2Dark is the latest effort from Alone in the Dark creator Frédérick Raynal. Seeing as he’s one of the pioneers of the survival horror genre it may be safe to assume that 2Dark is in safe hands. Sadly this isn’t the case as 2Dark fails as both a stealth game and a horror experience.
2Dark centres around a former detective called Mr. Smith as he investigates a swath of child disappearances in the town of Gloomywood. The game really commits to its bleak and messed up world. The narrative involves children being kidnapped, murdered and tortured, but never shies away from showing what is necessary to add to the weight of the story. As the name might suggest, this is an incredibly dark game, but not just in its story.
While the visual style does add to the overall vibe, it also makes the game incredibly difficult to play. Some areas are so dark, even with the use of a flashlight, that I found myself wondering into traps and falling to my death over and over again. This gets old very quickly as each death feels cheap, as walking into a collection of fuzzy polygons only to have your character insta-killed by a spike is brutally unfair.
The stealth mechanics are also deeply underwhelming, with a sneak button and various indicators representing enemies field of view being the only tools at your disposal. Sure, you can throw objects to distract guards, but I found that just brute-forcing my way through characters and hiding was a much easier strategy.
2Dark is a very confusing game from the very start. You are given very little to go off and are plunged headfirst into an environment tasked with rescuing children. The first NPC you encounter merely shouts at you, I’m still unsure what the hell was going on, was I supposed to kill her? There’s no consequence for simply murdering everyone in sight and I’m not even sure who deserved it or not.
Each level is a convoluted mess of cardboard cutout horror characters and seemingly regular folk just doing their jobs. There are no signposts early on to tell you where to go or even why you’re there in the first place. The only consistency in the level design is that the main goal is to save the children. Once you’ve found them, the real annoyances start. You are tasked with leading a gang of screaming and incredibly slow-moving kids back through the level. Leading NPCs is always the worst part in most games, and this is no exception, the children move very slowly and give away your position at every available opportunity.
2Dark features a inventory system ripped straight out of 1991. It’s slow, clunky and in the heat of a skirmish, downright lethal. I’m unsure whether this is intentional as it does add a sense of tension to the proceedings, and certain items did add the possibility for experimenting with different strategies.
The score does a good job of setting the scene and also builds a tense atmosphere which gives each level a menacing feel. The way the game uses sound to lead you through the levels towards the children is a great touch, however the writing does leave a lot to be desired. The dialogue is stilted and mostly clichéd, detracting from the very serious and real subject matter.
The way 2Dark chooses to include themes of child abuse and kidnapping is also deeply troubling. It’s all done with a touch of humour, which ultimately ends up cheapening the whole thing. There’s a sequence where a clown has kidnapped a group of children to perform as part of a circus performance. The level is sufficiently grounded up to that point and manages to build a genuinely unsettling atmosphere. This atmosphere is quickly diminished by the inclusion of these black comedy elements and I wish the developers had told a more grounded tale with the material they were working with.
2Dark tells a story which is equal parts twisted and brave. I have never experienced such a depraved, hopeless world and can only commend the developers for going the whole hog. It’s a shame then that the gameplay gets in the way at almost every turn. Uninspired stealth mechanics and a frustratingly steep learning curve bury what could have been a good game.