Video Game Review: DARK
Atlantis’ entrance shows off DARK’s impressive cel shading.
DARK is the story of protagonist Eric Bane, a recently turned half-vampire who has lost his memory and wants to find answers. Being a half-vampire, he quickly learns he must drink the blood of the vampire that turned him in order to become a full-fledged creature of the night. If he does not, he’ll degenerate into a zombie-like ghoul that knows nothing but how to feast on the flesh of the recently dead.
In order to prevent this from happening, he must stalk various ancient vampires of the city in order to drink their blood in the hopes it proves a fitting substitute for the blood of the vampire who left him for dead. Naturally, these vampires are in high society and live a secure lifestyle with countless guards patrolling their domains. But he must sneak in and drink their blood nonetheless, and therein lies the premise of DARK, a stealth action game with a twist.
DARK’s controls are fairly simple but sometimes aggravating. You have the ability to run or sneak, pull off a selection of unique vampiric skills and move from cover to cover. Right off the bat, Eric can execute a shadow leap teleportation skill that is similar to the blink ability in Dishonored. DARK’s version is buggy, however, and is much harder to perform than its Dishonored counterpart. Frequently, the cursor that marks the spot you are leaping to doesn’t show up, even if you are steadily pointing directly at it, and you cannot teleport until this cursor finally appears. This ability won’t allow you to teleport through railings either, so, for example, you could be staring directly off a high-rise and try to teleport down, but because there is a railing blocking your way, the shadow leap cursor won’t show up, which prevents you from leaping down.
In addition, Eric cannot even perform a normal jump. It would add a lot to the game if you could jump and climb up ledges, or you could jump downward from higher locations. However, the only way to do these things is to use the above mentioned, buggy shadow leap skill that you start out with. As a result, navigating the large environments in DARK that are teeming with hyper-alert guards can be quite difficult and annoying at times because there are so few movement options.
DARK’s visuals are definitely its high point. Its cel shading looks cool, and the character models of the protagonist and his vampire friends and enemies are very well done. The female vampires he meets are suitably gorgeous and gothic, and they look like they’re straight out of a comic book.
In some ways DARK mimics the Twilight series because its vampires are not as menacing as normal. They seem like a group of preppy college students that just happen to like drinking blood. However, there are macabre characters suitable for a good vampire story. One of the first bosses you face is a deranged museum curator that has a penchant for dissecting corpses and turning them into sculptures. He looks very bloodthirsty and maniacal, and he’s rendered very well in the game’s visual style, so there is some eye candy to be found.
The low point graphically? The character animations. The main character moves as if he is floating over the ground because his running animation lacks any weight. His sneaking animations are only slightly better.
As far as the sound department is concerned, DARK’s voice acting is nothing to write home about but is good enough not to pull you out of the game’s story. The music is solid, and DARK actually has a decent alternative rock theme song that was professionally recorded.
To say that DARK’s gameplay is repetitive only scratches the surface. The game starts out with a tutorial that walks you through dodging from cover to cover in order to perform one-hit kills on bad guys with their backs turned. And through all 10 hours of gameplay, DARK never moves beyond this concept in any way. It goes beyond the standard enemies with all of the bosses, including the final one, being easy to kill and putting up very little fight.
On the positive side, you have quite a few cool vampiric special abilities. You can strangle enemies with a shadow-like force from a distance (very much like Darth Vader) using a choking special ability called “Shadow Grip.” You can dash at enemies and kill them upon impact by using a shadow kill ability. You can also distract enemies by moving various inanimate objects in the surroundings with his vampire magic.
However, you cannot perform any of these cool abilities without available blood in your blood meter, which can only be refilled by drinking blood from various guards. The problem is you must always suck the blood of some random patrolling guard in order to do anything cool at all. Sucking blood also alerts other guards in the area, and this means that you have to put yourself at risk constantly in order to use your abilities.
Having to suck blood over and over becomes tiresome, and I can only think that DARK would have been a lot more fun if your blood meter refilled on its own over time, allowing you to hide in the shadows and then strike with your abilities whenever you want.
If DARK played as good as it looked, Kalypso would be on to something. Unfortunately, however, the game falls flat because it just isn’t that fun or engaging. The gameplay is dull and the story isn’t much better. We can’t recommend it at full price, but if you’re a stealth junkie and love vampires it wouldn’t be a bad buy once it hits the bargain bins.