Review: The Dark Meadow

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I recently purchased my first iPad.  Although I have been a fan of Apple products for several years, the prospect of owning an iPad was always just out of reach; I could never justify the purchase. However, that didn't prevent me from experiencing first hand some of the more popular iPhone games. They were cheap, easy to understand, and satisfied small chunks of wasted time. Games like Words with Friends were popular with just about everyone and I wanted to participate.

Having an iPad changes everything about gaming Apps. Suddenly, games that were possible on the iPhone now had potential on the iPad. Still being new to this type of gaming I wasn't entirely sure what to start out with. Thankfully, the game that I chose turned out to be one of my favorites as a recent adopter of the iPad 3.

Dark Meadow, developed by Phosphor Games, will likely satisfy most fans of early Silent Hill games. It is incredibly moody and very-much story driven. You begin by awakening in a decrepit birthing room of an old and abandoned hospital. From a first-person perspective, you have a brief encounter with an elderly man in a wheelchair who, after quick introductions, wheels himself away, fearing for his safety. This encounter is replaced with only his voice that guides you, via loudspeakers that are placed in every room of this disturbingly run down and creepy building.  You have no understanding of who your character is or how he arrived; only that you need to escape.

As you begin your journey of discovery, you'll find yourself walking down darkened hallways littered with ancient hospital debris, and exploring what's left of the various rooms. Along the way you'll encounter variations of the hospital's remaining inhabitants - monsters and spectres of all sort. Borrowing heavily from another popular iPhone/iPad game - Infinity Blade, The Dark Meadow utilizes a simple point-and-click style of travel, as well as a similar, if not quite as developed, method for battling these nightmarish creatures.  As each enemy is encountered they will begin at one end of the hallway and shamble, crawl, or skitter their way toward you. You'll start each battle with your equipped crossbow until the monster has closed enough ground where you automatically switch to more up-close and personal melee combat with a blade or sword. You'll have the ability to block or dodge incoming attacks with simple corner screen presses, while dishing out your own version of hell by swiping the screen left, right, upwards, and down. At the conclusion of each encounter you're rewarded with experience points that can be spent as you would expect with any RPG-style game: better health, stronger damage, etc.

Using the Unreal Engine, The Dark Meadow looks absolutely stunning on the iPad's screen. The environment is rendered beautifully, light and shadows are cast with incredible realism, and the mood is enhanced by how georgous or terrifying each new room or beast is presented. It's obvious the developers at Phosphor Games took a great deal of time in providing a game that looks this good.  Even the most finicky of visual snobs will be satisfied with this game.

As good as The Dark Meadow looks, and as simple as the controls can be, what really makes this game worth every cent is the depth of the story and how it is delivered. Scattered about this century old hospital are the clues that prompt the player to continue.  News clippings, diaries, scrawlings of a madman, and the persistent ramblings of your elderly guide, paint a picture that you realize the history of this building is more chaotic than first imagined.  It soon becomes evident that this was less a hospital used to treat the infirm, and more a cage used to detain the insane. It's history runs deep, and involves numerous characters that you'll only ever read about, but it's more than enough to keep you coming back for more. And you'll have plenty of opportunities to do so.

The Dark Meadow expects you to die at the hands of its supernatural inhabitants . . . and die often.  But for mysterious reasons you never truly die. Instead, you reawaken back in the room you started this madness. Each time you are defeated by those that are bigger and meaner than you, you wake back up in the birthing room - very symbolic. Initially I was concerned that these often and repeated deaths would prompt me to leave the game for something less monotonous. But then I realized that with each death you are provided the opportunity to revisit prior rooms and corridors, and this turned out to not only be a good thing, but the real catch for what makes The Dark Meadow so damned good. Where the rooms might be the same, the clues to unravel this mystery are not. New evidence is found scattered about, different enemies spawn at different locations - always keeping you on your toes - and the story that set in its hooks continue to pull you forward. Suddenly, your repeated deaths are no longer scorned, but embraced.

The Dark Meadow excels in so many ways, and for a measly $5.99 you will easily get your money's worth. Although immensely satisfied with my first, real iPad game, if there was one thing I would change about The Dark Meadow, it would be the combat. It worked - and worked well - but I always felt like it removed me from the story and the setting of what makes this game so good. It felt unnecessary and I would have preferred each melee encounter be replaced with a puzzle encounter to help tell this haunted tale. Those on the fence with this game shouldn't be concerned with making another poor App choice, The Dark Meadow is a no-brainer.