DARK

If only Dark had coupled stealth gameplay with the importance the enemy has in that execution, this silly vampire game would've been a surprise hit.

By Daavpuke, Posted 07 Nov 2013

When a game genre becomes synonymous with a certain high-profile title, it’s harder for smaller projects to set a foot in the door. Despite heavy competition, Dark wants to rub shoulders with stealth action giants and bring its own gameplay to the table. It succeeds in doing so, but in that process it will also make terrible choices that will break anyone’s spirit. There is a decent title in there, somewhere. However, it’s uncertain if anything but a slight minority will see beyond its crippling design.

DARK, Game Review, Kalypso Media, Realmforge Studios, PC, Xbox 360, Vampire

This story’s kicker is that the universe of sneaking around is shown through the eyes of vampires. Protagonist Eric has amnesia and that leads to clichéd plots of finding oneself, seeking revenge and more nonsense that doesn’t really matter. In fact, it might be best to avoid any seriousness in the game, as the ending and dumb final encounter is also littered with Deus Ex Machina writing. It only serves to create the vibe.

Luckily, artistic value is more present in other expositions. Through the use of cel-shading, Dark blends colors and neon with a particular somber environment with appealing contrast. Alleys offer enough cover of night, yet have lighted paths to not sink into a monochrome setting. Big, futuristic offices hold spacious rooms with still enough items inside to provide cover. Voice acting is special enough to stand out on its own, such as a vampire named Tom who is a total surfer dude. Nostalgic feelings of teen angst may also pop up its head through some fitting Goth wave tunes. Again: Don’t take this game seriously, even if it tries to be. It’s a silly mess. Eric might sound like a tough dude, but the many ham-fisted one-liners are more prone to cracking a smile than creating tension.

DARK, Game Review, Kalypso Media, Realmforge Studios, PC, Xbox 360, Vampire

For more seriousness, Dark puts all its emphasis on intense stealth gameplay. Most levels are designed in such a way that there are multiple paths as to how to reach the next point. In fact, many environments can feel slightly overwhelming at the sheer magnitude it expects players to balance. That’s definitely a good trait. Moreover, vampire powers allow for more than just ducking for cover and crouching around. For instance, it’s possible to leap instantly to a far off point. This can even be used to jump to a different height. Additionally, special vision sees through walls and indicates enemy positions, so it’s possible to plan on certain routes. It’s a solid basis, which will exponentially grow with experience. As rewards go to those who go by undetected, there’s also pressure to perform well and not just gun it through. At face value, Dark is a good game.

However, even with vampire strength, Eric is not bullet proof. In fact, bullets are quite deadly, even for the dead. Therefore, most encounters with enemy forces ultimately end in failure. Attacking anyone from the front is just an excuse to become a sieve for bullet soup. Worse yet, enemies are absolutely everywhere and they have their guard up at all times. Some sections go as far as being barred off completely by immobile units that block the way to the next objective. Here is where Dark turns to dust, certainly when combined with aforementioned huge spaces and limited save options. It’s understandable that the game doesn’t want to enable overuse of minuscule progress by limiting saves, but redoing large chunks over and over because of brutally unforgiving unit placement is maddening. No amount of good elements can outweigh the seemingly impossible uphill battle presented in some sections, certainly when the amount in which this circumstance reoccurs is so frequent.

Another nail in its coffin comes from this heavy reliance on stealth. As enemies are godlike in comparison, waiting out patterns becomes the only option. This means that minutes are lost just standing around. Pair that with any slipup requiring the restart of a broad part of a stage. While Dark is about 6 to 8 hours long, the prior statements will probably require many to lose hours of progress before reaching their goal. It reaches such gravitas that the feeling of loss becomes nearly tangible. Time and again, restarting a section means several minutes off the clock and that several times over.

It’s such a pity that this endless coercion of repetition is the heaviest element in the game, because there is more to Dark than just crippling artificial intelligence. Character customization allows for both more passive and active skills, which can also diversify the way to combat enemies, such as a force choke that kills from a distance or a spell that mystifies opponents. Other upgrades allow for deftly sneaking about or better speeds. As these powers are limited and need to be replenished by drinking blood, there’s also an incentive to use them with care, certainly as only some foes can be attacked this way.

Combat is actually so focused on stealth that it only uses one command to trigger; that’s how subservient its design is. It’s also possible to drag corpses out of sight, but again this is aimed at being less aware in a surrounding area and not more. If it was in any way possible to stay hidden in this game, the alignment of good traits would’ve made this a unique title. It’s so simple, but works as intended, which proves its sound design. However, chances are likely that just a bit of luck is needed to overcome brutal enemies and security peripherals of all kind. That one bump in the road is the wheel breaker. It stunts any further progress. It doesn’t help that any pinpointed skills are also met with a twitching, uncontrollable pointer. That too could’ve made a difference to overcome challenges. Speaking of which: There are challenges for those that want more of the same.

If only Dark had coupled stealth gameplay with the importance the enemy has in that execution, this silly vampire game would’ve been a surprise hit. Still, no amount of great ideas can make up for trying to overcome an opponent that is near impenetrable, along with fruitlessly retrying to do so anyway. There’s a symbiosis needed between the two to survive, but this cel-shaded feature feels more like the parasitic sting of vampire affliction. It drains one of humanity. More undead puns, as needed.

Daav Valentaten, NoobFeed (@Daavpuke)

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General Information

DARK

57/100

Platform(s): Xbox 360, PC
Publisher(s): Kalypso Media
Developer(s): Realmforge Studios
Genres: Third-Person Stealth
Themes: Action, Role-Playing
Release Date: 2013-07-09

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