By Seán O'Sullivan - August 9th, 2013


Fittingly, for a game that involves sucking the life essence out of your foes, Dark is a draining experience. I played damn near every single moment of this game’s campaign in a state of constant vexation, with occasional moments where my disgust would boil over and I’d start to feel actual anger at the developers for releasing it on the world.

Getting upset with the developers over the state of this game probably isn’t the appropriate course of action. Dark is a $50 game that’s releasing late in the Xbox’s life cycle; but its production values are despicably poor – boasting a level of polish that calls to mind a mid-tier Dreamcast game. It’s like paying Broadway prices for a middleschool play. Sure you’re getting a rough facsimile of the real thing, and you can’t hate the kids for trying their best with the resources they were given – but the exact same amount of money could have been invested in an objectively better option.

Dark tells the tale of Eric Bane, who wakes up in a crummy nightclub with amnesia and vampiric powers. The plot contrivance that propels the story through six leaden chapters of woeful stealth game-play is forgotten about halfway through, making the overly long and horrendously delivered exposition even more odious in retrospect. The voice acting is stale, the characters are vapid, and the constant melodrama coming out of the characters’ sock-puppet mouths is too awkward and cringe-worthy to derive any mirth from.

The core game-play involves skulking around trying to pick off enemies one by one without causing alarm; and Eric’s vampiric powers enable a number of abilities that serve to distract, mollify, or outright kill the sentries. These powers are initially limited to two uses per level unless you perform the longer blood-sucking take-downs, which cause more noise and take a lot longer than swatting down your foes. Buttressed by an XP system that rewards you for remaining undetected, and a skill tree that can be upgraded in any order the player chooses, this initially seems quite promising. It only takes a few encounters with the AI before this illusion of competency begins to fade.

Chuck stomps off in anger as everyone else dances like a pack of zombies.

Despite being hyped by his peers as one of the most powerful vampires they’ve met, Eric is rather fragile, and will crumple into a floppy rag-doll after a few gunshots, so restarting from a checkpoint is a frequent occurrence. The AI behaves so erratically from one encounter to the next, with their levels of acuity seeming to vary from reload to reload that it’s effectively impossible to commit to a plan or trial-and-error through the stages. Since the routine reloads are so unbearably long, I took to the comparatively lower risk approach of gaming the AI, alerting guards and leading them into a funnelled part of the level where I would just swat them down in succession.

The game is achingly low-budget, with corners cut wherever possible. Eric doesn’t transition into cover, he ‘warps’ into it (complete with little poofs of purple vampire smoke). When he’s dragging bodies, the camera enters first-person mode so the animators didn’t have to show what he’s doing while the rag-dolls are jerking and spazzing about. The animations are stiff, with Eric’s running animation incongruous with the speed at which the world is zipping by, causing him to appear to skate through the environments. Press up against a wall and Eric will be undeterred, and continue to run on the spot. Getting the drop on an enemy and sinking your teeth into him should be satisfying, but the animation doesn’t sell the interaction, still looking like the ‘lazy romantic neck nuzzling’ I noted in my preview six months ago.

Generally, the game just straight up disrespects your time. As you bumble through badly-designed rooms with patrols and stationary sentries that thwart creativity, death is never far away. Failing a sequence often results in the player being returned to a point before one of the game’s many dull cut-scenes, where each line of dialogue must be skipped individually (I repeated a late section so much that I counted the number of times I had to depress the B button to get back to the game-play: 36). Further aggravation: the number of enemy patrols that won’t start until you sit through the inane conversation between your opponents (adding insult to injury, these conversations don’t trigger until you move in close, so if you’re watching them huddled together from afar, they’ll just block your path in perpetuity).

Check out the completely wireless desktop PC.

The longer I spent with Dark, the more I began to hate its unapologetic incompetence, from the tedious boss battles to the way the load-screens awkwardly yammer off obvious facts about the game like a nervous stranger making conversation (“Did you know that there are not just human enemies in the game?”). That said, I did notice that the game emptied its pockets of achievements to me at a pace that suggested it wanted this sordid ordeal to be over with as soon as possible, which maybe indicates the kind of time investment Realmforge are expecting to get out of players.

There’s too much wrong with Dark to recommend it to anybody, short of those who wish to witness first-hand how a kernel of a good idea can be snuffed out by shoddy game-play mechanics, woeful presentation, and an overall lack of technical prowess. It bears the hallmarks of a game that’s been shuffled out onto store shelves in the hopes of shifting a few copies based on the box art alone, and given that there’s already an over-abundance of amazing titles on PC and Xbox 360, there’s no reason to subject yourself to Dark’s watered-down experience.

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