The introduction of Detective Francis McQueen and his sidekick, Officer Patrick Dooley, in 2017’s comedy horror point-and-click, The Darkside Detective, was an unexpected delight. The strange and kooky world of Twin Lakes didn’t take the ‘horror’ bit all that seriously; it was much happier indulging obscure film references and finding innuendo everywhere.
And we were all the better for it.
The sequel, A Fumble in the Dark, is much the same, only bigger and carried off with a confidence born of its developers knowing they’ve crafted a winning duo, milking it for all it’s worth – albeit a little too much at times.
There are six cases for McQueen to solve, starting with bringing Dooley back from his entrapment in the eponymous ‘Darkside’ – a ghoulish mirror of Twin Lakes, which is inhabited by a menagerie of monsters and spooks. Some of them are nice, even friendly. Most aren’t.
Dooley’s time in the Darkside forms the rough backbone of the narrative, with most of the cases you need to solve in some way related to this endearing and wonderful idiot. In one particularly memorable episode we take a trip to Ireland to visit the Dooley clan, who reside in a magnificent castle (one of a few striking pixely vistas; the game is often very lovely to look at).
The cases themselves are of a decent length and do a solid job of poking fun at the illogical logic of the point-and-click, whilst slickly evoking what makes them great – the bizarre thrill of combining items in obscure ways, often without quite understanding why it matters. In this respect I reckon A Fumble in the Dark is more challenging than its predecessor, although there’s the odd silly and inexplicable puzzle that’s difficult to solve in a logical way, even by the game’s standards. But then it wouldn’t be a point-and-click without ‘em, would it?
As much as I love the genre, though, it’s not A Fumble in the Dark’s gameplay that attracts me to it. Much like the first game, Twin Lakes is a wonderful place to spend time in – and such a brilliant locale for point-and-click adventures. It’s full of quirk and character, with every interaction, no matter how small, helping to expand the game’s world into something truly eclectic. Somewhere so far beyond the horizon of supernatural silliness that you can’t help but find pleasure in it.
Its immersive qualities owe a great debt not only to the writing, but also Thomas O’Boyle’s stellar soundtrack. He couldn’t have crafted a more ideal set of tunes to go along with McQueen and Dooley’s adventures.
It’s been a real kick spending the last few nights in unhinged retirement homes and haunted funfairs (and their Darkside mirrors, natch).
Which I suppose is weird when I don’t actually find The Darkside Detective as funny as most people do. Sure, I always had a smile on my face, but it never quite had me laughing hysterically, which is where I feel I ought to be with its brand of comedy. That may be because it’s working overtime to be funny, forever in pursuit of the joke whether there’s one there or not. I think writing-wise that’s a mistake, and it’s something that held the first game back, too. A pause is a valuable tool, but The Darkside Detective games aren’t sure where that is, or even which joke or pun is best. So it goes for broke, never quite hitting the highs it wants. It’s a pacing issue.
But that smile it elicited never wavered, in part because McQueen and Dooley make for such an enjoyable pair and are the perfect window into Twin Lakes. They charmed me back in 2017 (or whenever it was I played the first…it’s possible it was later, but whatever!) and continue to charm me. But I think I want them to win my heart, and the writing will need to find a better balance to do that.
With a seventh case to be unlocked at a later date there’s still time to do that, and the strengths of A Fumble in the Dark are such that I’m already anticipating the inevitable third game. Spooky Doorway have set themselves no limit on what supernatural shenanigans can manifest in Twin Lakes, and we should be grateful for that.
Platforms Available – PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S & Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Platform Reviewed – PC
Review based on Steam media account copy. Please read this post for more on our scoring policy.