I do love me some FMV games. Certainly a lot of it is just the mad pleasure of seeing them play out in crisp 4K, with every pore of the skin visible, rather than as the near-incoherent blocky blurs that dominated the genre when it was at its height. The Dark Side Of The Moon certainly looks great, even if it’s a little ropey in other ways. But ways that don’t get in the way of a fun, extremely British hokum tale of missing kids and solar eclipses.
Dark Side very much taps into an era of British television, mostly in the 70s and early 80s, where scrappily shot stories of sinister happenings and rural science fiction really shone. Those BBC adaptations of John Wyndham novels, the original version of The Survivors, and of course overlapping with the Earth-set episodes of Doctor Who. I love them, from their madly lit photography to the wildly fluctuating quality of acting. Although here we’re free of the former, but very much not of the latter.
This is the creation, as far as I can tell, primarily of one family, the Halls! This begins with writer/director/lead actor Darren Hall playing Dean, a man whose wife disappeared some time ago, and now both his children vanish during the night. The children are played by his real-life children, and the disappeared wife appearing in flashbacks played by co-writer Lindsey Hall. This leads to some very natural and engaging scenes early on between the father and his kids, but also some rather fist-gnawing awkwardness in the flashbacks, which play out more like nervous school nativity performances.
You have the extraordinary scene-chewing of the deeply suspicious police detective, whose entire performance is that of a sentient twirled moustache, as he grimaces, gurns and glares in fantastically incongruent ways. There’s Dean’s best friend Julian, looking and sounding like a trimmed down Samwell Tarly, and batshit crazy conspiracist caricature Alyx (with a y) who believes she knows what’s happened to the kids.
Your involvement is to move between locations, make dialogue choices (whether to lie or be truthful that Dean was drunk on the sofa the night the kids went missing, for instance), and in its most silly inclusion, press a button only when the button appears to interact with a scene. And that’s plenty, that’s FMV games, and your choices can decide if you make it to the end of the story, or die along the way.
Unfortunately the real genuine failing of Dark Side is to have such deaths force you to restart the entire game from the beginning, which is a deeply odd choice. Instead of picking up from a chapter start nearer your failing, and being able to continue on with the choices you’d made previously, instead you have to start over from scratch every time, moving between each location, remaking all the previous choices, and individually skipping every single scene when possible. At one point it took me a full ten minutes to reach where I’d left off, which is ridiculous, especially given the game claims it’s autosaving when you start. The result of this is you’re just not going to make obviously bad decisions in order to see where they lead, and worse, might miss more interesting paths or possibilities for the sake of always picking the most vanilla option, should it mean you’re booted out.
That’s a real bummer, because otherwise I just loved this hokey muddle of parochial supernatural nonsense. It’s so very, very British, from its East Yorkshire quiet village to the understated, almost nonchalant reaction to tragedy. That’s all extremely silly, of course, and if you’re anything like me you’ll be yelling at Dean, “STOP MOOCHING ON THE SOFA AND GO FIND YOUR KIDS, YOU IDIOT!”
There are some other issues. There are options that don’t appear until certain moments in the story, like being able to check the kids’ search history on their laptop. It’s not there when you look the first time, but you’re supposed to think to look at a random point later on. Or when the story won’t advance until you call a certain character, even though you’ve just been around her house. Also, somehow a game that’s basically just video takes up over 90% of my GPU
Still, there’s something utterly charming about this kitchen table FMV gaming. It’s am-dram, with sound levels all over the place, friends-and-family casting, incredibly terrible CGI, and the sort of story that barely holds together in the most fun way.