North American cover art
|Publisher(s)||XXv Productions (UK)
The Adventure Company (WW)
Darkling Room (2009 "Pins & Needles" edition)
Iceberg Interactive (2009 British Horror Pack edition)
Dark Fall is a 2002 first-person horror/adventure game developed and independently published in the UK by XXv Productions for Microsoft Windows. It was released worldwide (and re-released in the UK) by The Adventure Company in 2003 with the title Dark Fall: The Journal.
An indirect sequel, Dark Fall II: Lights Out, was released in August, 2004. A third game, Dark Fall: Lost Souls, set in the same location as the first game, and featuring several of the same characters, was released in November, 2009.
Dark Fall uses a simple point-and-click interface to move the player around and manipulate the environment. The player has a basic inventory which — due to the game's puzzle-based nature — only ever holds a few items. The player spends most of the game solving the numerous puzzles (such as translating an encrypted message, or opening a puzzle box to find a myriad of symbols, the use for which eventually becomes apparent).
Unlike most modern adventure games, Dark Fall does not keep note of any information or clues which the player comes across during the game, effectively forcing the player to keep track of every puzzle or detail themselves.
The game opens with the player (who remains unnamed throughout) listening to an answering machine message from their brother, Pete Crowhurst. He is currently working on the redevelopment of an old abandoned train station and hotel and he pleads for the player to come to the station in Dowerton, Dorset because something is very wrong. He mentions that he is working with two ghost hunters, and that although he didn't used to believe in ghosts he does now. He then says "it" is outside the door, whispering his name, and he feels compelled to let it in. We hear a door opening, the message then ends, and the player heads to Dowerton.
The player travels by train and falls asleep. He awakens in a train tunnel where the voice of a young boy tells him that although the player can't see him, the boy can see the player. The boy guides him to the station, telling him he has lived in the area "since 41", and tells him where to find him should he need help, mentioning that "it" doesn't know they're talking yet, but soon will. The player soon finds Pete's things and discovers that Pete had begun to hear the voice of a boy in the nearby train tunnel and a strange whistling sound on the platform, as if a train was coming. He also talks about Nigel and Polly, the two ghost hunters. As the player explores the hotel, he discovers information about why it was originally closed; its reputation never recovered from the "events" of 1947. The player also finds a note about the disappearance of an eleven-year-old boy, Timothy Pike, from the nearby village, who it is thought may have wandered into the train tunnel. The player then gets a phone call from Nigel, who tells him that they haven't much time as "it" knows they're talking. He tells the player that he must get into Nigel and Polly's room and access their research. As the player explores the hotel, he finds a cave under a barn, in which he hears a mysterious singing, and sees a strange symbol carved on a rock.
The player slowly learns that on the night of April 29, 1947, the guests and staff of the hotel vanished without a trace, and they, amongst others, haunt the location. As the game progresses, the player encounters numerous ghosts, who tell him that he needs to find twelve symbols, although he must be careful because "it" knows what he is doing and will try to stop him. These ghosts include;
- Tom Oliver; a 17th-century English Civil War soldier, who was betrayed by his friend Will and disappeared in the cellar of the original inn that existed prior to the building of the hotel.
- Timothy Pike; an 11-year old boy who disappeared while playing in the train tunnels.
- George Crabtree; the mysterious owner of the hotel at the time of the disappearances in 1947. He was suspected of having murdered the others and fled the scene. As the player explores the hotel, he learns that Crabtree knew about the evil in the station and was trying to combat it by using the twelve symbols to recite an ancient incantation. Each symbol was on a piece of vellum, which he distributed amongst the hotel staff and guests. However, most of them thought he was mad. He too had seen the cave under the barn, and had discovered that the symbol on the rock signified imprisonment, with the carving dating from the 3rd century BC.
- Edith Penfold; the hostess of the hotel.
- Betty Penfold; Edith's daughter, who played music for the guests at the hotel. She was in love with Thomas Callum, a local boy.
