Darkest Fear sets the tone with story-driven puzzler and a dose of dread

Posted: August 14, 2009 in Platformer, Puzzle

I admit it. I was afraid of the dark when I was a child eons ago, afraid of monsters and boogey men, and especially after watching an R-rated horror flick. The unknown combined with an overactive imagination is the perfect formula for fear, and that’s what the devs at Rovio Mobile are banking on with Darkest Fears, a puzzle (slash) horror game. Yes, “slash” was included for effect. Anyway, while the controls may not suit everyone, Darkest Fears is a story-driven game delivering a relative oozing of horrific atmosphere and smart gameplay.

The story is integral in the progression of Darkest Fear, and honestly, it’s a good one. You play the role of Dr. Thomas Warden, a mild mannered history researcher. He receives an urgent call from his wife Susan asking him to rush to Grim Oak Hospital to find their daughter. Dr. Warden arrives at the hospital to an odd situation to say the least. Instead of hospital staff, he is greeted by patients throughout the facility, and he also discovers that other people are missing as well.

This nightmare will take Dr. Warden through 15 levels within the walls of Grim Oak Hospital. Right away, the game does a good job of immersing you with dark corners, eerie sound effects and a strange feeling that you’re being watched. The almost lifeless hospital along with these random patients provides quite the urge to head out of dodge. Of course, this is a game so you’re definitely not going anywhere except deeper into the hospital.

There are certain rules within these walls that you’ll need to understand to keep from being torn apart. A virus has infected the patients and turned some into real-life boogey men if you will who hide in the dark. In addition, infected patients that haven’t turned into monsters are located throughout the facility and serve as sources for information and advice. While it’s not mandatory to complete a level, Dr. Warden can also save patients by shining a constant light source on them. This also provides a boost to the doc’s health which comes in handy since he won’t always be able to avoid the darkness. Throughout the game, light sources are available such as windows, flashlights, lanterns, and fireplaces.

One twist is that at the heart of the game is a series of puzzles similar to sokoban where crates, boxes and other items need to be moved in order to complete levels. Even using mirrors to reflect light requires a certain degree of logic. Each level is introduced through cut black and white cut scenes, which furthers the eeriness and the sense of dread of what lurks around the next corner.

Aside from the puzzles, it’s also partly a scavenger hunt since certain doors require keys while others are pressure sensitive meaning a crate needs to be pushed into position. All the elements in the game integrate together very well, providing a seemingly coherent if not campy story.

Moving Dr. Warden around the various places is done via touch controls. The controls are manipulated by touching the sides the screen. For example, to move left, touch the left side of the screen. To open/close doors or pick up items, tap the Doc. I have no issues with the controls, although for some, it would be ideal to have an alternate control scheme such as tap-to-move set-up. Obviously, this comes down to individual preferences, but in general, the existing controls are more than adequate.

Because the game is played from an overhead perspective, the graphics are really well done and run smoothly on my iPod Touch 2g 3.0. As I said, the darkness and the use of lighting and shadowing help to provide that immersiveness necessary for this type of game. It can be somewhat startling as Dr. Warden walks into a previously unlit room where a figure is suddenly standing there. The sound effects are worth mentioning again since most of the game is played in the dark, and do an effective job of conveying fear and waiting for the other shoe to drop.

The puzzles in Darkest Fear are not overly difficult, and of course this depends on each individual’s skill level. They do require thought and logic, but for some the challenge may be lacking. However, taken in the context of the storyline and environment, that’s not a bad thing.

Darkest Fear creatively incorporates a variety of elements from a campy yet engaging story, to fun puzzles and well-implemented mechanics. It’s a solid game, and while fear may be subjective, you’ll still be entertained.

Albie Meter: 4 Stars (recommended for puzzlers looking for a different twist; visuals and sound effects nicely set the tone; story-driven game should appeal to most)

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