Thrills, drama, mystery, adventure, science fiction, aliens, Rupert Booth and fun are just some of the things you’ll find when exploring The Dark Side of the Moon. (Just to let you know, this review is not about Pink Floyd’s 1973 epic album that shares the same name.) This review is about a game that’s described by its indie developer, Tayanna Studios, as an “FMV/Interactive Movie hybrid” and includes point and click elements. It’s currently available on the Steam platform for the PC and for the Nintendo Switch console. The developers are also currently working to bring it to the Xbox and PlayStation.
Another important fact to know shared by the developer in The Dark Side of the Moon’s Steam description page is that it’s a “family-made game that doesn’t take itself too seriously and is made for fans of over-the-top FMV games.” When they mention that it’s a family-made game, they really mean it’s a family-made game. Tayanna Studios is owned by the husband and wife team of Darren and Lindsey Hall. The name Tayanna is actually the result of combining the beginning of each of their two kids’ names, Taylor and Annalise. Darren directed, edited and stars in the game. He and Lindsey are credited as being the writers of the game and are also two of the listed producers. Lindsey, Taylor and Annalise are also members of the cast. When it comes to this project and the Halls, it’s truly a family affair.
This game’s cast also includes a couple of very familiar faces you may have come across in your FMV gaming before. If you’ve played Contradiction: Spot the Liar! and/or The Shapeshifting Detective, you’re going to recognize the amazing Rupert Booth and the fabulous Anarosa Butler. They are introduced into the storyline as the characters of Alyx (Butler) and Detective Blackwell (Booth). Both do a superb job portraying their characters in this game.
At the very start of the game, the scene opens in outer space with the view traveling past the Earth and headed straight towards the moon. While this scene is being shown, there are two voices in unison speaking, and then they begin to have a heated discussion. I won’t give away exactly what is being debated, or who is involved, but there is definitely talk of good, evil and power. The one voice taunts the other stating that “ you have no idea of our real strength.” The other voice retorts, “Then the game begins.” And so it (the game) does.
The beginning of the game (on Earth) introduces the player to a man named Dean Hamilton and his two children, Andy and Ruby, who live in the town of Marywine. Dean is a devoted father doing the best he can for his family after his wife, Sarah, had abruptly and mysteriously disappeared from their lives without a trace. They try to go on about their lives while dealing with this loss. Dean wonders what had happened that caused her to leave them, and the kids are left broken up about it too while putting on their brave faces.
On the night the game begins, Dean goes to Andy’s room. He tells him it’s time to get to bed and to turn the game he’s playing off. He also goes to Ruby’s room and tells her goodnight. She requests that her father also kiss her stuffed animal, a bunny named Cuddles, goodnight. She mentions to him that she wishes her Mummy was still there, and tells him that she’s still having bad dreams. Her father reminds her that these bad dreams aren’t real, and that her mother had bought her a dream catcher to keep these bad dreams away. He reassures her as he’s leaving the room that he will never let anything happen to her, and that he’ll always be there for her.
He then takes the trash outside and looks up at the sky. He sees an oddly bright light traveling quickly across a patch of the sky and the moon. He goes back to his living room and sits to watch the news while drinking a beer. The reporters discuss an impending eclipse that is about to happen and reminds the viewing audience that it’s only been three years since the last one. Dean’s mind drifts away to a memory of a past anniversary he had shared with Sarah. They’re out working in their back garden and are talking with each other in a jokingly sweet manner. When he snaps out of the flashback, he finds himself staring out into their back garden muttering sadly that he “wouldn’t change it for the world” (meaning his past relationship with his now absent wife, and the time they had spent together as a couple and raising their family).
The scene then flashes to the next morning. The postman delivers the mail through the slot on the Hamilton’s door, and the sound startles Dean awake after an apparent night of drinking and falling asleep on the couch in the living room. He calls for his kids to get ready for school and to come down for breakfast. There is no answer or sounds of stirring from his children. He starts to get concerned and checks on them in their rooms. He only finds their empty beds. He realizes their school items are still there so they hadn’t left early for school. You are then introduced to Dean’s phone (as part of your inventory items) as he announces he should keep this with him in case the kids try to call him. The phone creates a growing list of the characters (as you meet them) that you are able to contact as the story progresses. It also has another important feature that you’ll discover more about when playing this title.
