Today we’re taking a look at Kalypso Media’s vampire stealth action game DARK which sees players take on the role of Eric Bane, a vampire who is cursed to a fate worse than death which can only be prevented by drinking the blood of other vampires. The story is easy to follow as Eric succumbs to visions of angels who guide him along his righteous path. There’s a few obvious twists, but serves as an mild distraction from the stealth based gameplay which is the meat of the game.
Gamers looking for a more traditional third person beat em up action game will be deeply disappointed, but stealth fans will likely have a blast. Whilst Eric is a bit of wuss when it comes to face to face combat, from the shadows, and using his unique set of skills, he can become quite the formidable opponent. The game’s design is really a test of how much the player wishes to push themselves, in that while it’s easy to get discovered – and very easy to be killed – there are tools to get out of problems and possibly go on the offensive. Purists are perhaps going to have the hardest time here either sneaking around undetected and getting the no alarms bonus at the end of each stage, or going in for quiet kills which requires hiding bodies and planning attacks. There’s a rudimentary system of detection whereby enemies become suspicious to sound or visual contact within a certain range, and it’s only when players are fully spotted than the alarm is raised and the bullets fly. It’s at this point where if killed there’s a checkpoint restart that might put you back a frustrating 10 or 15 minutes – or even more. It’s a bit unforgiving but in a way makes the game a lot more tense. Sadly, there’s a tendency to simply use the shadow kill skill which teleport attacks enemies instantly and can be chained making light work of any would be attackers as long as you’re not outnumbered when busted which kind of goes against the stealth ethos of the game.
Sadly Dark isn’t offering much variety in its play and seems to consist of fairly open to more tight linear paths with the aim of simply getting from A to B killing or not. The locations offer some interesting sights, but generally, players come up against varied opponents which sadly don’t act as intelligently as they could. In a way, when it comes to stealth, Bane has the advantage, where he’s able to see through walls and floors in slow motion to track the enemies. It feels like cheating almost, but is a combat to the numerous enemies who are rattled by the slightest disturbance to their routines.
Dark isn’t a totally seamless experience, as there are problems especially with the leap mechanic which is incredibly fiddly and unnecessarily complicated to use making it almost redundant. There are also issues with the context sensitive kill moves which don’t always connect as and when are needed and cause unnecessary failures due to poor controls rather than player error. The camera can also be a little problematic at times, not being useful in close quarter environments on occasion .
Eric’s powers can be purchased via experience points earned from story progression, reading PDAs and killing enemies. Naturally there are bonuses for killing silently and makes earning the upgrades to Eric’s powers quicker. Once Eric has gained a few powers, he does become highly effective at taking out opponents from the shadows, and it’s here where the game shines.
Graphically, Dark opts to use a cel shaded style which works well in context but somehow means there’s some horrible frame rate issues, especially in the game’s The Sanctuary club which is filled with NPCs. There’s a lot of stiff and reused animations throughout making for a game which feels a devoid of personality which is a shame. The locations are interesting offering some varied interior and exterior moments through the city, yet there’s no interaction at all adding to the lifeless feeling of the game.
Audio is a little cheesy, with average performances all round, although Bane’s narrative approach takes center stage as expected and offers the usual monotone delivery one would expect. The music is subtle, and there are few spot ambient effects which bring the environment to life through looped sounds.
Dark offers an elongated campaign that will take some time if playing as the game intended. However, it’s easy to throw out the rule book and simply hide and take out alerted enemies with relative ease, making light work of the games lengthy episodes in the process. There are additional challenge modes on offer which essentially offer the same thing as the story but in a condensed format, and based on time, but these are mere distractions that aren’t realized very well as there’s no leaderboards or connected content to make them worth playing beyond a one time play.
Dark offers a different take on stealth gaming but is simply marred by poor game design and a real lack of purpose, bar moving through one area to the next. There’s some good ideas in this enjoyable game, but it’s perhaps not enough to make it recommendation for everyone. If you like stealth, then there’s certainly some fun to be gleaned here if one can overlook the faults, but anyone else is simply not going to enjoy the restrictive nature of the game.
Score 7/10 – Review by Robert Cram