Drawn: Dark Flight review
Adventure Gamers Awards
A tattered crimson cloth soars high above ominous stony environs. You watch as it floats through ruins and settles at the bottom of a tumbled-down cavern. You pick it up, and its message asks you to explore the magical world of Stonebriar, the whimsically gothic setting for Drawn: Dark Flight, a new casual adventure by Big Fish Games. Such a darkly fanciful opening drew me directly into the story, and the magic continued to unveil itself as I discovered more of this world through creative art design, well-integrated puzzles, and a soaring orchestral soundtrack. While the rather sporadic plot details may be difficult to follow for those who haven’t played the first game, there is more than enough fun to draw everyone into a memorable experience filled with art, music, and wonder.
In this second installment of the Drawn series, you start by searching for Iris, the royal family’s missing daughter. She is imbued with the power to create real worlds simply by drawing or painting them. Together with Iris, you will endeavor to light Stonebriar’s three beacons, a stay against shadows and darkness led by the evil king who wreaked such havoc at the conclusion of Drawn: The Painted Tower. As hinted at by the game’s title, this is a land whose art and creativity has recently been doused. You must use your own creativity in completing unfinished sketches and artwork, as well as your intellect in solving puzzles, lighting the beacons and saving the kingdom.
Even before you enter Stonebriar proper, the first thing you will notice is the beautifully rendered 2D artwork. Drawn revels in its technical simplicity, taking it to a new stylistic level. The game is largely about exploring paintings, sketches, and books, so the developers have played around with art that amusingly subverts the 2D world. Building on the concept first introduced in Painted Tower, you’ll interact with more than just paintings hanging on a wall this time. Pages in a popup book spring up in three dimensions complete with tabs for you to pull and slide; cutouts on a felt board come to life as you put the pieces in their proper places; and a character in a theater poster peels himself off of the wall and floats down to the street beside you.
Dark Flight mixes several art styles in rendering this world of imagination. You’ll feel as if you’ve stepped into a Disney wonderland as you wander through a meadow with hopping bunnies and frolicking squirrels to talk to a grouchy gnome, while the lines of a child’s first book render a simple scene with a pirate on a paper boat amidst peaked paper waves. The main characters – Iris, the evil king, and Franklin, who serves as your narrating guide through the game – are drawn in a more realistic style. Their fully fleshed out features include Iris’ windswept dark hair and piercing blue eyes, the evil king’s dark beetling brows and red glowing embers for eyes, and Franklin’s craggy bald head with tiny spectacles perched precariously on the tip of his nose. The color palette, which is used consistently throughout the game, serves to tie together these sometimes disparate styles. The majority of the art is awash in dusty turquoise, deep indigos, lavenders, and every shade of grey. This dark foundation provides a perfect backdrop for splashes of color: streams of multicolored light shining from an undersea helmet, the red splash of a phoenix painting the night sky in flight, or a single jewel-toned hummingbird feeder swinging against a washed-out cottage.
The in-game animations are equally terrific. The world comes alive as you solve puzzles and explore: Lines of fire burn up the outline of a door opening; shadows made of hundreds of ravens smoke through an alleyway; a flock of books take flight out of a recently opened library door. The camera angles in the game also lend a feeling of degraded grandness, a certain faded majesty, to the game. You’ll enter a cavern staring up at a monumental stone door carved with the likeness of a dragon. The door reaches up to the heavens, with ravens flying around the top, tiny dark specks flying in slow circles. As you head up a vast staircase leading to one of the beacons, you’ll gaze out into the sky and across the rooftops of an eerily silent Stonebriar. And everywhere about you are reminders of better days gone by: giant stone lions’ heads peer at you sightlessly from the floor and a huge bell sits amidst crushed rock in a cavern. But within these grand (if ravaged) views, the designers have done a fantastic job of keeping actions you complete in one scene continuous with what you see happening as you move into another. A kite in one area of town flies high overhead, and when you move to another street, you can see the same kite flying over the rooftops casting a shadow on a building wall, and creatures floating down the river in a painting follow in your wake as you step out of the painting and back into a main room.
Adding to this impressive aesthetic is the wonderful sound. The eloquent orchestral soundtrack will stay with you long after you finish playing. Violins take flight with cellos that dip and swoop against the steady beat of tympanis in the background, the mood ever-changing depending on the scene you’re in. You’ll hear a breezy nautical theme in a pirate painting, and a soothing pastoral tune heavy on the harp and clarinet in a cheerful springtime scene. There is even a musical puzzle that emphasizes the game’s theme music, though it doesn’t require any musical knowledge or even a good ear, relying more on recognizing patterns than anything else. The ambient sounds, like gas lamps that creak when you click on them and rain pounding as you wander around in a storm, are less notable than the music but do add appropriate depth to the soundtrack. The voice acting is serviceable, and mostly appears at key transition points in the game, as dialogue remains text-only for your personal observations and interactions with some of the minor characters you meet.
The fantastic sights and sounds did a lot to get me through some of the more difficult puzzle sequences. There are a variety of puzzles in Drawn, and the majority of them are fairly straightforward inventory puzzles. As you investigate each screen, you’ll find inventory objects that may need to be used in that scene or in one of the many painting (or painting-within-a-painting) puzzles that appear throughout the game. This layering of scenes not only adds a level of difficulty, as you try to determine where an object will be used, it also adds depth to the exploration, giving your adventure a more cohesive, less linear feel. While you won’t need to go back to completed areas to hunt for objects, new locations have enough scenes to investigate that the times you have to travel back and forth through the entire town for a single action made me wish that the game had provided a quick travel map. Especially with all of the scenes within scenes, trying to figure out where exactly you first saw something becomes increasingly difficult the further you progress into the game, and access to a couple of required areas isn’t properly indicated, adding to the confusion.
