By Eric Pankoke on Wed, 11/02/2011
I watched the promo videos for this game and decided it was something I really needed to try. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. At once this game is both intriguing and frustrating. I feel like I’m spending too much time traipsing over the same hallways over and over again, yet every time I find a journal entry or news clipping I really want to know more about what’s going on. I think this game is as much a product of its environment as anything, because I really don’t believe it would be nearly as much fun to explore if it didn’t look so good, yet it’s easy to lose a half hour or forty-five minutes wandering the hallways of Dark Meadow in the blink of an eye.
I’m not sure you know who you are, but you definitely don’t know why you’re in a hospital or how come your only “friend” is some old guy in a wheelchair that skedaddled at the first sign of trouble only to be heard from through the speaker system. Thankfully you’re equipped with a crossbow and sword, which again have no explanation other than the old man claiming he gave them to you, and you even know how to use them. That’s a good thing, because the halls of this hospital are filled with all sorts of ghastly creatures, and they have no qualms about hurting you. The old man says you can’t die, and so far that seems to be true, but when your health runs down to zero you end up back in the room where you started, having to recount all your geographical progress up to that point.
Interestingly enough, movement isn’t free form, but rather you are confined to travelling between glowing green circles. This feels like a bit of a waste given that the environment is powered by the Unreal 3 engine, but you get used to it after a while. Doors that you can open also have green circles on them, while forbidden territory is highlighted by red. As you hit certain milestones in the game you’ll receive keys that open up more of the hospital to you. With all the stuff you can get in this game, the one thing I really wish you could get is a map. The hallways certainly aren’t identical, but it’s also not overly difficult to get lost along the way. This is especially a problem for those times when you end up getting sent back to the starting room and have to make your way back to certain landmarks.
As you wander the hallways you’ll run into all sorts of bizarre creatures. At long range you can use a crossbow to do some damage before they get to you, and when they are too close for that you’ll pull out your trusty sword. To launch the crossbow you drag your finger to pull back on a “trigger” and then release to shoot. You can also drag your finger left and right to aim the crossbow. To use your sword you just swipe your finger across the screen. The thing with the sword is that you can only attack when the game tells you to, and that only happens after you’ve successfully dodged one or more blows from the enemy. Left and right arrows allow you to dodge left and right respectively, while a shield allows you to block any attack. No matter which defensive move you choose it’s all about the timing, but using the dodge buttons also means you have to worry about choosing the correct direction so you don’t dodge into the blow!
If you lose you start back at the beginning geographically, but at least you get to keep everything you’ve earned. If you win you get some XP and some gold coins. Earning enough XP raises you up a level and gives you 3 points to adjust one or more of six different stats. You’ll also find gems along the way, and when you’ve collected 10 gems you’ll get some additional points to spend on stats. As for the gold coins, you’ll find bags of those lying around all over the place, as long as you are willing to take the time to rotate around your surroundings at each stop along the path. When you’ve collected enough coins you can buy better swords, crossbows and amulets, all of which affect one or more vitals (including some that you can’t adjust by hand). At first it will seem like the prices on a lot of the goods are crazy, and you do have the option of buying gold from the App Store if you like, but a little patience will see gold rolling in at 200-300 coins a time after a while.
The visuals in Dark Meadow are spectacular. There is so much detail in the backgrounds that it almost feels like it was modeled after a real place. The first time you walk into a room with boarded windows that has sunlight streaming through you’ll appreciate how cool the lighting engine is, which is easy to take for granted in the dimly lit hallways. What’s really impressive, however, is how cool the creature models are. A lot of times this seems to be where 3D games suffer, yet these are some of the best I’ve seen yet in an iPhone game. The textures aren’t jagged at all, and the animation is quite smooth. This is one of those kinds of games that you even show to the people that don’t like this kind of game.
The sound certainly augments the atmosphere of the game. Everything creaks and sounds old when you open it, and the creatures are actually a bit creepy when they grunt and squeal. They did a really good job of casting the old man as well. He does get annoying after a while, but that has nothing to do with the sound of his voice. The only thing that seems a bit out of place is the rare occasion when there are crickets chirping. When there is music playing it has that “something bad is going to happen” tone about it, and I love it every now and again when gramophone music starts playing.
I’ll be the first to admit that Dark Meadow was kind of an acquired taste for me. Now, however, it seems like every time I play it I just can’t get enough of it. I really want to know who I am, why the “witch” seems to hate the hospital, and what part the old man has to play in everything. Now it’s true that I think I’ve figured a lot of that out from all of the journal entries and newspaper clippings and such I’ve found along the way, but a confirmation would certainly be nice. I am a bit disappointed that this didn’t have more of a tense, suspenseful feeling like Dead Space conveyed, but overall my trip through the Dark Meadow has certainly been worthwhile.
Overall Score: 9/10
App Store Link