In his frantic search for his children, Dean soon meets a couple of important characters. He calls the police to report his missing kids, and a Detective Blackwell takes the case. Even before the detective is finished introducing himself as he arrives at Dean’s door, he immediately comes across the screen as quite the enigmatic and menacing character. As Blackwell gathers information from Dean about the children’s disappearance, there is an undercurrent of coldness and calculation to his questioning. It seems at times like he’s trying to trip Dean up in his own words to incriminate himself. When Dean asks the detective what he should do if he needs to contact him, Blackwell leans in close to his face and tells him there’s no need to worry about that because he’s always watching.
Alyx— with a y, as she likes to remind folks— is a tech savvy conspiracy theorist lone wolf who is just buzzing with an intense focused energy. She offers to share with Dean her version of the truth of what she feels happened to his kids. Dean (and the player) have to figure out who they are going to trust to try and save his family (and possibly even Dean himself). He’s also got to figure out what the truth is about what’s really going on in this once seemingly normal town of Marywine. He has to accept that the people and things in this life and the world in general are not always as they seem on the surface. This is where the story begins to change gears from a reality based drama quickly into a full-on sci-fi thriller of an adventure. (I don’t want to give away any spoilers as to what and who Dean is finding himself up against, but trust me on the migration of the storyline into a full on sci-fi adventure.)
The Dark Side of the Moon is very good at giving instructions to the player about gameplay. When a new concept is being introduced, a white and blue box pops up on the screen giving instructions. These boxes introduce you to the description of a concept. After the player is finished reading the given information, all they need to do is click on the blue Got It! button to continue with the game. Concepts such as Interactive Choices, the Interact Icon (a symbol that lets you know that there is something you can interact with in the scene) and Inventory are introduced in this manner. With these kind of descriptive and helpful instructions, it makes the game easily playable for beginners to more seasoned players.
While looking for the kids, a lot of the early gameplay is spent searching through (and around) the Hamilton’s house and the town of Marywine. The player will be given choices in a list to pick from as to where they want to search next for the children. Your choices throughout the game have an impact on how the game progresses and finishes. The player will also come across helpful objects in the game. The objects that are gathered are stored in the inventory at the top of the screen. Once objects are introduced, they are accessible to the player for use throughout the game. If you feel during your playthrough that you are just traveling the streets of the town aimlessly or revisiting the same characters and get stuck in a loop while you’re playing, it is very helpful to remember that you should try accessing objects in your inventory to aid you with your progression in the storyline.
This game also includes a few puzzles which are pretty manageable and logical (even for players at a beginner level). There’s also a bit trickier of a puzzle which should be solvable if you’ve paid close enough attention to the clues given in the storyline. Once you’ve played through the game once, you can hit the space bar to skip scenes on your following playthroughs. The game has five different endings. It also has 26 Steam Achievements for global gameplay stats.
The Dark Side of the Moon has a great cast, especially with the portrayals given by Rupert Booth, Anarosa Butler and the main newscaster (Huw Chadwick) who was played by Richard Sinclair. As the game progressed, I felt myself get more invested and rooting for the success of Dean’s quest. There are some over-the-top moments, and if you’re feeling yourself questioning Dean when he is having a bit of a melodramatic meltdown in the woods early on (give him a break, he is reeling from just finding out his kids have disappeared), please continue to play the game. Darren Hall brings a lot of heart and humor into his depiction of Dean, and really does a wonderful job conveying into his character throughout the game the love he has for his family and how he’d go to any lengths for them. As you play this game, you can feel the passion, effort and love everybody involved with the production has poured into this project, especially the Halls.
Overall, I really enjoyed playing The Dark Side of the Moon. It was fun to play a game where a regular Joe type of character is the hero in a good vs evil adventure. The music throughout the game was wonderful, and I especially enjoyed the heavy sci-fi portion of the soundtrack. I liked how humor was thrown in after some heavier scenes to help bring some levity in to the mood of the storyline. As the developers themselves readily admit, this game doesn’t take itself too seriously and is for fans of over-the-top FMV games. This doesn’t necessarily mean if you’re a fan of cut-and-dry, highly polished no-nonsense types of FMV titles, that this game won’t interest you. I love a good science fiction story, and I thought the game has a great plot. I enjoyed how the game was a rollercoaster ride of a drama, mystery, thriller and sci-fi adventure all in one package. If you’re looking to spend a few evenings filled with thrills and lighthearted fun, take this rocket of a sci-fi adventure to The Dark Side of the Moon.