- Matilda Fly; an actress who was laughed out of the Empire Theatre, and spent her final days at the Station Hotel lamenting her failed acting career (her character returns in Lost Souls).
- Gloria Grable; a mysterious character who spent some time at the hotel. It is revealed that she is in fact a bank robber. Her secret is discovered by Fly, who proceeds to blackmail her (her character returns in Lost Souls).
- Andrew Verney; an amateur astronomer, with a gentle, inquisitive nature. A regular guest at the hotel (his character returns in Lost Souls).
- Thomas Callum; a local farm boy in love with Betty Penfold, he also was one of the people who disappeared. To the outside world, however, he was not connected to the hotel, as no one knew he was there at the time.
- Arther; George Crabtree's closest friend. Unlike the others, he did not vanish, but was killed in World War II.
- Polly White; one of the ghost hunters working in the hotel at the time of Pete's arrival (her character returns in Dark Fall II: Lights Out).
- Nigel Danvers; Polly's ghost hunting partner.
- Pete Crowhurst; the player's brother, an architecture working to redevelop the station and hotel.
The player eventually discovers that "it" is known as the Dark Fall, and that everyone in the hotel, including Pete, Polly and Nigel have been taken by it. The Dark Fall was accidentally released by Crabtree and Arther while they were in the cellar trying to solve the Tom Oliver mystery. They had discovered that the foundations to the building dated back hundreds of years, and found an antechamber, accidentally releasing a "godless power". They were working to decode the vellum symbols when Arther decided to enlist in the army. After he was killed, Crabtree continued to study how to re-trap the Dark Fall, despite it calling to him every night. In a journal entry dated April 29, 1947, he revealed he was ready to use the symbols to recite the incantation that very night, which would re-imprison the Dark Fall.
The player also finds Polly's journal, which reveals that she too had encountered the Dark Fall, which she describes as "pure dark energy." She hears it knocking at her door, calling her name. She reveals that Nigel has disappeared and she has heard knocking at her door. After the knocking stops, she decides to open the door. This is her last journal entry.
The player eventually finds his way into the antechamber and discovers the final journal entries of Crabtree, who speculates that the Dark Fall may be connected to the Norse god Odin, who appointed a creature to stand guard over the souls of the dead. He has come to believe that the Dark Fall feeds from the pain of the souls it has trapped. In his final entry he acknowledges that he must destroy it, but admits he may be incapable of doing so.
The player then enters the centre chamber and hears the voices of the trapped souls. He recites the incantation and the Dark Fall disappears. The souls are then released. Timothy remains behind to thank the player and to tell him that things may not have turned out as he thinks. The game then cuts back to the opening scene, as the player receives a message from Pete. In the message, Pete begins by saying he has something very important to tell his brother, but then forgets why he rang, and tells the player that he will be home shortly, when they can have a drink together.
Development and release
Dark Fall was designed by Jonathan Boakes, who based it on his own short story of the same name. The story was heavily influenced by the Sapphire & Steel episode "The Railway Station", and Boakes' own exploration of an isolated, abandoned train station in Dorset in January 2000.
The game was originally published independently by XXv Productions in 2002 in DVD keep case-style packaging designed by Boakes, which he handed out to family and friends. The disk contained instructions, a making of, and a hint and solutions guide. When he signed a deal with The Adventure Company to distribute the game, Boakes stopped distributing copies himself, as the game was set to get a worldwide release. Only 2,000 of the first "handmade" copies still exist. All of the extra features in these copies were removed for the game's 2003 re-release.
In March 2009, Darkling Room began publishing a special Limited "Pins & Needles" Edition, containing Dark Fall: The Journal and Dark Fall: Lights Out, hint and solution guides for each game, a collection of ghost stories and a Dark Fall soundtrack CD. Each copy of the "Pins and Needles" edition is individually numbered, and signed by Boakes. In November 2009, to coincide with the release of Dark Fall: Lost Souls, Iceberg Interactive published Adventures in Terror: British Horror Pack, containing Dark Fall: The Journal, Dark Fall: Lights Out and Shadow Tor Studios' Barrow Hill.
