At first glance, it seems like Dark has many of the elements that make up a good stealth game. It has numerous enemies, limited resources and an emphasis on using the shadows to your advantage. But the actual experience is only slightly more exciting than clipping one’s toenails.
Dark begins with our protagonist, Eric Bane, regaining consciousness in a Goth-styled club called Sanctuary with no memory of how he got there or why he’s having hallucinations of a glowing angelic figure. After a quick discussion with the club’s owner, a woman named Rose (who, you guessed it, happens to be a vampire), you learn that Bane has been turned into a vampire with nifty shadow-based superpowers. To avoid becoming a mindless ghoul, Bane has to find and drink the blood of either the original vampire that turned him, or a substitute vampire who’s just as powerful.
This kicks off Bane’s quest to find whatever blood will help him become a full fledged vampire, pitting you against the likes of an insane museum director and a paranoid billionaire CEO, plus the legions of mercenaries and security guards between you and their precious blood. Dark‘s story gets dull and formulaic quickly, and many of the characters you meet have shallow personalities and feel like they’re only there to spout exposition than provide substance to the narrative. The awkward voice acting will make you cringe on more than one occasion, and Bane himself, with his low grizzled voice and tendency to spout neo-noir prose, can’t decide if he’s Max Payne or Solid Snake.
As a stealth-action game, you’ll be moving around quietly behind chest-high walls, boxes and furniture while trying to avoid alerting anyone to your presence. You also have a fancy vampire vision at your disposal that slows time down to a crawl and lets you see where all the enemies are in an area. But while you’ll be able to grasp the basics of sneaking around easily, the controls aren’t entirely smooth. You can lock onto a particular piece of cover easily enough, and use a teleport ability to launch yourself across short distances on the map. But it’s hard to aim your teleport ability without and you’ll occasionally find yourself getting hung up on boxes and tables. Plus, the game will highlight enemies in range of any of your attacks with a glowing outline, but it can be very hard to target a particular guard if they’re in a group. And sometimes that glowing outline just doesn’t appear, often making any close combat you get into a confusing mess of button-mashing that’s more irritating than enjoyable.
The guards you face will follow predictable routes, meaning most of the gameplay is a straightforward yet dull matter of memorizing their patrol patterns in a room and avoiding any objects that might make noise. In theory, this means you should be able to pick and choose where you’ll sneak by guards, but in reality you’ll just resolve to rip out the throats of every guard you meet as fast as possible before they notice you and alert their comrades. In fact, this is how you’ll play out most Dark’s levels. There’s almost no freedom or flexibility allowed in how you approach a level asides the “Kill guards, hide a minute, kill more guards” formula. Plus, each section has only one or two routes available to reach their exits, and you’ll go through a large amount of aggravating trial and error as you repeatedly die trying to figure out the pattern of guard-murdering and teleporting you’ll need to follow in order to win. This repetitive gameplay is one of Dark‘s biggest and most frustrating flaws, and the requirement to murder your way through every section versus trying to do anything else you might do in a stealth game just adds to the boredom.
In the event an alarm does go off, either because you were spotted or a guard found a corpse you left behind, you might as well just put down the controller and let Bane get gunned down so you can restart at the previous checkpoint. Another of Dark‘s irritating flaws is how nigh-impossible it is to escape or hide from enemies once they’ve gone hostile. Almost instantly, you’ll find yourself being pinned down and swarmed by almost every enemy in a area, and it takes ages for them to calm down and return back to their posts. If you’re really lucky, you can use the alarm as an opportunity to try and kill all the guards in a level since they’ll all be bunched up and sometimes approach you one at a time, but since Bane is surprisingly frail for an immortal vampire, you’ll rarely be able to survive a stand-up fight with machine gun wielding mercs or poison spitting ghouls. There are some things you can do to avoid detection, but their effectiveness is limited. For example, you can drag corpses out of view, but this requires an annoying switch to a first person perspective and some wrestling with the controls and physics engine that makes it feel more like a chore than anything.
Dark does has some RPG mechanics in play, giving you at least a little flexibility over how Bane progresses through the game. Every kill you make will grant you experience points (plus a bonus if you’re able to pull it off without alerting anyone), and every thousand points grant you a “power point” that let you boost specific abilities or powers. The abilities range from increasing your toughness or reducing the noise you make walking around, to vampiric powers that let you leap across the room and instant kill a target. But given how Dark‘s stealth system isn’t really about being a sneaky bastard so much as it is pointlessly killing everything that moves, you’ll find yourself ignoring the powers that that improve your stealth and focus more on whatever lets you kill guards as fast and quietly as possible.
Each of your major powers use up one slot of Vitae, which is essentially a mana pool you refill by feeding on some unsuspecting victim. The limited amount of Vitae you can have at any time (through upgrades you max out at four) does add an element of risk in deciding if you’d be able to feed on an enemy and haphazardly drag their corpses out of sight before his friends notice he’s gone. But with it being so difficult to avoid triggering an alarm in the first place, you won’t bother with that kind of maneuver very often.
Bottom Line: Dark is a title that’s full of repetitive gameplay and occasionally stupid-high difficulty, topped off with a lackluster story and dull characters.
Recommendation: If you’re really, really into vampires or stealth action games, there are better choices out there than Dark.[rating=2.0]
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.
Genre: Stealth, Action
Developer: Realmforge studios
Publisher: Kalypso Media
Platform(s): PC, Xbox 360