The Dark Meadow ReviewApril 14, 2013
The Dark Meadow is a wonderfully crafted tale, filled with brilliantly dark humor, exceptional voice acting, and stunning visuals.
The Dark Meadow, by Phosphor Games Studio, LLC, is a mobile horror game created using the Unreal 3 Engine. It was released on October 6th, 2011 in the App Store. Then, on March 28th, 2012, a free to play version was released on the iOS app store. It included several new features, including iPad retina support, warps, bombs, and new environments, enemies, and weapons. This is a review of the free to play version.
“A dark fairytale of intrigue and mystery, where the sins of the past must be paid for… So sets the stage for The Dark Meadow — a visually stunning world of deep exploration, gripping story, and heart racing combat. You awake in a hospital uncertain of how you arrived there or why. An old man warns of a beautiful witch whose minions roam the halls seeking the living. It is only when the witch is destroyed that you will be released from this unrelenting torment.” -thedarkmeadowgame.com
For a game on the iPad, I was surprised at how beautiful and detailed The Dark Meadow’s world was. The hospital is a creepy, rundown place, where shafts of light sparkle through the shadows. Torn curtains sway in the breeze, objects glint and glitter. Wallpaper is crinkled, paint flakes from the walls, and you even see dust particles dancing in the light. Insects chirp while the music fades in and out ominously. Despite all the technical beauty, it moves at an impressively smooth frame rate. Even during enemy encounters, I didn’t notice any relevant slow down.
The old man is probably my favorite part of The Dark Meadow! You meet and see him only once, when you first wake up in The Dark Meadow’s hospital bed. After that, he communicates to you over the intercom, usually when you enter one of the many rooms. His dialogue is witty, condescending, hilarious, interesting, and never dull or boring. I found myself moving from room to room just to hear his next line of dialogue. The voice acting is superb, and brilliantly delivered.
Most of what you learn about the story is either told to you in brilliant voiceovers by the old man, or through scattered newspaper clippings, journals, and shreds of paper. The whole way the narrative was delivered in The Dark Meadow really reminded me of Bioshock. It’s told en medias res; you wake up with no memory of who you are, and you’re led by the call of an unseen voice. The back story is revealed in “notes” scattered throughout the world, and nightmarish characters are trying to kill you. There are also huge brutes that are bigger, and harder to kill, than the normal minions. Oh, and The Dark Meadow’s story revolves around a scary little girl. Not that any of these similarities are a bad thing. I loved Bioshock! Did anyone else notice this, or was it just me? Perhaps I’m reading too much into it.
The gameplay in The Dark Meadow is specifically tailored to iPads and iPhones. You can look in any direction by running your finger across the touch screen. To move, there are glowing green circles on the floor that you need to tap in order to get from one place to another. You only move a few paces in any direction, and it adds to the horror element of the game. Every time I moved, I never knew if a monster was going to materialize, so it always had me on edge, kept me alert. It reminded me of random battles in an RPG, just scarier. There are sound effects and subtle music ques that add to the horror atmosphere, and you’re never really sure what’s going to be behind the next door.
Battles are fun, responsive, and very intuitive. Once again, it fully utilizes the touch screen in a way that’s both engaging and satisfying, no matter how many battles you encounter. When a demonic creature finally appears, you see mist bubbling form the floor, and a crossbow is instantly pulled onto the screen. It’s your primary, and only, means of fighting enemies at a distance. A swirly circle appears on the base of the bow, and running your finger across it draws the bow back, and releasing fires a shot. You can aim, but there’s an arc, so it’s hard to be accurate.
From a distance, enemies spit black wads of something dark and sticky that does a lot of damage if it hits you. Most early enemies shoot one blast, which travels left, right, or down the center of the screen. This is where the dodging mechanic comes into play. You have left and right arrows on the bottom of the screen, which you need to tap in order to lean out of the way, in the appropriate direction. This is easy, in the beginning. Later on, they spit gobs of black mucus in two directions, so you need to maintain your focus or get a screen full of splattering black goodness.
Once the demons come within melee range, you draw your blade! I usually just dodge and wait for them to to come within striking distance, since the bow is rubbish. You have the same dodge controls, but you’re also given a block button on the bottom center of the screen. There’s a number indicated in the button, which tells you how many times you can block. You raise this number through leveling up. Each successful block causes the number to go down, and when it reaches zero, you can’t block anymore. That’s when you need to put your dodging skills into play.
