Dark Fall is a British first-person horror-adventure game which was independently released in June 4, 2002 by XXv Productions. It was released worldwide (and re-released in the UK) by The Adventure Company in 2003 with the title Dark Fall: The Journal. The game has developed a small cult following. A sequel titled Dark Fall II: Lights Out was released in March 2004. Dark Fall: Lost Souls was released in late 2009.
The game opens with the player listening to the messages on their answering machine. One of the messages is from the player's brother, who's currently working on a redevelopment portfolio for his company. He pleads for the player to come to the old Dowerton train station in Dorset because something is very wrong. The player travels by train to Dowerton to help their brother, only to find out that he, as well as two other people, have disappeared in the past few hours. The player then discovers that the station has had a dark history, and that this isn't the first time people have vanished.
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.
Contrary to a lot of modern adventure games, Dark Fall does not keep note of any information or clues to puzzles that the player comes across during the game, effectively forcing the player to keep track of every puzzle or detail themselves.
These are the main characters and their backgrounds, in order of disappearance:
- Tom Oliver
- A soldier from the 17th century during the English Civil War, who was betrayed by his friend Will and taken by the dark fall while he was in the cellar of the Dowerton Inn. He was—-according to game texts-—a devout Protestant.
- Timothy Pike
- An 11-year old boy who was captured by the dark fall while playing in the train tunnels, being the second mentioned disappearance. He leads you to the station, explains the set-up, and helps you several times during the game.
The simultaneous disappearance of the next six are the cause of the closing of the hotel and station.
- George Crabtree
- Mysterious owner of the hotel. Upon his disappearance, he was suspected of having murdered the others and then fled the scene. Oldest sibling of his family (he was in his sixties), and a gifted photographer.
- Edith Penfold
- Hostess of the station hotel, who enjoys music.
- Betty Penfold
- Daughter of Edith Penfold, who played the piano and trumpet. Hates "common" music, and played for the guests at the inn the night of their disappearance. Had a liking for Thomas Callum, a local boy.
- Matilda Fly
- An actress who was laughed out of the Empire Theatre. Spent her final days at the Dowerton train station.
- Gloria Grable
- A mysterious character who spent some time at the station hotel and supposedly drove a sports car, which can be found in the nearby barn.
- Andrew Verney
- An amateur astronomer, with a gentle, inquisitive nature, despite his penchant for red wine. He had apparently been a guest at the inn regularly for some years.
- Thomas Callum
- Not one of the vocal spirits, but he can be spoken to through the Ouija board. A local farm boy who loved Betty Penfold, the daughter of the hostess of Dowerton Inn, he also was one of the people who was consumed by the dark fall. But to the outside world, his was just a mysterious disappearance, for he was not known to be in the hotel—-and certainly not as a paying guest.
- George Crabtree's closest friend. Unlike the others, he died a natural death, killed in World War II; a romantic sort. He had a bad relationship with his father, and so took refuge at the Dowerton Inn.
- Polly White
- A university student who had been working on a project for school studying hauntings. She enjoys working with the computers.
- Nigel Danvers
- Also a university student, and a classmate of Polly's. He is familiar with photography and enjoys Chinese food.
- Pete Crowhurst
- "Your" (the player-character's) older brother who has made a name for himself in the architecture field. He seems to eschew the idea of hauntings or spirits until the events of the game.
- The Player
- The player's character. Your last name would also be Crowhurst (assuming you share a name with your brother). You tend to leave your morning coffee lying about. You have an aloof relationship with your brother, but still care for his well-being.
Several other characters are mentioned, but do not have much gameplay connections. Constable Harold Perch was on the scene near the time of the disappearances incognito, but he couldn't have been Andrew Verney. There is a journal kept by a previous researcher in the 1980s mentioned, and he is also said to have disappeared.
Dark Fall was designed by Jonathan Boakes who based it on his own short story of the same name. The story was influenced heavily by the Sapphire & Steel episode "The Railway Station" and Boakes's 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 Jonathan Boakes. The disk contained instructions, a making of, and a hint and solutions guide. All of this was removed for the game's 2003 release by The Adventure Company.
Boakes originally self-produced the game, and handed it out to friends and family. He stopped doing this when he signed a deal with The Adventure Company to distribute the game. It soon became successful worldwide. Only 2,000 of the first "handmade" copies still exist.
Late March 2009 Darkling Room began publishing a special "Pins & Needles" Limited Edition, containing Dark Fall I and II, hint and solution guides for each game, and a collection of ghost stories.
The game received mixed reviews upon its general release in 2003. For example, Denice Cook of Computer Gaming World gave the game four out of five stars and said: "This game's perpetually unnerving ambience, interesting puzzles, and unique ghost story may very well help you forgive its graphical flaws." and closed her review with "The only thing missing from this eerie game's box is a change of underwear." While Scott Osborne of GameSpot gave the game a 6.4 "Fair" rating and criticized the low graphical and sound quality and claimed "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." The game received an aggregate score of 68% on Metacritic.
- Dark Fall: The Journal game and instruction booklet
- 'Dark Fall: The Journal' at MobyGames
- Darkling Room's official Dark Fall website
- Jonathan Boakes' Official MySpace Page
- "Dark Fall: The Journal: Inspiration and Creation" at XXv Productions official Dark Fall website
- "Dark Fall Original Box Artwork" at "Jonathan Boakes's Scrapbook"
- Dark Fall: The Journal trivia at MobyGames
- Cook, Denice. "Dark Fall: The Journal". Computer Gaming World. November 2003. 129.
- Dark Fall: The Journal review at GameSpot, August 6, 2003.
- Dark Fall: The Journal entry at Metacritic.