DARK Xbox 360 Review

Dark-criticsight-351x500I first saw Kalypso’s “Dark” at the E3 Expo in 2012.  This year, at the Los Angeles gaming expo, I got some time to actually play their new vampire game. “Dark” is an ambitious endeavor that attempts to merge a “Mass Effect” type RPG with an action stealth game, somewhere between “Dishonored” and “Splinter Cell.”  For a fairly small developer, taking on these iconic giants and inviting the comparisons might seem like a suicide mission.  “Dishonored” certainly has its issues, but by the strength of budget alone, the game dwarfs the scope and execution of “Dark.”

Since the early days of film and the German “Nosferatu” movie, vampire stories have been a popular choice in media.  For such an iconic mythology, their portrayal has been widely varied.  From Max Schreck and Bela Lugosi to Christopher Lee and all of the comedic spoofs, now the most popular iterations are the glitter teens in “Twilight” and the campy raunch of HBO’s “True Blood.”  The game “Dark” tries to forge its own path, though in some ways it is reminiscent of the late Tony Scott’s “The Hunger.”  Like the David Bowie film, “Dark” changes the rules for vampires and the protagonist Eric Bane has his own set of abilities and limitations.

dark_screen_01In “Dark,” Eric Bane remembers almost nothing about being turned into a vampire.  All he knows is that he feels terrible and keeps seeing a vision of an angel.  Somehow, he’s ended up in a night club.  As you move around the well drawn environment, the first real flaw in the reveals itself.  The dialogue is terrible.  The phrasings are un-conversational and their delivery is about as wooden as it gets.  The sad part about that is that these could actually be interesting conversations with interesting characters.  As it turns out, the night club is actually owned by a vampire, a benevolent one at that, who sets you straight before sending you out to save yourself from turning into a mindless ghoul.

Be warned, Eric Bane starts off as a terrible and clumsy vampire in “Dark.” So much so, that many gamers will put down the controller during the first mission and never play the game again.  Completing the mission though, will give you skill points to upgrade poor Eric into something a little more formidable.  While most of the skill tree makes it easier to remain undetected, there are a few offensive upgrades like a teleporting instant kill.  Unfortunately, the animations and controls never really give you the feel of silent assassin.  The little things like sneaking up behind someone are made more difficult because the controls aren’t precise enough.

screen_gdc_11If you were like me, and thought that “Dishonored” had clunky controls, “Dark” will probably drive you insane.  There is a long list of flaws to this game, the most egregious of which are some of the gameplay choices. Up and coming developers should note that if you don’t have a great A.I. system, you probably shouldn’t make a stealth focused game.  At the same time, it’s a really interesting world that Realmforge Studios has created.  It’s really too bad that “Dark” never lets you really enjoy it.  There is also some well engineered and really interesting level design in their cell-shaded trip through the dark.

DARK_Screens_Nov12_02Cell-shaded games don’t elicit the same extreme reactions that they used to.  A couple of console generations ago, that design choice would have pigeonholed a game into a tiny niche.  The credit can probably be given to the open-world, shooter/RPG “Borderlands,” but there have been other AAA titles to use the style since.  For me, the art style is a plus and I could have tolerated the clunky gameplay and dialogue for more of this vampire world.  No not a longer game, but more opportunity for interaction and more impact.  Rather than whittle everything down to a poorly executed stealth game, if they had broadened the adventure and RPG aspects, there would certainly be more to love.

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