Game Title: Dark Meadow
Developer: Phosphorous Games Studio
Publisher: Phosphorous Games Studio
Type: App-Based Video Game
Genre: Supernatural Thriller/Action
Available For: iPad, iPhone 3G & Above, and iPod Touch 3rd Gen and above
Rating: M for Mature
Copyright License: Traditional
Expected Release:Â Available Now
Reviewed By:Â GothVykyng Pasclato
Final Score: 9.2
For the longest time, if you mentioned cellular technology to your average gamer in association with video games, there would be snorts of derision. Before the iPhone, most cell phones had gameplay capabilities that were only a few steps up from Nintendo’s ubiquitous 8-bit Gameboy of the ’90’s. Even after the iPhone, game companies were reluctant to put too much time or effort into these â€œAppâ€ based games, believing that people only wanted them for short games while they waited for their dry cleaning or stood in an especially long line. This was even more believed because the iPhone had notoriously short battery life when it came to doing games. However, as people began to push the limits with these apps, it became apparent that people were willing to try out heavier games. This was never so well proven as with 2010’s Infinity Blade, which featured the much touted use of the Unreal Engine. While the actual gameplay of IB was pretty limited (as it was more similar to a mini-game of MYST if that game had featured a combat micro-game within it), people shelled out hard earned money for it and proved that an app game can be more than .99 and still be quite successful.
Since then, further improvements in technology and battery life have made more game developers put additional work into the iPhone and now iPad world. (Just recently, in fact, Rockstar ported their entire PS2 classic, Max Payne, to iPad!) In that trend, the developers at Phosphor took the Unreal Engine and used it on a spooky and chilling mystery called Dark Meadow. While it is well worth the price of admission (which, interestingly, is the same price to purchase as a matinee admission to most theaters in the U.S.), they have cleverly devised a version of the game called Dark Meadow: The Pact, which is free. It features all the basic gameplay of Dark Meadow and, technically, you could beat the entire game on it, with enough patience. However, many of the more popular options are essentially pay-to-unlock features in the free game, so it’s really more designed to give you a total pass to get a feel for the game before you pony up the cash to buy it.
Unfortunately, you can’t port your save game over from the Pact to the full version. However, they overcome that by giving you a bunch of in-game money and upgrades so that you can pretty quickly get back to where you might have gotten to in your free game. (And in truth, the windfall provided with your purchase will get you a little bit farther…but not too far!)
With no further ado, let’s break it down!
Dark Meadow explores a twisted mystery surrounding an abandoned hospital called Montclair. You play an inhabitant of this hospital who had no memory of who you are. You awaken in an abandoned maternity ward and are greeted by an old man in a wheelchair. He explains that he’s been here for years, the prisoner of a mysterious monstrous witch. You were brought in by her minions and dropped off here a few minutes earlier. You start to ask more questions, but start to convulse on the floor, blacking out once more. As you pass out, you hear the mysterious old man say he has to go that â€œshe’s coming.â€ When you come to and are able to look around, you hear the man’s voice on an intercom. He explains that he’s at a place of safety and will talk you through your exploration of the hospital and help you learn how to defend yourself. The only problem is that the intercom only works inside certain rooms…so, to get more of his advice, you have to find rooms with special markings on their doors.
As you explore the hospital, you discover letters, newspaper clippings, and diaries that give you backstory to the mysterious hospital, hints at what the Dark Meadow is, and clues as to who you might be. Eventually it becomes evident that the old man who is there to assist you knows a little more than he initially let on about some of these mysteries.
For most video games it can be very difficult to pull people into story elements through written pieces within the game. However, the game design is done so well to incorporate these elements and almost everyone has tantalizing pieces of information in it that you really want to find and read everything you can. And because of the non-linearity of the storyline (early on you discover that if you â€œdie,â€ you will be re-born in the birthing room none the worse for wear), the creators are able to hide pieces of the storyline in all sorts of different places that can all regenerate, but self-exclude once you’ve discovered pieces. Very ingenious and very effective at making you feel like the story you are in is one big tapestry.
To install either the full game or the free â€œThe Pactâ€ variant is as simple as going to the iTunes app store to the Dark Meadow page and clicking on the price. Once you do, it’ll install on your iOS device and you’ll be ready to go. The actual game mechanics are simple to pick up, having a very similar feel to infinity blade, but with the ability to actually turn around and go different places.
As mentioned in the simplicity section, the gameplay mechanics are definitely based on Infinity Blade, but they have enough improvements to really feel far more robust and polished.
In the game, you explore the hospital by clicking on green action zones, which either indicate doors you can go through or another area you can walk to. Like Infinity Blade, you can pick up cash, health, and trinkets around the hospital to help you with the journey. Unlike Infinity Blade, you can fully turn around at any time and walk backwards if you miss something and you can actually open up drawers, cupboards, and fire extinguisher cabinets to find cash. Additionally, they include a map so you can actually see where you’re going. While it would’ve been nice to have a quick map key on your view screen, it’s still very helpful to have it there.
