There’s a much repeated argument that the finest games from any generation arrive at the tail end. It’s at this point that developers have finally mastered the hardware they’ve been fighting with over the last 7 or more years and the resulting product is spectacular games. For evidence of this, look at the recent releases of The Last Of Us and Bioshock Infinite, two games that have nearly unanimously wowed everyone who has the fortune of playing them (sorry Year Of Shame guys!).
I will say this in the simplest way possible; DARK is not one of these games.
Vampires have had a tough time in the last few years. Fear inducing names such as Dracula and Blade have been forgotten and replaced by the Volvo-driving Edward Cullen and his Twilight pals. Current perception of these once terrifying creatures of the night has shifted to sparkly male models who’ll fall in love with your teenage daughters. DARK attempts to redress this change in view by, thankfully, creating the lead character in the mould of the fearsome, blood sucking nightstalker.
Your introduction to the main character, Eric Bane, starts with him waking up in a nightclub, clutching his head as an attempt to fight of a blinding headache, while an angel stands in the distance offering words of wisdom. Eric can’t remember how he got here, nor why he’s in such pain, and sets off through the club to find answers. You soon bump into Rose and you’ll quickly come to the correct assumption that she’s a vampire because she’s presented the same as every female vampire in pretty much every vampire themed piece of visual media ever (black clothes that reveal lots of skin, way too much eyeliner, covered in tattoos) and, just to hammer the point home, insists on you having the ‘house special’ Bloody Mary. Nudge nudge, wink wink.
It turns out that Rose isn’t the only vampire here; every person in this Gothic club is one, and as is soon revealed to you by her and the the chief of security, Tom, this includes you. This positively life changing news is hilariously instantly accepted by Eric, with the conversation pretty much going as follows; “You’re a vampire.” “Oh, fair enough,” and then 2 minutes later you’re outside with your teeth deep in some poor schmuck’s neck.
The setup is simple. You’ve been bitten by a vampire but he didn’t quite do the job properly. He should have killed you off but instead has left you in a semi-transient state; part human and part vampire. Your brain is slowly breaking down and you’ll need to feed on the blood of either the vampire who did this to you or on an ancient vampire, and if you don’t you’ll eventually turn into a ghoul.
The premise for each level is simple too, you need to negotiate your way through several areas of enemies until you reach the boss character, the aforementioned ancient vampire, who you’ll drain of blood in order to stay alive. Once you’ve exsanguinated the final character you’re presented with a cutscene that reveals, alas, this isn’t the blood you’ve been searching for and you’re sent back off to find some more.
DARK is a stealth game through and through and you’ll spend the overwhelming majority of the time scarpering around while crouched, avoiding being spotted or direct confrontation with enemies. Starting a head on fight with a security guard won’t end well for you as a only a few bullets will soon have you heading back to an autosave point.
Ah, the autosaves. DARK has some of the most frustrating save points in recent memory. If you’re unfortunate enough to be felled by the final enemy in any particular room you’ll be unceremoniously dumped right back at the start. When you consider that some of these levels are absolutely stacked with enemies, it’s incredibly frustrating to have to start from scratch. Setbacks of 25-30 minutes plus can be commonplace for those you lack the required amount of stealth. The lack of a manual save option removes any way that the player can rectify this themselves. Finishing a level will elicit enjoyment but not in the celebratory sense one normally feels, but more a feeling of relief that you won’t have to play through it again.
The chances of you dying are elevated by Eric being, quite simply, the most useless vampire ever. Maybe it’s because he’s a bit new to all this, but he’s almost the antithesis to what you imagine a vampire to be. He’s a noisy and clumsy oaf who’s further hindered by imprecise controls. Something as simple as attacking an enemy can more often than not simply not work as you want. It’s impossible to perform the attack until a glowing outline appears around your foe, but regularly this will simply not appear. At this point you panic and start to edge closer…no, still no outline. Closer…closer still…sorry, you’ve now touched the foe and he’s gunned you down. Tough luck, back to the respawn, all because the game simply would not allow you to perform the action.
