Dazed and confused is how you begin, you’re Eric, a seemingly ordinary guy with a penchant for narrating his life often providing you with random monologues describing the situation which you yourself are also experiencing. You soon discover that you’re a vampire, but you have no idea why, you’re clueless; which is one word I’d use describe the way I felt throughout most of the game.
The game itself has a good story. Eric find’s that he’s a newly turned vampire but has no recollection of what happened or how he turned that way. In DARK vampires are a little different from what we’ve learned from popular culture. Yes, once bitten you turn into a vampire, but in this game the transformation isn’t fully complete until you drink the blood of your maker, or an ancient vampire who’s much more powerful than you are.
Due to Eric’s amnesia – a side affect of the initial bite – he clearly can’t remember who turned him, so he decides that his only option is to head for one of the most powerful vampires around, at least that’s how I think the story goes. Either way, I like the idea of the story.
The story itself is told using cut scenes as well as through user prompts when speaking to certain characters, this leads to repeating the same questions to several different characters who all pretty much repeat the same thing which resulted in boring me to tears to the point where I just skipped onto the next part, I also found it fairly confusing how one minute you’re half dead stumbling around the club, to being outside of a museum planning to take on an entire army of guards.
During one cut scene, to convince Eric he’s a vampire he’s shown that he himself has vampire skills, you then have to navigate your way through the club where you begin, in order to find some emo looking chap who eventually offers the chance for you to “learn” how to use your skills. This then goes into the games tutorial where you learn the basic controls which you’ll find in DARK.
Now, you’ve got to remember that DARK is primarily a stealth action role-playing game. With that, you can’t actually get anywhere in the game without being sneaky and covert mostly down to the melee combat being absolutely fucking awful. In order for you to “attack” someone they need to be glowing and the action buttons need to appear in order for this to happen you need to literally be standing directly adjacent to them. It’s perfectly fine when no-one is aware of your presence and you can quietly sneak up on a guard and take him out, but if you’re ever spotted you’re screwed.
For combat you’ve got a choice of two attacks you an unleash, either press “A” to kill, or press and hold “A” to drink their blood. With silence being the biggest focus in the game you’d expect the more quiet blood drinking to be the preferred method of killing someone, but no, that’s the one that everyone can hear apparently, not the kill that involves Eric taking his glowing purple fist and smashing the guard into the ground with such force that he bounces a little – nope, that’s the quiet option.
Because of the silent nature of the game DARK has cover mechanics which are dodgy to say the least. With the already confusing controller layout, you’re required to press “LT” to enter cover which if you’re next to a wall or some sort of cabinet you’ll hide behind it. 70% of the time this will restrict your view of the surroundings causing you to shimmy along a little so you can see which in turn causes you to be spotted – bye bye, game over. You’ve also got a fat chance of getting away too because when you enter cover, Eric automatically crouches and stays that way which is fine when in cover, but when you need to make a hasty getaway and you’re left “sneaking” away from the scene, you’re pretty much dead. In order stand up you’re required to press the left joystick down which is very awkward.
Realmforge Studios have tried to make the AI seem a little more than hapless drones that follow the same line over and over, oh wait, no they haven’t. In order to make confrontation a little easier to avoid each of the AI guards follow a set path which you’re advised to watch and learn, others just stand there doing nothing until you enter their line of site. Those that do move seem to have a brain cell or two as they notice downed comrades, so you’re required to “drag” a corpse to a quieter unguarded area. In order to drag someone the camera goes from third person, to first person with little to no HUD as you drag the ragdoll corpse elsewhere. This type of camera change is god awful and confuses the hell out of you which makes a quick drag-and-hide task into a mission in itself.
Did I forget to mention that the AI character sprites are all the same? Yeah, there’s only around two or three different AI characters which get repeated throughout which can quickly become a little off-putting.
Speaking of being spotted, certain games which involve some sort of stealth have an indicator which helps you realise when you’re being spotted. DARK also has this mechanic but it’s about as useful as a chocolate tea pot. The indicator is a large circle that goes from white to red depending on how exposed you are. It sounds simple, and it is because more often than not the indicator will go from white to red almost instantly causing me to be exposed and an entire team of guards swarming towards my position.
If you’re lucky enough to escape being turned into a purple colander you can actually heal yourself using the “X” button providing you have that skill selected. Which brings me onto the skills – I have no idea what they are because I haven’t gotten far enough to discover what else is available. All I do know is that the use of the skills will use up one of the two blood reserves you have, which requires you to drink blood in order to replenish them. This however isn’t touched when you use the “Shadow Leap”. The Shadow Leap is a fairly useless skill which allows you to zap yourself from one cover to another in a cloud of purple haze. The reason I say that it’s a useless skill is because using the skill causes noise and attention. Nowhere in the game have I found a suitable place to use the Shadow Leap without alerting a guard.
I wanted DARK to be a good game, I really did, and it could be if the controls were different and the combat was a free action you could use whenever you wanted, not whenever you were allowed to. From the start of the game I’ve progressed purely on trial and error. At every turn I’ve failed which required me to go back to the last checkpoint and do it all again. I’ve also managed to get past certain parts by running through a door or two which prompted the next cut scene causing the AI to disappear as if nothing had happened.
The graphics and overall level design can only be described with one word – purple. It’s as if someone from the Saints Row development team came along and changed the games colour palette whilst no-one was looking. It does – in all fairness to it – add to the games dark nature, and the cel shaded character design also adds to the games appearance, it makes it feel a little less serious than it’s trying to be. The game itself has done one thing right – the music – upon entering the club you’re ears are treated to some delightful industrial trance music which wouldn’t seem out of place on the Queen of the Damned soundtrack; for me it immediately screamed “vampire” so that’s something right?
Though I’ve done nothing but mostly point out negatives, it’s not a bad game – at least it could be better – it is frustrating and the controls are horrible, but I can’t stop trying to play it. So far I’ve put around four hours into the game and I haven’t even gotten through the first Museum level. That may mean that I might be a bad player and I’m not going to defend myself there, but it’s an insanely hard game, I can assure you.