Imagine for a moment that you’ve got amnesia. Imagine you’ve woken up in a strange place with no idea how you got there. It seems old and abandoned – a hospital perhaps, or a residential home for those suffering from terminal ennui. Whoever was running it, whoever stayed here seems to have left in a hurry. There are beds, carious and rusted, there are broken filing cabinets, there are torn scraps of curtain which allow a haze of sunlight through. On the floor you find a scrap of paper apparently scrawled with the ramblings of a diseased mind. Again you try to remember who brought you here. What was their purpose? Tentatively you set out to explore. There are puddles of tenebrous shadows in the corridor and signs of what look like a struggle. Your sense of unease mounts as you pad through the corridors. Creaking sounds in the distance, the hissing crackle of a radio on the edge of hearing, rooms shrouded in darkness. Gradually you begin to realise that there is no way out.
Then it happens. A creature. Human in only the crudest outline, it shambles down the corridor towards you with a loping gait more animal than man. Panicking, you shoot it three times in the head with your crossbow and then stab it repeatedly in the face with the sword you’ve been given for no clear reason. Despite its hellish appearance the creature fights with all the dexterity of a wounded sloth on a speed comedown. You swiftly kick its face off and when it dies you notice it leaves cash behind it. You wonder who might have created such a grotesque monster and why they sent it out into the world with a greasy wad of used fivers stuffed in its loin cloth. Then you notice that a man is following you weighed down by a mass of shiny looking crossbows and swords. He’s prepared to sell them to you in exchange for some of the money you got by stabbing the cripple to death. He promises faithfully to follow you around all the time (in case you need a new sword at a moments notice) but refuses to engage you in any sort of conversation. He seems to like money which is handy because whoever was last in this building has apparently left the price of a large yacht lying scattered around in small bags throughout the building. Apparently the weapon salesman can’t be bothered picking it up himself but has no problem exchanging it for his goods.
I like to imagine that had the writers of Dark Meadow been allowed to pen the film Aliens they’d have been fine right up until the point that the space marines first tangled with the xenomorphs. The atmosphere would build as they explored the eerily deserted base looking for any signs of life. Probing their way into the depths of the base they would find the walls seeping a thick ichor and the architecture becoming distorted by layers of alien chitin. Just when the tension was getting unbearable the creatures would attack. Rather than getting torn to shreds the marines would have easily gunned down a horde of horrible but severely disabled monsters and stolen all their stuff. Then they’d have taken that stuff to a cash converters which was still mysteriously open in the bowels of the habitat and exchanged said stuff for flame throwers before heading back into the base to murder more semi-defenseless monsters in between looking for an exit and tripping over free nunchucks and cheese sandwiches. All the time everyone would be loudly declaiming how scary this whole experience was.
Dark Meadow is a thinly disguised rip-off of Infinity Blade with some gorgeous visuals and an intriguing premise that is completely and utterly shafted by wildly innappropriate kill the monster and nick its stuff levelling gameplay. Exploring the beautifully-rendered environments is a delight and creates a sustained sense of unease but the shambolic combat which involves slashing the screen and dodging incoming attacks lacks the nuanced strategy that made Infinity Blade so appealing. The monsters look quite scary but fight like children going up against a professional boxer. Whereas Infinity Blade managed to make the grind and the small play area a clever part of the overall plot through some very neat meta-narrative Dark Meadow just has you wandering round a small section of hospital stabbing things to death for no clear reason other than to artificially extend the play time of a fairly pricey iSpork game. Its not all bad though, the environments are superb and exploring them feels quite immersive right up until you remember you must be being followed around by some kind of surreal phantom shopkeeper. There’s also some terrific voice acting from the weird old man who acts as your guide, talking to you through the hospital’s PA system. He rambles at you whenever you go into certain rooms and conveys a fantastic aura of good natured insanity. I was intrigued by the core mystery of the game but the hackneyed RPG tropes and inability to grasp even the beginnings of maintaining tension make this game the most beautiful damp squib of an experience I’ve had since that woman fell asleep with my cock in her mouth. Horror video games are basically really hard and by trying to cross the genre with a supremely generic RPG Dark Meadow fails on both counts. It’s a shame because it really does look very pretty indeed.