31 Days of Gaming Terror -Day 6: The Games of Jonathan Boakes.

Although you probably don’t know him by name, Jonathan Boakes is one of the most influential names in both Adventure and Horror/Terror gaming. His games are often touted as the best in both genres, and any development team that claims to have never heard of him or his games have well, probably put out a rather lackluster title.

Boakes has done several games outside of the realm of ghost stories, most notably The Displacement and Destines, but it is the Dark Fall quartet that has gained him the respect and admiration of the gaming industry. We’re going to take a brief look at the three games from Darkling Room, the one from Shadow Tor, and several of the websites made by Darkling Room (Boakes’ company) to show you exactly what you are missing out on, and why the hardcore scary game connoisseur generally puts at least one of Boakes’ games in the top five games of this mood/theme/setting.

DARK FALL: The Journal
Publisher: The Adventure Company
US Release Date: 7/25/2003

When it was originally released, Dark Fall was instantly met with high praise and acclaim. Everyone from Just Adventure (a leading gaming website specializing in well, Adventure games) to the New York Times claimed that Dark Fall was the scariest video game ever made. This is impressive for multiple reasons.

1) You encounter one other being in your entire playtime, and even then you never see it.

2) You never see the thing plaguing the sleepy hamlet of Dowerton and by the end of the game you are exceptionally glad that you never do.

What makes Dark Fall so spine chilling is the fact that unlike other games like Resident Evil or Silent Hill which prey on cheap tricks and a lot of gore to be “scary,” Boakes actually patterned Dark Fall after real life purported hauntings and Victorian ghost stories. The end result was an macabre atmosphere never before achieved (or even tried) by a video game before. The emphasis was on a sense of dread slowly overcoming you, the player, as the game was so realistic that you found yourself believing, “Hey, this could actually happen.”

Back in 2006, I put Dark Fall as the #9 Spookiest game I’ve ever played and I could have easily been swayed to put it even higher on the list. Of course since that list has come out, there are two games I would push into the top five, and both of them…are appearing later on in this feature. If you want to learn more about Dark Fall< you can visit the game's web site or download the demo

Dark Fall 2: Light’s Out
Publisher: The Adventure Company
Release Date: 08/31/2004

DF2 is easily my least favorite of the games in this set we are looking at today, but it is still an excellent game in its own right. My reasons for liking this title the least is because the game ventures into science fiction and the fantastical a little too much for my taste, but up until that point, DF2:LO was amazingly atmospheric and stunning to look at.

The entire game revolves around a haunted lighthouse, and as a folklorist I loved this concept. There are so many stories about haunted lighthouses, and by these buildings, by their very nature, are creepy. Lighthouses are symbols of loneliness and desperation, but also of glimmers of hope in the night as well.

DF2 is one of the first games to make use of authentic ghost hunting equipment that one sees nowadays on shows like “Most Haunted,” “Paranormal State,” or “Ghost Hunters. Whether or not these devices actually work is a whole other debate, but for a video game to take this next step towards a realistic investigation of a haunting? The end result was highly original and innovative, and most of all, spooky. DF2 was exceptionally at causing gamers’ skin to crawl or goosebumps to rise. Ghosts are done very realistically where they are most often heard, rather than seen. Unlike the original Dark Fall though, you do get some ethereal encounters

Again, this is the weakest of the games in my opinion, but it’s still one worth experiencing.

Barrow Hill
Publisher: Got Game Entertainment
Release Date: 08/26/2006

Okay, Barrow Hill is actually a game done by Shadow Tor Studios and primarily by Matt Clark. Darkling Room did help out with this project, and Shadow Tor later helped out with a few bits toward The Lost Crown. Because both developer’s games reference each others’ products, and even plug them in game, Barrow Hill is considered to be part of the “Dark Fall family” of games, and with good reason.

Barrow Hill was not only our 2006 Horror Game of the Year and Adventure Game of the Year, but it was also one vote away from winning our overall 2006 GOTY award, giving you an indication of how amazing this title was. Of course, damn near every gaming site on the planet thought Barrow Hill was one of the best games of 2006, except for Gamespot who was busy establishing itself at that time as very biased against point and click games.