The first-person interface for all this adventuring is quite basic: left-click on exits to move or items in the background to pick up or interact with them. You are also able to click on some objects to get close-ups or further descriptions. The smart cursor will change if you can pick something up, but it doesn’t reveal what you can observe, so you may miss out on some optional interactivity. Inventory items stay at the bottom of the screen by default, though you can change this bar to fade away and only pop up when you scroll over it. There are quite a few inventory items to collect, but each disappears as you use them, and the puzzles are logical and intuitive: Find the pieces of a broken musical instrument when you’re in the music section of town, use a net to capture butterflies, and add paper cutouts to complete the scene in a popup book.
As this is the world of Drawn, when you travel through paintings or sketches, you’ll often find that some of them are incomplete. Regular inventory objects won’t do the trick here; you’ll need to use a few drawing or cutting implements to help complete these types of puzzles. You don’t need to be any kind of artist to complete these puzzles, as they are usually very simple, but remembering when you’ll need to do this is part of the challenge. You’ll also pick up pre-drawn sketches that will help you just as if they’re the actual items they represent. If you’re finding it difficult to determine what object you need to use or whether you even have the right object yet, the game provides you with a guide, Franklin. Iris’ guardian appears as a stone circle in your menu bar. Click on his face and he’ll give you advice about where you need to go next. The first click gives you a fairly general tip, and the second click is very explicit, so you’ll want to avoid these if you like to figure out puzzles on your own. In the Collector’s Edition of the game, you’ll also get another type of hint option. This hint gives you a visual clue, showing you exactly what you need to do to progress. However, Franklin’s advice was helpful enough that I rarely used the extra option.
There are also many, many logic puzzles in Dark Flight, offering plenty for the puzzle aficionados out there. These were very challenging for me, and some of them were quite tedious, grinding the action to a screeching halt as you struggle to turn concentric rings together to form a picture or channel paint colors in the appropriate combinations to color a portrait. Luckily, there is a skip option for all of these puzzles, so you just need to bang your head against the desk – I mean, patiently work through another gear or slider puzzle for a bit before getting to bypass it if necessary. But even when I found certain puzzles difficult to complete, I appreciated how beautifully they were always integrated into the environment. An exercise in pattern detection is all but disguised as you try to get a series of frogs to swallow flies in a pond, while elsewhere some fat, white candles dripping with wax rotate around a stone contraption under the baleful glare of elemental dragons as you try to light up a specific pattern.
While some of these puzzles are complicated, the game’s story is pretty simplistic. As you explore the dark, broken-down town and library, you’ll deduce what happened in Stonebriar through paintings, posters, and books. Sometimes the connections between these paintings and the main storyline are not clear. What does an underwater scene filled with frogs and a diving helmet have to do with Iris and the town’s plight? What about a pirate locale filled with Easter Island head statues? Most of these just seem to serve as set pieces for another round of fantastic art, which is okay by me, but it would have been nice to have more cohesion between the various scenarios. As I hadn’t played the first game before starting the second, I didn’t really even know why paintings were the sets for puzzles throughout the game. Playing The Painted Tower afterwards gave me the background I needed, but a better introduction would give new players more context for this game’s story.
All of the artwork, the music, the puzzling and story build up nicely to a final crescendo, but I found the final payoff to be rather flat. You are tasked with lighting three beacons, but that final beacon comes up on you out of the blue, and then the game is over and you’re watching the credits roll by. It was a bit anticlimactic for me, and I was expecting a much tougher puzzle sequence at the end, building on what you had done previously. Strangely, while the “to be continued” promise at the end is a welcome revelation in its own right, it seems to contradict the apparently resolved storyline involving Iris. In the Collector’s Edition, there’s even more resolution, as a final bit of gameplay allows you to rescue the long-suffering Franklin. This bonus section, not available in the standard version, adds a few more new scenes and perhaps a couple of hours of additional puzzling overall, though much of that will be spent on a thorough object hunt that has you revisit all of Stonebriar.
Despite some minor quibbles, my first entrance into the world of Drawn was like Dorothy opening the door to her room and stepping into the Technicolor land of Oz, or Lucy pushing her way through the furs in the wardrobe and first hearing the crunch of snow beneath her feet as she entered Narnia. Journeying into the magical landscape of Drawn: Dark Flight gave me the same sense of wonder in exploring a beautiful, though at times dark, new world, often leaving me just staring at each new scene in awe, soaking in the art and music. After finishing in about five hours (not counting the bonus gameplay), I was still humming the theme song the next day and thinking about particular scenes, always with the haunting melody winding across my consciousness. You may wonder what all of the beautiful set pieces have to do with the story, and you may knock your head against a few stubbornly long and tedious puzzles, but you can’t help but walk away moved by the wonderful world of Stonebriar.
Note: Adventure Gamers is a Big Fish Games affiliate.
Gorgeous, whimsical scenery will draw you into Dark Flight’s living world of art and imagination, and its well-integrated gameplay and user-friendly help system will get you through some of the rough spots.