The fight mechanics of the game are designed very similarly to Infinity Blade, in that you can dodge, block, or strike, but they add an element of strategy by giving you a crossbow and a blade. The crossbow allows you to shoot at the monsters as they move toward you and the blade allows you to attack them when they get close. The fact that the monsters can hurl projectiles, as well, will definitely keep you on your toes and the fact that there seem to be more monster types in this game than in Infinity Blade also means you can’t figure out which attack types a monster will use usually. All of this makes for really enjoyable and compelling gameplay.
The graphics for this game are really amazing, even on the iPad 1st generation that I tested it out on. While gameplay on an iPad vs. a console is not yet an exact comparison, they definitely felt equivalent to PS2 graphics. (Close ups used lower featured resolution, but, for some reason, it felt a bit more like water color rather than just low resolution textures due to the layout of the game itself.) The only minor element I would bring up here is that some of the weapons that were in the store (like â€œThe Corn Dogâ€) seemed to have low resolution, blurred images as thumbnails.
The audio was perhaps the most amazing element of this game. Rarely have I seen full-bore video games use sound design this effectively and never one that was designed for an App. The background texture of this game comes from sound design featuring the haunting song of cicadas, beautiful score elements, and classic music that sounds like it’s coming off a old record player somewhere. (Think early 20th century music like you’d hear in Fallout 3.)
The scripting, dialogue, and voice acting for the old man who talks to you is absolutely top drawer. He pulled me into the game with his innane yammerings and his revelations, making me giggle at times and then inhale in connection at other times. Amazing!
The game itself is quite challenging. On the free game, it’s too challenging, but, that’s kind of the point, as they goal is to either get you to purchase upgrades or simply buy the commercial version. As they don’t really make any bones about this, that’s not a detractor. The full game at first feels too easy due to the number of upgrades you get to take with you as you battle through the house. However, you quickly run into a glass ceiling as monsters become more and more powerful and you do less and less damage. Due to the way this is set up, this actually comes as a relief. It forces you to go back and research the mystery of the place, find out more clues from your â€œbenefactor,â€ and work your way through more of the lower levels of the hospital. The challenge of the mystery prevents it from feeling like grinding as much as it feels like working to unearth new tidbits. In that pursuit, even dying (which doesn’t actually kill you), furthers your goals, as information, clues, and gold are re-randomized in the process!
For some reason, even though â€œThe Pactâ€ game was quite stable on my iPad, the paid game was not so stable. There’s a permanent glitch where, rather than pausing properly in the background, it would crash any time my iPad screensaver went on or if the program was minimized. This would mean it would have to reload the game when you clicked on the icon, even if you did so from the minimized bar, and force me to start once more in the childbirth room. While I would have all of my gear, content, and money that I’d collected before the crash, it would break up the chain of kills I had done (which is very important in this game) and, of course, pull me away from whatever physical goal I may have been near.
Similar to Infinity Blade, the playing and re-playing of the game really IS the game. However, unlike Infinity Blade, it doesn’t feel nearly as meaningless or grinding oriented. Instead, because it both has action elements AND mystery elements, if you can’t get too far going toward the game boss because you’re an insufficient level, you can always explore the lower levels to find more clues that will randomly show up. These clues are tantalizing enough to keep you engrossed and feeling as though you’re using the gold and the monster battles to uncover more of them. Beyond the visual clues found in the letters, newspaper clippings, and other elements, the audio dialogue snippets from your â€œcompanionâ€ are compelling.
It is for this reason that a person could conceivably replay the game from the beginning even if they beat all of the game recently, because the sonic dialogue is impacted by the choices you make. What I mean by this is that there is a certain amount of dialogue that will be revealed based on what level of the game you’ve gotten through to. If you go through to fast, using all of your first aid kits and sunbombs before you hit the glass ceiling that can only be overcome through experience, you’ll miss part of the dialogue found at different levels.
Finally, the long term replay value can’t be missed. Due to the complexity of the storyline, it’s sort of like William Shatner’s Tekwar series. You can follow it to it’s conclusion, but most people will not be able to hold on to all the twists and turns as time passes by, which would mean this could easily be something you have fun re-playing and beating once a year or so!
While some would make the point that, of course, it’s Goth since it’s got all the Gothic symbolism (ie abandoned hospitals, shadowy hallways, creepy sound effects and dialogue, misshapen ghouls, etc.), this would be a very limited understanding of the actual Gothic outlook and perception.
Rather a huge part of the Gothic exploration is how we perceive reality and how we perceive truth. The Gothic mind has no qualms about using disturbing, twisted, or macabre imagery to get to the heart of questions about truth, life, and the mysteries surrounding them. As such, it is for this reason that there can be no question that Dark Meadow is about as Gothic as it’s possible to get.
Bang For Your Buck
For less than the cost of a matinee in most cities, you get a game that is intriguing, well laid out, beautifully acted, and will probably consume 10 to 20 hours for most non-grinding players.
I really wish more games were like this game. While the Stability issue is a colossal pain, the overall game is so gorgeous and intriguing that it well deserved it’s overall high score! Hopefully a future update will deal with this problem!
10 Bang For Your Buck
9.3 Total Score