Sun above, dread below

by Shane Dillon
0 comment

FACING an imminent long-distance holiday – and that’s a subtle hint I’ll be AWOL for the next couple of editions – I thought I’d highlight two very recently released iPad games. They’re as different as night and day, but they’re both real-time sinks that are perfect for losing a few, or several, hours at a time on long journeys.

Whether you choose to explore a relaxed, sun-kissed island, or flee for your wailing life from unspeakable, ancient horrors, they’re both well-executed iPad ports of great games which came out on console, first, but have translated very well to touchscreen gaming…


SOME readers may recall a review of the console original of this title, some time back, which has made the leap to small screen very much intact – and is even better, in some respects.

Set on a small but densely detailed island, The Witness is hope to literally hundreds and hundreds of swiping puzzles, mostly in small, connected batches, as well as a sparsely scattered plot, of sorts.

Improving on the console original, you simply tap on screen where you want to move to, and if possible, the game walks – or more like drifts – to that spot, as you look around as you go.

Repeat, and you’ll soon be gliding peacefully all around the island, from its snowbound top to quiet caverns, facing locked doors, mysterious sights and obstructive puzzles all around.

You’ll occasionally find audio logs, which offer unusual commentaries – what has an astronaut’s perspective of the meaningless of border lines and Mankind’s self-imposed divisions have to do with puzzles on an island, you may wonder?

Moving on, and despite the weak, jagged shadow maps and slightly ragged graphics, it’s an accomplished port that really nails the quiet, calm beauty of The Witness.

As for its multitude of puzzles, they’re all variants of drawing a line from point A to B – but they all have their own sets of rules to work out.

For example, you might have to trace around seemingly scattered white dots on a grid – but without clear instructions, it could take a while to work out that each white dot can only be passed by the line you trace along two of its sides, so how can you trace a line to the finish in the right order?

That’s only a small flavour of the game, but the literally hundreds of puzzles scattered about the deserted, enigmatic island quickly range from the blindingly easy to the bafflingly obscure, making it very much a pick-up-and-play game.

After all, if a puzzle is too hard – you can just walk away, perhaps to the beach, or through the orchard, or past the waterfalls, or around the bamboo trees, settling in to a holiday state of mind – but one that doesn’t involve tracing more lines around more tiles …


FOR all of the many Lovecraftian influences found in a variety of pop culture sources, it’s hard to pin down many gaming titles that actively single out the type of dread, creeping horror that was once popular in certain rarefied literary circles.

While Lovecraft is perhaps a bit old-hat to most modern readers, the spirit of his particular style of unsettling, ancient horrors beyond Man’s comprehension was particularly well captured in the 2000 smash-hit debut book by author Mark Z Danielewski: House of Leaves.

However, gaming – although packed to the brim with many types of horror genres – hasn’t quite capitalised on the old-world charms of truly old-skool nightmares.

Enter Darkest Dungeon, the touchscreen port of the cult (pun intended) console game, which brings all the pitch-black Gothic horror, and difficulty, of its ‘big brother’ to the small screen, ready to kill hours of your time as you desperately try to keep your heroes alive.

In a suitably Lovecraftian setup, the ruin of a fallen house of once noble name sits above a shabby, craven village.

A stagecoach regularly dispatches eager adventurers seeking to plunder the depths of the ruins, hallways, caves and other avenues of ancient antiquity beneath that imposing shell.

Loosely pegged as ‘a Roguelike’ game – that is, a game with complex rules, challenging difficulty and gaming’s greatest terror: permadeath (so that if your character dies, autosave kicks in and they’re lost forever) – Darkest Dungeon is a demanding, generally rock-hard game.

As if trying to juggle resources and defeat tough foes alike wasn’t enough of a challenge, your characters’ sanity also comes into play, as they can be driven mad, with potentially fatal results, by the horrors they face, affecting their gameplay and your team, too.

The HUD is a little too small and fiddly for my liking, making it sometimes a bit tricky to organise what you’re doing, but the beautifully dark art style and animation, and the wryly arch running commentary you constantly hear, create an enjoyable atmospheric title.

And, as you watch your heroes’ health dwindle, their food run out and torches sputter and fad,e with a sudden ambush snaring your not-so-cocky-now group and permadeath lurking in the shadows, you’ll find that Darkest Dungeon has sunk its teeth very firmly into you.

Related Articles