It’s rare to find a pure stealth game nowadays. It seems everything has evolved into an action form of stealth where the player has multiple options when tackling situations. Sure, there are a few here and there, but pure stealth games have pretty much gone the way of the dodo. Then along comes DARK. It brings back the familiar game play and adds in a few RPG elements to keep players invested. Unfortunately, that’s really the only thing that will drive anyone to finish it.
Players take control of Eric Bane, a recently turned vampire that is suffering from amnesia. He is taken in by a group of vampires that run a night club. The leader, Rose, informs him that he must drink either the blood of an ancient vampire or the one that bit him, otherwise he turns into a mindless ghoul rather than a full vampire. Now, Eric must locate timeworn vampires and feast upon their hemoglobin before all of this happens.
The game has players controlling Eric as he sneaks into certain facilities that are patrolled by security guards, mercenaries and other foes. Since Eric can’t take many bullets to the chest without keeling over and dying, stealth is the best approach. In fact, players have to use stealth to make any kind of progress in DARK. Luckily, with a combination of some rather nice vampiric abilities and really dumb enemy AI, this can be accomplished.
Eric can hide behind almost any wall and use a special vampire vision that shows where enemies are. Watching where the guards walk and what they interact with is key to finding an opening. Eric doesn’t use weapons, but rather his new vampire powers to take out his adversaries. His regular attack is always a one hit kill, and his other special powers can be used to distract, disorient and kill enemies from afar. These abilities require blood to use, so drinking a guard’s blood is a necessity. This can take a bit of time and be rather noisy, so always drink blood with caution. He also has a special teleport ability that allows him to move into distant cover. All of these abilities have a cool down time and must recharge before using them again.
For each kill, Eric gains experience points. He will gain bonus experience for not raising alarms and killing unaware enemies. Experience is also rewarded for completing quests and objectives. After leveling up, Eric gains ability points players can use to upgrade existing powers of the night, or learn new ones. This is where the game shines in the darkness. The powers are unique and upgrading them is part of the fun. An early power is the Shadow Kill. This sends Eric across a far distance much like his teleport, but ends by killing an enemy. This is originally very loud and may alert other guards, but after spending some points in the skill, I can now make it quieter. It’s a simple formula, but it works and is the standout of the game play.
As I said earlier, the enemy AI is pure idiotic. They can’t see me even when I’m standing ten feet in front of them, let alone killing one of their buddies right beside them. However, if they ever do spot me, I’m pretty much dead. Eric can’t run very fast and even after upgrading his regeneration and damage resistance, he still seems to go down fairly quickly. Saving and checkpoints are handled a little differently in DARK. Checkpoints are spread very out wide and players may very well go through a good 30-45 minutes before hitting one. What the game offers is a number of save states where players can save at any given time. They are only a few, but they allowed me to make good progress and save it before moving forward. Sure, it’s a strange way of handling it, but it works as long I remembered to save.
The game has a decent cel-shaded art style. It looks nice in some aspects, but the animations are a completely different story. Characters move clunky, like they’re in a trance, and the physics are something out of the Havok engine’s nightmare. It even spills into the game play at times. There were instances where I had killed an enemy on a balcony where no one could see his body; the physics came into play and his body slid off onto the floor below me. Guards found it, and then raised the alarm.
The voice acting made me cringe on multiple levels, and the story falls so flat on its face, that I never once cared about any of the characters. It’s a shame too because there are some great ideas here if everything was more fleshed out. The music and presentation is decent as well. Some of the tracks are nice and set the mood, and the purple overlay, while abrasive, fits with the aesthetic. The game also fully utilizes gamepad support, and it works well.
DARK is not a completely bad game, it just really doesn’t stand out at all. It has a good amount of problems, but the stealth game play and the RPG elements mixed with the unique powers can make up for some of its shortcomings. It can be very frustrating especially when using only the checkpoints to save. The game is a slow burn, and many players may not want to put the time into it to get all they want out of it. It does take some time to get into, and players cannot play this like an action game. For your money, it’s not a completely terrible title for big fans of pure stealth titles. Just don’t expect anything amazing.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on PC.