Dark was probably one of the smaller reveals of E3 2012 and it really shows in the game’s presentation. Being a huge fan of stealth action titles myself, I was honestly curious to see as to how this game played. However, my expectations were shattered within a matter of minutes. Though the game borrows elements from more successful titles such as Dishonored and Deus Ex: Human Revolution, developer Realmforge Studios has somehow managed to bring all of them together in the most mediocre package possible.
The story starts with our more-than-forgettable main character Eric Bane in a nightclub with amnesia and a massive headache. It almost seems hopeless for him until an angel appears and speaks some very cryptic words to him about his future. Soon after, the pain has subsided and the player is free to roam the nightclub called Sanctuary. After some exploring, it is discovered that Eric has somehow become a vampire and that Sanctuary is not only a horrible name for a club, but also where another group of vampires are living. He teams up with the group to help find a powerful enough vampire to feed on to finish his transformation, lest he become a mindless animal called a ghoul. While the story is horribly cliché, and full of plot holes, it is not the worst aspect of the game.
Graphics in Dark are simple and have a cel-shaded style that has a horrible design for something of this generation, though they are certainly on par with a tablet game. Every single level sports some sort of neon lighting and this gets extremely tiring to look at after a couple hours. Several non-glass reflective textures such as metal objects in these levels also seem to have problems rendering as the reflections move even when the player isn’t. Not even dialogue segments are safe from the horror, as lip-synching is practically non-existent throughout the entire game.
Playing this game is a veritable nightmare for those who do not possess a certain level of patience. It takes a lot of trial-and-error to get through a level with a perfect stealth score, but the only way to get through the game without raising any alarms seems to be by utilizing some sort of fault in the AI. Exploiting blind spots or stacking tons of bodies in a doorway also seems to be the only way to survive a wave of relentless guards out when detected. This is just the tip of the iceberg, as there are several flaws in the stealth combat system that kept this game from being anything less than frustrating. The greatest example of this is when trying to hide bodies, which is probably the most crucial element of the game. When trying to drag them around a corner, they start clipping, which usually leads to the player getting caught by his buddy who just so happened to be able to see his foot sticking out from behind a box in a dark corner of the room. However, the player will learn very quickly of the futility of attempting this and learn to use them as distractions to run past all of the otherwise brain-dead guards.
When I think stealth action, I also think of being able to control every subtle movement that I am making. Titles such as Splinter Cell and Metal Gear Solid come to mind and while neither were perfect, both gave a sense of complete control of the main character and really made the player feel at fault when detected. However, in Dark, many factors that are beyond the player’s control contribute to detection and this can be frustrating to the point of being unplayable, such as the unresponsive kill/feed button that had gotten myself caught more times than I blink in a day.
When I did manage to kill someone, each kill provided a certain number of experience points, which fills a bar that when completed, grants one upgrade point, which is then spent on vampire powers, the inclusion of which was the only redeeming quality of the game’s combat. These powers, save for a handful of them, use points of blood power that can only be refilled by feeding on humans. When upgraded to a certain point, the game becomes a cakewalk as Eric can take ridiculous amounts of punishment even after detection. It is due to these factors that while the stealth combat is certainly infuriating, Dark is better when played as an action game, though that is not saying much.
Difficulty in the game determines not how smart the AI is, as it stays at the same intelligence of a sweaty meathead who just got through a bout of GTL across all levels. Instead, it determines how often the player can save the game during a mission as well as the amount of experience points each kill gives. Though this is an interesting concept, the poor layout and planning of enemy fields of vision and patrols make it all insubstantial.
While the idea of stealth-action lured me into the trap that is Dark, what I ended up playing was a horrendous and clunky third-person action game with very poorly done stealth elements. With a stale and predictable storyline and atrocious gameplay, this game is definitely not worth anything more than free.
Available on: PC, Xbox 360; Publisher: Kalypso Media; Developer: Realmforge Studios; Players: 1; Released: July, 4th 2013 (PC), July 8th, 2013 (Xbox); ESRB: Mature; MSRP: $29.99: Official Site