There’s other movement issues too such as, somewhat hilariously, Eric can’t jump or vault over obstacles. If you’re the floor above a blissfully unaware enemy you can’t just drop over the balcony to silently dispose of him. No, you have to trundle around and find some stairs to get down to him.
Thankfully, the computer AI is simplistic at best. Guards will do one of two things, either stare out into space while fixed on the spot or move in a scripted pattern. The only way they’ll move out of these states is if they’re curious about something or alerted, in which case they’ll wander off for a minute or so before wandering back to where they came from. This can work brilliantly well for the player because on the AI’s walk back to where the start point you can sneak up behind them and, as long as the game decides it’s ok this time, easily kill them.
The computer controlled enemies all seem to be terribly hard of sight. As long as you’re not pretty much directly in their line of sight or there’s an object between you, any object, they’ll remain blissfully unaware of your presence. I’ve stood with one looking directly towards me yet he was somehow foxed by the sheet of glass that separated us. On one of the early levels I managed to take cover behind a rather small plant pot, yet the computer, who again was looking straight in my direction, didn’t notice me there.
You’ll soon come to rely on the sheer idiocy of the AI to get through levels. More often than not your success will not come down to your skills in silently dispatching with the enemies, but because you’ve exploited the highly scripted, half-blind fools.
Fundamental aspects of the game make no sense whatsoever. When approaching an enemy you’re given the option of killing or feeding off them, however feeding off them apparently makes noise that means other guards may notice you. What the game fails to explain is how the guards don’t notice the kills, as they’re normally accompanied by loud sounds effects and flashes a purple light. I can literally make a guard scream while snapping his arm, yet another guard 5 yards away will somehow manage to miss all this.
In a somewhat bizarre fashion DARK manages to get considerably easier as it progresses. As you progress through the game you’ll earn XP which allows you to unlock extra Vampiric Powers, all of which give you a considerable boost over the enemies. The a beginning of the game your skills are limited which creates a sense of tension as you know that you’re underpowered, but by the midsection you’ve upgraded enough that you’re a walking harbinger of death and able to relatively coast through the remaining levels.
The graphics and sound are nothing to write home about either. The developers went for a cel-shaded style but you don’t get the impression this a choice made on artistic merit, but instead because they just couldn’t be bothered to do proper textures. Animation is jerky, imprecise, and regularly uses tricks like flashes of light and smoke to cover up the fact that there isn’t actually a frame there. The lip syncing is bad to the degree of being nonexistent, and that ties in nicely with the dreadful voice acting and script. Never in a game have I heard words spoken with such a blatantly obvious lack of interest. The soundtrack is no better, with the majority of the game filled with generic synthy music that attempts to creature a brooding atmosphere. A particular low point is the absolutely awful dance track that plays on a loop when you’re in the Sanctuary.
Redeeming features for this title are few and far between but there’s a few positive points. The levels themselves are open, multi floor spaces which gives the player much scope for experimentation in the best ways to traverse. Secondly, the Vampiric Powers themselves can be quite fun, for example I took quite a liking to throttling my enemies from distance before slamming them into the ground. Finally, DARK throws achievement points at you with reckless abandon, regularly chucking 40G at you for the most simple of tasks.
DARK currently is priced at around £25. If was a sub-£10 budget game I’d be warning you off it. There’s very little fun about this game and miniscule amounts of enjoyment to be had. It’s a frustrating and limited game, one that’ll have you cursing the day you handed over cash for it. I’d go as far as to say it’s one of the worst titles I’ve played in this generation and I’m genuinely surprised that anyone saw fit to even release it. If you’re a stealth game fan ignore this and play Dishonoured or Hitman. If you’re already played them, well, go play them again.
If I had to pick between sitting through a back to back screening of all the Twilight films or playing through DARK again it’d be a very simple choice; Bring on Edward and Bella.
MLG Rating: 2/10 Format: PC/Xbox360 Release Date: 05/07/2013
Disclosure: Midlifegamer were provided a copy of Dark for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of several weeks on Xbox360. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.