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.