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iPad App Video Review: Dark Meadow

by Andrew Koziara

Dark Meadow is a new first person horror title from Phosphor Games. The game is an enigma wrapped in a mystery with gorgeous visuals, atmospheric sound, and pretty decent gameplay. The game does have its drawbacks, but overall, it's a breath of fresh air that shouldn't be missed.

Our story begins with you waking up as an amnesia-plagued protagonist in an abandoned, demonic hospital. You are immediately faced by strange creatures that seem to be curious about your inner anatomy and a strange wheelchair-bound man who has clearly been needing someone to talk to for a very long time. The mystery of who you are, where you are, and what in the blazes is going on slowly unfolds as you explore the dark corridors and ransacked rooms.

The game is a first person exploration and combat game, in which you move from fixed point to fixed point, panning your camera around looking for gold, jewels, and clues as to what happened here. Every time you move to a new point, there is a chance you'll be engaged by a demon of some sort. Rooms marked with painted suns are safe rooms. Apparently the demons can't exist in sunlight. It's in these rooms that the old man shares his monologues and you'll find the bits of scrap paper that slowly reveal the back story of this world. Always be on the lookout for cabinets, drawers, and fire extinguishers, as they always hold a bit of gold for you. How this hospital had everything worthwhile stolen from it, yet is still overflowing with random deposits of gold is anyone's guess.

The demon fights begin with ranged shooting using your crossbow and switches over to melee combat with a sword as soon as the enemy gets within arm's reach. The combat system is bound to draw comparisons to Infinity Blade, as it's quite similar. You have to dodge and block attacks waiting for your moment to strike, at which point you just wail on enemies by swiping like mad. There are two dodge buttons and a block button which you can only use so many times per fight. You can only attack enemies after they've attacked and left themselves open, and the game is nice enough to tell you when that is. Eventually, you'll learn the basic rhythm of fighting and learn every enemy type’s different telegraphs, and it becomes quite repetitive after a while. Monsters that once creeped you out and posed a legitimate threat soon become minor annoyances that hinder your progress in the story and narrative.

After beating a monster, the game freezes for the experience and gold reward screen. It's things like this that can curb stomp the pacing of the game, and it just feels unnecessary. You raise stats as you level up and buy new equipment, and eventually you get strong enough to take on the white witch and move on to the next area of the game. She constantly shines a white light near the doors that lead to her location, beckoning like a horrible siren. She's quite difficult, and you're bound to be killed by her several times, but that's okay, because there is no real penalty for death. You simply reawaken at the starting point, which unfortunately means you have to trek back to your old location, fighting unnecessary monsters all the way. Luckily, all the gold deposits in the hospital are reset.

While the combat and general gameplay are quite adequate, it's the presentation and the immersive nature of the game that really shines. The game is completely done in the Unreal Engine, which is bound to draw even more Infinity Blade comparisons. The corridors and creatures of this world are well done and quite frightening, despite the game being very well lit most of the time. The sound design and music are atmospheric and unobtrusive, and even though there are no real "scare moments," you constantly feel like something is following you and doom looms around every corner. The voice performance of the old man is well done as he both helps you and makes you question what is really going on.

All in all this is just a well made game, even though the gameplay can get repetitive and there is a lot of grinding to be done. The world you inhabit is a strange and lonely one, and the story can grip you as the mystery unfolds. To top all of that off, it's iOS universal, supports Game Center achievements, and is fairly priced at six dollars. It's not a perfect game, but it's also not a tower defense, dual stick shooter, or physics based puzzler featuring cute creatures. For anyone looking for something different or innovative, this game shines like the beckoning calls of the white witch herself.

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