To attack, you simply swipe your finger across the screen, and the sword slashes in the direction that you move your finger. Battles are always fought one-on-one in The Dark Meadow, but they aren’t ever simple, especially early in the game. The frustration factor is pretty high during your first encounter. It takes forever to take them down! Also, if an enemy attacks with their left arm, you need to dodge to the left, or risk incurring damage. You can’t just hack and slash your way to victory in The Dark Meadow. Enemies will block constantly, and a flailing sword will cause little to no damage to some opponents.
Be ready to die, a lot. Seriously, you will witness the screen turning red more than a few dozen times during your time in The Dark Meadow. An interesting mechanic is that you can’t really be killed. It serves both the story and the gameplay. Every time you die, you just wake up in your room. You don’t lose any items, you keep all your gold, and all your experience. There’s no penalty, as far as I could tell. This was nice, because you could essentially just keep leveling up and gathering money and items, until you were strong enough to defeat even the strongest foe, which I think was the intent?
The glaring problem with this is that the horror element in The Dark Meadow is eventually alleviated, because you’re no longer afraid of dying. Each encounter becomes less of a terrifying fight for survival because you know that you will simply wake up, unscathed, with the only issue being that you need to walk back to where you were. There’s no fear of losing anything. But, just so things aren’t too easy or dull, as you level up, and you progressively get stronger, so do the monsters. “Your strength has attracted more powerful foes,” alerts you to the new rise in power. Sadly, since there is no consequence to dying, the monsters just become a nuisance, no matter how strong they get. They lose their impact as horror elements, and simply just get in the way of exploring the rest of the hospital.
At the end of every level in The Dark Meadow, there is a boss: The Witch. She’s a white, female entity, who, as far as I can tell, is completely naked. What I first noticed about her was the lack of detail and any nuance to her character, compared to the rest of the monsters. All the normal baddies in The Dark Meadow have a huge amount of attention given to their shapes and sizes, from skulls, to hammer heads, something that looks like a hornless triceratops, a golden alien, and a kind of one eyed, flat headed bug/mushroom. The Witch looks like she was an after thought. Her character model is uninspired, and lacks the detail and impact of the other creatures.
Aside from her generally banal appearance, she is the strongest foe in the game, and you’ll need to do a bit of grinding before you can defeat her. She appears at the end of the first floor, before you’re allowed to move up the stairs to the second, and also guards the entrance to the elevator. Each time you meet her, she gets stronger, and changes up her move set, so you can’t defeat her the same way twice. The Witch also deals a lot of damage if you don’t dodge, and she can take your block out in two or three hits, depending on your level.
This gets frustrating, because at some point you just need to grind, and things start to get tedious. Aside from the time consuming enemy encounters, gathering gold can also be a chore, but it’s a necessary evil in order to buy better weapons and items. When you click on bags of gold, they simply disappear and text announces how much you received. However, gold is also hidden in every drawer, cabinet, and fire extinguisher. When you click on these, your perspective zooms straight into it, like your face is being pressed forward, an open animation plays, and then the camera zooms back to your original vantage point. This was cool, the first few times. After the next ten, or so, it just wastes your time, because whenever you search any type of drawer, you need to wait for the zoom and the animation to play. Every. Single. Time. On the brights side, gold is everywhere, and respawns after you die.
Once you’ve gathered enough gold, you can enter the shop and purchase stronger weapons. As with most games, there are swords, bows, and jewelry in The Dark Meadow’s shop. The more expensive, the better the stats. I believe the strongest sword, that you can purchase with gold, is around 42k. In order to purchase more healing items, or get the strongest items in the game, you need Sun Coins. This special currency can be purchased with real world dollars. So if you want to invest in the best sword in the game, you need to dish out real world cash. However, you can also accumulate Sun Coins within the game, by defeating enemies and meeting certain requirements. You’re rewarded two or three each time. Yet, in order to purchase the best items, look forward to spending anywhere from 100 to well over 3,000 Sun Coins.
I’ve never played a full, interactive game with an actual story on the iPad, so this was a welcome first experience. The Dark Meadow is a wonderfully crafted tale, filled with brilliantly dark humor, exceptional voice acting, and stunning visuals. The action is fast paced, and keeps you engaged throughout the whole game. There are a few irksome issues, but nothing that makes the game unplayable. If you own an iPad, and have never tried The Dark Meadow, I’d seriously recommend heading to the app store and downloading it! It’s free, it’s amazing, and it’s a game that succeeds at horror in a way that a lot of recent games have not.