The game received mixed reviews upon its general release in 2003. It holds an aggregate score of 68 out of 100 on Metacritic, based on twenty-three reviews, and 71.52% on GameRankings, based on twenty-one reviews.
Denice Cook of Computer Gaming World gave the game 4 out of 5 stars, writing "This game's perpetually unnerving ambience, interesting puzzles, and unique ghost story may very well help you forgive its graphical flaws."
Staci Krause of IGN was also impressed by the game, scoring it 7.8 out of 10, writing "It is rare that a PC game, especially a point and click adventure, can give you that edge of your seat feel. Dark Fall: The Journal, definitely does this. Although its not the most technologically advanced of games, it has a gripping story coupled with subtle nuances that add a dimension of fear to the experience. Add in some puzzles and a lot of investigating and what you have is a pretty decent game."
Adventure Gamers' Evan Dickens scored it 3.5 out of 5, praising the effort put into the game by Boakes, "Dark Fall, created completely by one man over a timeframe of eighteen months, shows the dedication of a true adventure fan to his genre and the elements that make an adventure game such an enjoyable experience. Boakes refers to the game as his "labour of love" and it's apparent from the opening scene how much the designer must really love adventure games." He also praised the atmosphere of the game; "The best part of Dark Fall is summarized in one word: atmosphere. This game demands that you turn off the lights and turn up the speakers. Boakes has succeeded masterfully at creating a world that is truly creepy. The stairs will creak, wind will whistle, and ghosts will howl unexpectedly. All of this lends credibility to the spookiness."
Scott Osborne of GameSpot was less impressed, giving the game 6.4 out of 10, and criticizing the low graphical and sound quality, claiming "the game puts too much emphasis on puzzle solving, and some of the puzzles, while quite interesting because of their intricate detail and diversity, can be too obscure and perplexing. It's also a shame that the game so often relies on the old adventure-game cliché of telling its story through clues offered by written materials--materials written by and about absent characters. Poring over note after note, journal entry after journal entry, and computer file after computer file can get tiresome in a hurry."
- "Dark Fall: The Journal". Adventure Gamers. Retrieved August 5, 2013.
- "Dark Fall: The Journal". IGN. Retrieved August 5, 2013.
- "Dark Fall: The Journal Official Site". Darkling Room. Retrieved August 5, 2013.
- "Dark Fall: The Journal: Inspiration and Creation". Darkling Room. Retrieved August 5, 2013.[dead link]
- "Dark Fall Original Box Artwork". Darkling Room. Retrieved August 5, 2013.
- "Dark Fall: The Journal trivia". MobyGames. Retrieved August 5, 2013.
- "Dark Fall: Limited "Pins & Needles" Edition". Darkling Room. Retrieved August 6, 2013.
- "Dark Fall: The Journal". GameRankings. Retrieved August 5, 2013.
- "Dark Fall: The Journal". Metacritic. Retrieved August 5, 2013.
- Dickens, Evan (August 30, 2003). "Dark Fall: The Journal Review". Adventure Gamers. Archived from the original on March 23, 2005. Retrieved August 5, 2013.
- Osborne, Scott (August 6, 2003). "Dark Fall: The Journal Review". GameSpot. Archived from the original on October 22, 2012. Retrieved October 19, 2013.
- "Dark Fall: The Journal Reviews". GameRankings. Retrieved September 4, 2013.
- Krause, Staci (August 20, 2003). "Dark Fall: The Journal Review". IGN. Retrieved August 5, 2013.
- Cook, Denice (November, 2003). "Dark Fall: The Journal". Computer Gaming World (Ziff Davis): 129.