“An atmospheric, incredibly interesting story undone by out-of-place combat.”£3.99
Dark Meadow begins brilliantly. You awake in a cluttered, coming-apart-at-the-seams hospital room. You have no idea where – or even who – you are, but clues abound in the form of enough scattered notes to fill an entire shameful scrapbook collection. So you begin to explore the abandoned hospital, voraciously devouring whatever morsels of info you can find. Then a silver-tongued man starts chattering at you over an intercom. Is he trustworthy? Or is he just attempting to shatter your already fragile sanity? Regardless, it's not like there are a hundred other disembodied voices lining up to give you a hand.
It's an excellent setup – especially in the largely story-starved world of iOS gaming. But then, for some reason, Dark Meadow feels the need to whip out a crossbow and shoot itself square in the foot. See, the game has a weird Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde thing going on: half the time, it's a smart, atmospheric adventure game, and the other half, it's a pale, sloppy Infinity Blade imitator. Combat – of which there is far, far too much – involves dodging highly telegraphed enemy attacks and then swiping like you have a personal vendetta against your finger. Sound familiar?
So yes, with the exception of some snoozeworthy crossbow antics, Dark Meadow's combat system is unabashedly lifted straight out of Infinity Blade. But hey, may as well steal from the best, right? Problem is, Dark Meadow lacks Infinity Blade's refined precision, instead letting some enemies' attacks come within inches of ending your life when you dodged them by a mile. It's incredibly frustrating to drop dead when, by all indications, you didn't do anything wrong.
Further, combat pretty much brings Dark Meadow's brand of sun-baked, fascinatingly idyllic creepiness to a jarring halt. One moment, you're piecing together this paper trail of winding prose, and the next – oh great – another monster. Another poofy-shoulderpadded guy. Another evil Star Fox. Sure, the creature designs are unsettling the first time they waltz right up and challenge you to a gentlemanly bout of fisticuffs, but when there's one down nearly every hallway? Well, then it just gets tiresome.
And that's a shame too, because the writing, acting and sound design on display here are absolutely among the best iOS has to offer. Your mysterious intercom pal is all at once insanely hilarious and hilariously insane, forming the centrepiece of a world that begs to be experienced with headphones. The visuals, meanwhile, mix dingy browns with warm sunlight and green vegetation. In most cases, the end result is completely gorgeous.
Before long, however, even that vivid illusion falls away like a clumsily knocked over movie set. The game world is quite small and linear, and you're forced to battle your way through the same areas en route to a ghostly boss you initially stand no chance of beating. So you die horribly, keep your experience points, and have another go at her. Yes, again, just like Infinity Blade. Here, though, it all feels out of place.
Dark Meadow, then, is a game that's at odds with itself. If it had given either of its major components the attention they deserved, we'd be recommending the game without hesitation. But with both sides of it half-baked, it fails to excel.