It was always likely that Infinity Blade would inspire imitators, and so it’s hardly surprising that Phosphor Games’s similarly Unreal-powered first-person mystery should adopt a similar structure and near-identical combat mechanics.
But The Dark Meadow lacks the polish and design smarts of Chair’s third-person brawler, descending into repetition and drudgery after a creepily atmospheric opening.
Initial impressions are extremely promising: you wake in a derelict hospital that’s run down in a very beautiful, artfully ramshackle way, with sunlight streaming through broken windows and ragged curtains onto leaf-covered floorboards.A beautiful sickness
It’s an impressive visual showcase, and the game engine runs very smoothly throughout.
Movement is relatively limited – you can look around and tap items to examine them or look inside, with green icons allowing you to advance or open doors.
A mysterious voice communicates with you through an intercom, compelling you to explore in order to make good your escape. Unfortunately, you’ll soon discover that the corridors are patrolled by unearthly creatures, and you need to defeat them to move on.
Combat begins at range, as you slide your finger downwards to pull back crossbow bolts to fire at the advancing monsters to whittle their energy down.Block party
Once they’ve reached your position, you’ll need to dodge to either side to avoid their attacks, or tap the middle of the screen to block, with a counter depleting every time you do so.
After each fight you’ll be given a rundown of your experience and monetary gain, and an update on whether your current level has increased.
When it does, you can spend points on increasing your stats, which can be further boosted by picking up gems hidden around the hospital.Scare tactics
The central mystery is intriguing. Books and documents fill in the backstory, while the voice you hear offers humorous observations or grimly foreshadows the nightmares to come.
His broadcasts are a real strength, the terrific dialogue leaving you unsure whether or not he can be trusted.
Unfortunately, he’s the only real reason to stick with The Dark Meadow.Pushover
The combat carries little of the weight of Infinity Blade, and while the enemies’ tells are usually easy to read it’s often tough to get the timing right, with seemingly half-hearted shoves slicing off huge portions of your health.
Enemies might come in a few different varieties, but their attacks are broadly similar, and while most are suitably threatening the designs are hardly memorable. Once you’ve seen one spindly freak with claws, you’ve seen them all.
There’s a dazzling white female spirit who represents this game’s God King equivalent. The first several times you meet her you’ll be defeated in fairly short order and told you’re not ready to continue, as the game returns you to the very beginning.
Indeed, you’ll start again whenever or wherever you’re beaten in battle, and once you’re past the early stages this idea grows extremely tiresome – not least because you’ll face the same tedious enemies all over again to get back to where you were.The beginning of the end
As with Infinity Blade, you’ll keep your items and current level upon restarting, but the frequent encounters are nowhere near as satisfying as the epic battles in Chair’s game, nor does the structure make as much sense as the bloodlines.
Here the enemies feel like obstacles rather than characters in a story the game is trying to tell, and with no fresh content to reward each new run the will to continue soon evaporates.
At times, this feels like a terrific point-and-click adventure with a series of tedious skirmishes clumsily attached. Somewhere in here, there’s a great game screaming to be let out.
If only Phosphor Games had been bold enough to strike its own path rather than being in thrall to its clear inspiration, The Dark Meadow might have been a must-have rather than the fascinating but flawed adventure it has turned out to be.