Darkest Fear iPhone, iPod Touch Review

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Creating a truly frightening horror experience on a mobile phone is no easy feat. The player needs to feel immersed in the game-world to be able to empathise properly with a character, and that can be difficult to pull off on a 3.5 inch screen.

Rovio, developer of Darkest Fear, has given it a good try though, despite their game being more of a puzzler than a survival horror. The game opens with history researcher Thomas Warden driving towards a hospital with the appealing name of Grim Oak’s. He has received a call from his wife Susan, a doctor at Grim Oak’s, asking him to find their autistic daughter Helen, who also happens to be a patient of a certain grim-sounding medical facility.

Of course, it isn’t as simple as checking in at reception and visiting the right ward. Thomas finds the hospital shrouded in darkness, and the problem is more substantial than a British Gas cock-up or a few flicked switches in the fuse box. The hospital’s patients have been infected with a terrible virus that transforms them into bloodthirsty monsters.

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Like fans of Twilight, these creatures cannot abide the cold, harsh light of reality (or any other form of illumination for that matter), and so they will congregate in the shadows, ready to claw anything that enters their domain.

Luckily, Thomas can carry portable light sources like torches and lanterns, although using both hands at the same time seems to be a bit of stretch for the poor fellow, as he can only hold one at a time.

The lantern provides 360-degree protection from the darkness, whilst the torch only brightens up the world in front of it, leaving your rear as vulnerable as an asthmatic in an asbestos factory. This means that your flashlight is more useful when placed on the ground, rather than held to traverse a pitch-black corridor.

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Windows and fireplaces are also handy as fixed sources to keep the darkness at bay, and mirrors can obviously be used to reflect light, albeit acting more like a prism would. These mirrors still manage to reflect and somehow brighten light from a source that is directly behind them, instead of creating their own shadow.

Gameplay mostly consists of pushing large wooden crates onto pressure switches, which open doors. If only this was something we forced patients in all hospitals to do, we’d soon separate the hypochondriacs from the genuinely ill. Keys must also be found to open other doors, but as they’re always found in one of the many wardrobes scattered about each level, this never presents much of a challenge.

The primary challenge often comes from ‘juggling’ items by alternating between carrying one or the other whilst ensuring you stay bathed in the safety of light. Most levels will also feature one or more patients who can be optionally saved by making sure that the place they’re sitting in is lit up by the time you exit the level. Each patient saved grants you an extra point of health permanently, allowing you to make more mistakes before death.

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The controls are workable but less than ideal. Having to touch the side of the screen corresponding to the direction you wish to walk means that often your finger will be obscuring the action. It makes you wish for an old-fashioned mobile phone keypad, or failing that, even a little d-pad at the corner of the screen would have been preferable.

The difficulty is all over the place, with a couple of the earlier levels being much harder than the later ones. Some levels are so linear, that anything but the correct solution will result in a quick death, so you end up simply going through the obvious motions to finish the level.

The story is presented in stylish black-and-white static screens, and it’s a shame that the dialogue is often so awkward and forced. What initially seems like it could be an intriguing plot never approaches anything interesting, and ends with a climax that makes no sense at all.

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There are two points in the game where a choice must be made, resulting in a total of three possible endings. Unfortunately none of them are interesting enough to warrant playing through all 15 levels again when you already know the solutions. One of the possible endings even sees you bypassing two ‘boss battles’ completely, meaning the levels are instantly over. This is probably for the best though, as these are the worst parts of the game anyway. Slowly walking around and opening windows feels more like working in an old people’s home than an epic struggle…

Despite my criticisms, if you like this kind of logic puzzler there is some fun to be had here, but unless you really want to see the alternate endings, it won’t last you more than an hour or two. It currently feels a little overpriced at £2.39, in comparison to other App Store offerings, but there is a Lite version available so you can try the first three levels to see if it clicks, or if you’re just afraid of the dark.

5 out of 10
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