommend. It’s also a little disappointing that Lights Out seems to be a step down from the original Dark Fall. The characters involved aren’t as interesting (and several appear to be there just to include images of friends and family of Boakes), the locations aren’t nearly as creepy (once you get past the 1912 lighthouse, it’s all downhill), and pixel hunting is a much more integral part of the game (probably to cover up the lack of puzzles). Still, Lights Out isn’t nearly as bad as, say, Alida, and there are worse ways you could spend your time and money.