For some people, hospitals, in their sterile, cool hallways and bright, whitewashed walls can be a dreaded place filled with strange-looking devices, uncanny health reports and horrifying news. Set in a dilapidated medical center overgrown with trees, vines and wild flora, Dark Meadow: The Pact is indicative of the true meaning of hospital horror.
The game is set in the first-person point of view of a man who wakes up in one of the hospital’s wards, alone and without any memories of the past. The player is greeted by an old man with a British accent from the intercom system, who introduces himself as an ally. He goads the player to make an escape from the hospital while he provides instructions and information from above.
The only tools supplied for the job are… a crossbow and a vicious-looking knife. Soon, it makes sense as to why the player is provided with such archaic weapons: the hospital is not simply run-down, it is host to a myriad of malicious monsters and creatures who materialize out of the darkness and, as the old man tells, an evil witch who controls them. She MUST be eradicated.
Navigation throughout the three-dimensional virtual world of Dark Meadow is made by clicking the glowing circle indicators which “walks” the player forward, much like board game spaces except viewed from the first person perspective of the game piece. At each spot the character stops, players can swivel across the environment and search drawers, cabinets, pipelines and corners for bags of money and gems which function as currency in the game’s store, which allows for upgrading the crossbow or knife weapon.
In many of these stops in the game, the player will encounter doors with crudely-drawn sun symbols on them, indicating a “safe” monster-free spot. In these rooms, the old man’s voice will sound in the intercom as he provides comic relief with anecdotes and impatient reminders to eliminate the witch as soon as possible.
From every corridor of the hospital, ravaged with living black tentacles growing out of the linoleum walls to empty, slime-covered wards reeking rot, the bizarre environment of the game suggests that something more than walls and boarded up windows is holding back the player’s escape.
With every step taken to travel to the stairwell of the second floor where the evil witch lies in hiding, her minions attack, attempting to thwart the journey of the escapee. The battle system of Dark Meadow lis much like that of the highly acclaimed mobile game Infinity Blade.
When battle is initiated, the player takes control of the crossbow as the monsters advance. By dragging and releasing the bowstring of the crossbow, projectiles are fired at the monsters which cause them to “bleed” dark smoke until their health bar is completely depleted. When the monster advances too close, the player is automatically switched to his sword for close quarter combat. This phase of the battle is where this battle system merges with that of Infinity Blade.
Damage is inflicted on the monsters by swiping viciously at them with each successful blow taking out a chunk of the antagonist’s health bar. The enemies however, defend and attack as well. They vary their attacks by throwing punches, kicks, swipes, head-butts and even advanced fake-out strikes! Players can dodge left, right or block using their sword, which is a fool-proof way to defend from attacks especially when in a pinch at low health levels. The process then repeats, much like a role-play fight. The game prompts players when to defend or strike.
At times, there are documents lying around in the environment that can be picked up. They help to elucidate the story behind the hospital. Some of these documents are birth records, lobotomy reports, diagnoses, patient admissions, even background on Montclair Hospital as you come to discover the name of the facility you are trapped in and most notably the “Scrawls of a Madman” which seem to nonsensically warn readers about a “father of lies” who is not what he seems as well as the harmless “witch” who protects the hospital. Can the player really trust the hospitable old man on the intercom who is the only link to humanity in a place of darkness?
The fallen hospital that the player is caged in warrants much investigation and exploration to uncover the mysterious story behind it. Although the combat system seldom deviates with every fight, making a large fraction of the game feel redundant and frustrating, Dark Meadow presents well-rendered graphics that gather the darkest aspects of the demonic world. Dark Meadow: The Pact is highly unique: immersive in its phantasmal gameplay, spine-rattling in its elusive storyline and competitive as a whole in its console-game-like quality.
By DMITRI PUH