The Dark Meadow Review
This game was reviewed on the iPad.
Phosphor Games brings another Unreal3 powered game to the iOS platform. Does it justify its price-tag?
Those amongst you who play a lot of iOS games will know that virtually every game genre is well represented on the platform with the horror genre being the only exception. It’s fair to say that horror games on iOS have been fairly poor; the thought of playing Silent Hill again is scarier than the game itself! So, does Chicago-based developer Phosphor Games’ exploration-based horror title, The Dark Meadow, follow the typical trend and once again fall short, or does it set a new standard for horror games on the iOS platform?
The best way to describe The Dark Meadow is as a combination of Silent Hill and Infinity Blade. It resembles the former in the dark, gritty, and atmospheric feel it portrays, and it’s comparable to the latter due to the gesture-based navigation and combat system.
The story of The Dark Meadow is almost the standard plot for a game of this genre. You play as an unknown man who wakes up inside the decrepit and run-down Montclair Hospital, with no recollection of who he is or how he came to be in this predicament and no clues to explain what is happening – that is until a wheelchair-bound man mysteriously offers you his help. Unfortunately for your amnesic character, his world is further confused when his new friend abruptly exclaims: “She is coming… I can’t be seen with you!”
It turns out that ‘she’ is what seems to be a ghost that brings light to the dark corridors of Montclair and it soon becomes apparent that to discover what is happening, you must find this ghostly figure. Luckily, you do have some help, as your wheelchair-bound friend uses the hospital’s PA system to direct you while you juggle navigating the maze-like corridors and surviving the hordes of demons hell-bent on removing your various appendages! You’re well-armed though, toting a sword and a crossbow, and fairly skilled at killing demons, which is just as well, as there is no shortage of monsters ready to test you.
At its core, The Dark Meadow is comprised of two elements: exploration and combat, both of which are presented from the first-person perspective. Montclair Hospital is a fully realised complex that you are free to explore and discover as you wish. Navigation is controlled by touching glowing hotspots that show up on the screen, allowing you to move from one place to another. Tapping various items in your surroundings enables you to pick up objects, read posters, and generally discover more about the world that you have been placed in. It has the feeling of a point-and-click adventure, although I doubt there are many of those that see you slaying demons.
During your exploration of Montclair’s grim and dilapidated halls, you will soon find that the demon hordes roam the hospital as freely as you do. When a demonic enemy pops up, it will stumble towards you, allowing you to take advantage of the distance to utilise your crossbow. This requires the player to ‘pull back’ a bolt and take aim. This is easier said than done, as the mechanism tends to be clumsy and awkward, which is a shame as it places a flaw in what is an otherwise elegantly and masterfully implemented combat mechanic. Ranged combat concludes once the demon comes within your sword’s reach, activating the simple but effective melee element of the battle system.
Swiping your finger up, down, left, or right attacks your enemy with the sword. On the surface this seems like a rather basic method, but the inclusion of a combo system (which is activated by certain combinations of swiping) augments the swordplay, making it slightly more robust and much more enjoyable – especially when you use a newly mastered combo to take down a high level enemy. This combo system, although effective, isn’t obvious. As with the rest of the combat system, it’s left up to the player to discover just how this system works, which may result in some players never realising that this hidden gem exists. For example, Phosphor Games has made an effort to include instructions on how to activate combos, through the use of chalkboards that are found in the more remote corners of Montclair Hospital; however, without overtly explaining that a combo system exists and with these chalkboards appearing as simple window dressings, they are far too easy to miss.
Simply flailing your sword at demons until they’ve been sent back to hell or desperately searching out combos aren’t the only ways to conduct battles. The player also has the option to dodge or block incoming enemy attacks. Dodging is achieved by tapping the left or right arrows, located in the corresponding corner of the screen, and is the best way to prevent death by a demon. Blocking, which is activated by holding the shield button conveniently located between the two dodge arrows, is less effective than dodging, as it is a point-based system that gets worn down with each use. In other words, it pays to get a handle on the dodge mechanism, since it will save your life on more than one occasion.
Close-quarters melee combat is simply brilliant. The accuracy and fluidity of the melee combat mechanics makes battling demons enjoyable and strangely satisfying, which is quite an achievement. It would have been quite easy for Phosphor Games to be lazy and produce a sub-par mechanism that would have crippled the title.
The melee combat also has an element of progression as the enemies you face become increasingly difficult . Generally, enemies match both the skill level of your character and the tools you have equipped him with resulting in well-balanced battles; however, this isn’t the case for boss fights. The difficulty spikes drastically and takes you from happily slaying demons with relative ease to being barely being able to damage a boss. This is disappointing as it breaks up the natural pacing of the game, requiring you to undertake some serious, time-consuming grinding in an effort to earn enough gold to buy the sword or amulet that will make all the difference. This is the only failing in an otherwise accomplished and refined combat system.
Although The Dark Meadow is a survival horror title, it does incorporate some RPG elements in the form of a basic level up and stat enhancement system. As you defeat the various demons of Montclair Hospital you are rewarded with XP which eventually helps you level up. Upon levelling up, you are given a pre-determined number of points which is used to enhance various skills ranging from the amount of health your character has to the damage he can inflict. Unfortunately, levelling up feels vestigial, as you aren’t given a suitable amount of points to make any real difference in your character’s stats. The stat enhancement system fares better. The many swords, crossbows, and amulets available to buy, or find, make a huge change to your stats.
The production values in The Dark Meadow are as stunning as the gameplay mechanics are brilliant. Phosphor Games has made great use of the Unreal 3 engine, crafting a world that manages to be simultaneously scary, unnerving, and atmospheric. This high-quality design isn’t just limited to the corridors and halls of Montclair; the character creation, for example, is extremely detailed. Monsters are sinister and demonic in equal measure, and watching them slowly shuffle and shamble their way towards you illustrates Phosphor Games’ manipulative talent over the Unreal engine. This is further reinforced by the plethora of weapons and amulets available that are used to enhance player stats. Each is intricately detailed with jewels and patterns that give them a unique feel.
These outstanding production values are also evident in the quality of the audio throughout the game. Sound is of huge importance in horror games and Phosphor Games has made great use of it. Your exploration of Montclair’s darkened and eerie corridors is accompanied by the creaks and squeaks of the broken hospital, creating a realistic portrayal of traversing the hallways of a haunted building where danger lurks around every corner. And it’s not just the music and sound effects that impress; the voice acting is just as brilliant. The dialogue provided by your wheelchair-bound friend is both useful, as his ramblings help flesh out the story, and strangely entertaining; it’s also a master stroke from Phosphor Games, as it ensures that the gameplay experience never becomes a lonely one.
Blending combat, suspense, and exploration with a sprinkling of RPG elements, The Dark Meadow is a first-rate example of what can be achieved on the iOS platform. From the excellently rendered Montclair Hospital with its crumbling walls and deformed inhabitants to its nuanced and fluid combat, The Dark Meadow proves that the iOS platform can provide a level of gameplay and visual splendour comparable with that of the best in the current generation of handhelds. There are some small niggles that prevent The Dark Meadow from being the iOS game that all other iOS games are measured against. However, on the whole, The Dark Meadow is an exceptional title that is excellently delivered. It has a high price tag, but is worth every penny!
Wanderson75 rates The Dark Meadow at 4.25/5
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