Unlike the first two games we have looked at, Barrow Hill was an adventure game that you could die in. In fact, the creature stalking you throughout the game was not only ominous but there was the very real possibility of never encountering the thing stalking you through Cornwall. I hesitate to tell you what the evil in the game is, as when described your first reaction will be the same as mine – laughter. However when encountered in the game, the atmosphere and events occurring in Barrow Hill make it utterly believable and also downright creepy.

Barrow Hill offered multiple endings, some excellent voice acting, incredible music made even better by how and when it was used rather than just having a backing score through the whole game. By having long periods of silence save for footsteps, wind, and the occasional bump in the night, the feeling of terror within Barrow Hill was enhanced to a level I didn’t think possible.

Although there game wasn’t perfect in my eyes, it offered some original puzzles and the most realistic locale I had ever seen in a video game up to that point. I feel in love with the extra “Interactive Guide to Cornwall” and the incredibly deep story. You can see my old review where I more or less gushed over the game, and you can also try out the demo by going to the official website.

Websites

One of the things LOST fans love about the show are all the little interactive games and Easter Eggs hidden across the web. Well, Darkling Room games are no different. Things started off with Boakes’ website This Haunted Land and they spread from there. THL is a website of authentic ghost hunting investigations. It was Boakes involvement in making this website and encountering/tagging along with these ghost hunters that made the last game game we’ll be looking at today so realistic. Go ahead and check out this site and see examples of would-be real hauntings and how modern day ghost hunters try to prove the existence of the undead.

It was with this next game, The Lost Crown where the bonus web content flourished. Let’s take a look at them all.

The Mysterious Coast. This website details many of the real life places and events that went into the fictional town of Saxton where TLC takes place.

Hadden Industries. The mysterious company behind many of the items used in Boakes’ games.

Saxton’s official website. Again, a website devoted to the fictional town of Saxton from The Lost Crown.

A Warning to the Curious. This website is devoted to the classic M.R. James story of the same name. it was this tale that influenced Boakes to make TLD.

Now that we’ve given you appetizer’s for the last game, let’s actually move on to it.

The Lost Crown
Publisher: Got Game Entertainment
Release Date: 03/03/08

I’ll say this right now: TLC is my current GOTY, regardless of genre. And I’m not alone. The game has received universal praise, and many reviewers besides myself have joined in with calling The Lost Crown the best horror game ever made, as well as arguably the best Adventure game ever made. Yes, I’ve given games higher scores this year, but it was the length, linear nature of the game, and the fact it is so realistic it is ultimately a niche game that caused it to sink score wise. Still, the game was everything I have ever wanted in a horror game and I will be deeply saddened if The Lost Crown doesn’t walk away with multiple awards from us here in 2008.

One of my favorite things about this game, besides the realistic nature and the fact this is easily THE spookiest game ever made, are the graphics. I’ve never called a horror game artistic before, but that is exactly what TLC is: A work of art. When you play the game, you’ll instantly notice that nearly all of it is in black and white. Colour is used rarely here, but when it is, it is both meaningful and beautiful. The nearly black and white atmosphere also adds a level of creepiness to the game that is hard to express verbally. It is something you have to experience first hand to truly understand.

My only negative experience with TLC was with a bug in the game that created an unintentional time loop. Said bug was fixed with a patch you can now download and as such I would ratchet the corrected game from merely “Very Good” to “Great,” thus tying it with my highest score of the year.

The Lost Crown has the most realistic ghost story in all of gaming, some of the scariest and disturbing moments in all of gaming, and is a true work of art. TLC really does deserve its reputation as arguably the best horror game ever made, and if you are reading this article, you owe it to yourself to track down a copy and play the hell out of it. It is the only video game I have ever truly called a work of art as no other game comes close.

Feel free to check out my in-depth review of the game from March, 2008 to learn more, although I’d really rather have you all experience this game for yourselves. That includes my staff here at DHGF, hint hint.

So there we are. A look at the games of Jon Boakes, a man who has revolutionized horror gaming as we know it. Every fan of ghost stories, hauntings, and terrifying video games needs to go out and play each of the four titles we’ve looked at today. After playing them you’ll realize many console games lack a true sense of realism and terror, and instead boil down to nothing more than hitting or shooting monsters without any real depth. Yippee.

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