Dark Meadow: The Pact takes inspiration from Infinity Blade, bringing it swipe based combat to a haunting exploration game. If you are a horror fan then the idea of this reliance on combat maybe off-putting - but the exploration, narrative, and detailed setting more than manage to maintain the tension in a way rarely seen on mobile.
Lovecraft with crossbows
I came to Dark Meadow: The Pact looking for horror, but it did its best to put me off. Starting you are assaulted by a tutorial that places a heavy focus on combat. This only makes up half of the game, but due to it being the most complicated element it forces you through multiple encounters in quick succession.
And the combat is always the same. The creature randomly appears at the other end of a corridor. You then fire a volley of crossbow bolts, desperately trying to hit the jittering Eldritch horrors and inflict damage before they close the gap. Once they arrive you dodge or block until you see an opening and then you randomly swipe at the screen until they – or you – die. Great mobile action and tight controls, but not what I came to the game for.
The pattern of the action is repetitive, but the evolving enemies ensure that it never gets dull. Also, Dark Meadow’s RPG elements do help to keep things fresh, as you level up your hero’s stats and purchase better weapons and protection with looted gold – or if you are impatient in-game currency.
Let’s go around again
After Dark Meadow is done with its introduction, things settle down. After dyeing at the hands of a glowing girl you reawaken in a room, alone except for the voice of a man talking to you over a PA. Across multiple scenes he reveals the nature of the world, including your constant reincarnations, and explains his own desire to escape the hellish abandoned hospital in which you're trapped.
This disembodied voice was the highlight for me. Every time you entered a room lit with sunlight – a safe room – your guide would further elaborate the fiction, with dozens of lines of dialogue. This not only filled in the story, but also the horror as you discover what has happened to your companion's mind while trapped with the terrors.
Dark Meadow's detail, stunningly brought to life in the Unreal Engine, also add to the atmosphere. Every deserted corridor, dank dungeon-like medical area, or disjointed supernatural dream-scape looks sensational on your handheld device. Moving by tapping the next spot you want to travel too makes exploration easy, while also letting you examine every eerie detail just by dragging your figure around the screen.
Be afraid in the dark
Horror on mobile is a hard thing to pull off. Between the small screen and the environments in which many people play, the tension is all too easily broken. Dark Meadow: The Pact makes you want to enjoy its terrors properly, screaming at you to play in dark isolation - if only to appreciate the voice acting and world it has created.