Game Review: 'The Dark Meadow'


True horror on a portable gaming system, in this case Apple's iPhone, is a difficult achievement.  The small screen, coupled with a near-constant sense of environmental awareness where even the most controlled area can't hide your thumbs on the device itself, make scares a difficult prospect.  Instead, the best thing you can hope for is a horror "theme," where a player not be able to experience true frights, but the presence of zombies or other occult elements may be enough to keep them roped in.

There's another option, which The Dark Meadow's developer and publisher Phosphor Games went for: go for disturbing and unsettling rather than frightening, building up an eerie atmosphere that keeps players in a not-so-sweet spot of disturbing weirdness.

Players are thrown unceremoniously into their nameless character's shoes, an amnesiac in an abandoned hospital (is there any other kind?), who is guided through the corridors of the building by a mysterious voice over the intercom.  He is your only human contact throughout the game, and he provides no comfort.  In fact, he has clearly been driven insane by the years in the hospital.

Not that I would blame him, as the world of The Dark Meadow is populated by some of the most genuinely bizarre creatures I've ever seen in a game.  They're strange mishmashes of fur, feather, flesh, and bone, with eyeless masks for faces and appendages jutting out of unexpected areas.  They look like the cast of The Lion King on Broadway if it was directed by Ed Gein instead of Julie Taymor.

Fighting these creatures off is a twofold affair, alternating between volleys of crossbow bolts from afar before the game's close-combat engine takes over.  Fans of Epic's Infinity Blade will be right at home, as the melee combat is virtually identical: a series of icons block or dodge incoming enemy attacks before allowing you your opportunity to strike back with a volley of attacks of your own.  It's a simpler system than Infinity Blade, but it's no less elegant in its intuitiveness.

While The Dark Meadow may not be perfect (its lack of an automap is genuinely rage-inducing, albeit necessary to the game's atmosphere) its exemplary of what the iPhone is capable of in regards to horror.  It's creepy, subtle, and it gets under your skin every minute you spend in its clutches.

The Dark Meadow is available from the iTunes App Store for $5.99.