Gearbox Publishing and developer Under the Stairs recently announced that the monochrome “roguelight” game, Eyes in the Dark: The Curious Case of One Victoria Bloom, will launch on PC on July 14. As part of Steam Next Fest, Eyes in the Dark has a new demo, and I had the opportunity to go hands-on and preview it in advance. So far, the game seems to be shaping up as a nice addition to the roguelite genre.
The basic premise of Eyes in the Dark is that Victoria goes to the Bloom Manor to visit her grandfather, but he is apparently kidnapped by shadowy monsters that have taken over the manor. However, light can (literally) repel the darkness and destroy enemies, so Victoria uses a flashlight, slingshot, and other gadgets to explore procedurally generated areas and vanquish fearsome bosses.
The flashlight, slingshot, and gadgets are all customizable according to treasure you find in the environment or purchase from a merchant, which creates much of the strategy. For instance, depending on the battery type that you equip to your flashlight, you can extend the beam of light’s range, increase rate of fire, or even change the type of light projectile it shoots. I had the most luck with a battery that made my flashlight shoot powerful exploding balls of light instead of a concentrated beam.
Meanwhile, the slingshot shoots stronger shots that go in a slingshot-ish trajectory. (Yes, I realize that was a very dumb sentence I just wrote.) Slingshot bullets regenerate automatically with time once you’ve used them. There is also a dash ability that can even be used vertically in the air, effectively allowing for a double jump (though a natural double jump ability is also unlockable).
Eyes in the Dark encourages you to play with a controller, and I found the controls to be pretty intuitive while doing so during my preview. I did have some difficulty actually setting up the controls on my 8bitdo-brand controller, but since I just bought that controller, I’m willing to place the blame on myself instead of the game. Regardless, I had an easy time adjusting to the twin-stick controls, where the right stick aims and shoots the flashlight. (On keyboard, the mouse is used for aiming, and frankly I thought that felt fine too.) Jumping feels comfortable and gives you some good air, though you can purchase gadgets to tweak your jumping, such as for hovering in the air Princess Peach-style. And the dash ability feels like a reliable way to get out of sticky situations, meaning I usually agreed that it was my fault when I started getting pulverized.
Enemies aren’t relentlessly vicious, but they do want you dead and the AI seems solid enough. Eyes in the Dark has lots of creepy-crawly icky enemies, and it doesn’t take much time to understand the various enemy types and the threat each one poses. The monochrome art style, in addition to just being beautiful and praiseworthy all by itself, makes it easy to read where the danger is at any given moment. Basically, almost anything that moves is a threat to you, so you should probably shoot it or avoid it.
The procedurally generated levels seem competent, placing specific enemy types in certain calculated alcoves that might give them an advantage but without becoming frustrating. It’s too early to tell how this design might hold up across an entire game and with a monochrome art style, but it makes a good first impression. However, the boss battles were my favorite part of the Eyes in the Dark demo preview. I fought a big spider-ish thing and maybe a moth-ish thing, and each one had a variety of attacks that were threatening but well choreographed.
Across the board, I felt like Eyes in the Dark was both fun and fair. To an extent, the power-ups available to you will always affect your run, but there are special rooms you can hunt down now and then that you give a selection of great power-ups from which to choose. So even that felt reasonably fair. And if you die, you get sent back to the main hub to start a new run, but you can spend a special currency to purchase useful permanent upgrades. That means there is a sense of actual progress even when you have to start over again.
In all honesty, I don’t play roguelikes or roguelites by choice, which makes it that much more refreshing that I enjoyed the Eyes in the Dark Steam Next Fest demo preview as much as I did. The controls are reliable, the gameplay is fair, and the monochrome art style is utterly striking. And as a surprising bonus, the developer gave The Escapist its own unique cheat code for the demo, which unlocked a “Fireworks 4” weapon that was basically a really souped up version of the slingshot. It was a fun novelty to type in a secret code and hear a chime to confirm it had activated, and it bodes well that the final release might have more classic cheat codes to unlock. Everybody likes optional cheat codes, and it’s about time they made a resurgence.
So if you like roguelites or just games with unique visual styles, give the Eyes in the Dark Steam Next Fest demo a try. The full release is also available for preorder ahead of next month’s launch.