Lost Souls: Tonal Shift

I’ve described some of the mechanical differences between Dark Fall: Lost Souls and its two predecessors, but the tonal differences are even more striking. The second game was set in a different place and time than the first, and veered into sci-fi where the first stayed firmly supernatural, but nonetheless the two games had pretty much the same feel: the feel of the lonely Mystlike, augmented by glimpses of the uncanny. The feel of exploring someplace desolate and unsettling, but not exactly dangerous. They were ghost stories, but not horror stories.

Lost Souls is more horror. Partly it’s the horror of the gross. The hotel’s dining room makes you dig through decaying meat to find things, and there’s something odd in one of the bathroom sinks, something red and slick that looks like an internal organ, but seems to be alive and fitfully breathing, making sounds like a clogged nose. The previous games had nothing like this. They were more about dust and cobwebs than blood and other fluids.

Partly it’s the horror of guilt, like in Amnesia or Silent Hill 2, where you’re somehow to blame and you can’t remember why. The backstory involves an eleven-year-old girl who went missing five years ago, and the player character seems to be the police inspector who was assigned to the case and failed to find her. Posters showing the girl’s face are all over, and I’ve gotten taunting phone calls and text messages holding me responsible for whatever it was that happened to her. The known facts don’t seem to support such blame, but that just means we’re heading for some kind of dire revelation. In contrast, in the first game you’re just a random innocent trapped in someone else’s story, and in the second, the accusations leveled at the player character by history were blatantly wrong.

(A side note: In the previous two games, the protagonist was silent, as is usual in Mystlikes. Here, the PC occasionally talks aloud, in a worried British baritone. This was so unexpected that I didn’t understand it at first, and assumed that the voice I heard was from some unseen NPC. When the player character utters words that don’t come from the player, it tends to establish that the PC is distinct from the player, for good or ill. Perhaps I would have thought of Benjamin Parker more as a character than as a proxy for myself if he had spoken aloud in Lights Out. Here in Lost Souls, I think the PC’s voice helps me to remember that he’s personally involved, but at the same time makes that involvement his, not mine.)

The thing is, I think horror is actually what Boakes was aiming for throughout the series. I mean, if he just wanted to tell a ghost story in Dark Fall: The Journal, he didn’t need to put a demon at the end. The real difference is that he’s being less subtle about it now.

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