Platform Reviewed: XBox 360/ RRP: £24.99 / Time Played: Six hours or so
They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
It’s not like people haven’t tried this generation to make a stealth game that featured vampires – which of course gives me a massive point of reference. The game in question is Vampire Rain, and it was released way back in 2007 and it wasn’t very good. It wasn’t well made and it wasn’t well put together. It wasn’t completely without merit – but the punishing difficulty, linear gameplay and general pervasive sense of compromise tended to just frustrate more than anything else and you had a game which was nothing but nice ideas done poorly.
Dark isn’t punishing though – it’s actually depressingly simple. But it’s certainly comparable on every other level.
In the hands of a one Eric Bane (a shoe-in for Least Inspired Anti-Hero Name of 2013), you are a Vampire. Well, actually, not quite yet. You’re a ghoul, and the only way to keep your sanity and avoid turning into a soulless undead is to go drink the blood of a vampire – the vampire who sired you. Some have taken this as being tied to Vampire: The Masquerade but I think that’s not really fair as the narrative comparison for me tends to stretch more towards Vampire In Brooklyn. Not that I’d recommend you watch it, it’s an Eddie Murphy film so on your own head be it. Anyway, it’s a vampire story set in the modern day, and for that it should be commended. But only for that, as the narrative, the characters and the dialogue are cliché at best and amateur-hour at worst, recycling the worst excesses into making it a genuinely cringe-worthy feeling.
Still, the game itself has a bit more to it technically. The RPG-Lite system for vampire powers is nice and the game really does want you to stealth, which is a definite step forward, as far too many games these days drop stealth along the way in favour of full-on action believing that’s what we want (when it couldn’t be further from the truth). However, if you’re going to do a stealth game, you need two things; the first is imaginative settings with plenty of nooks and crannies in order to park yourself. It stumbles here as the locations and the level design are never anything more than your run of the mill affair, and the fact that the game has to tell you when you are in cover in certain spots is certainly not good enough. It also doesn’t help that far too often, I was very exposed but because of the fact I was “in cover”, things ignored me, which brings me onto my second requirement; decent AI. Now, I agree that being spotted in cover sucks but come on, if something is walking towards me the opposite way from a hiding spot and walks right past me, there’s something wrong. Indeed, this sort of thing isn’t just poor – it’s exploitable, as you can massively abuse the simplistic AI of Dark and make things so much easier. Even to the point of direct conflict being easier than the usual stealthy approach, and that’s just not good enough.
It’s hard to say anything nice about Dark. And that’s a shame, because for all its low-budget stylings, there are worthy notes. The cel-shaded look is actually rather nice. It’s not too buggy, and it’s not too offensive. It’s also not as hateful as Aliens: Colonial Marines, and not as shamefully broken as Ride to Hell: Redemption. You get the sense with Dark that there was a whole lot of love for the project but they ran out of something at some point; time, money or talent, it matters not what they ran out of. Just that they ran out of it, and couldn’t quite get it beyond the mediocre. Dark is a noble failure as a result, but a noble failure is still a failure, and that much cannot be stressed enough. It’s not a good game; it’s a below-average game with more intention than it can possibly pull off.
Which is a shame, because with Vampire: The Masquerade on an extended hiatus, and the recent news that a new Legacy of Kain title got canned by Square-Enix (because it wouldn’t have sold is their argument… nngh!), there’s plenty of room on the scene for a half-decent attempt at a vampire game. Dark just falls short on many levels, but it’s hard to just dislike it outright. With some care, thought and attention, there’s no reason why a second game couldn’t correct a lot of what went wrong here.
Hopefully this will have been a learning experience for RealmForge. Because they obviously have some ability – hey, the game is pretty sound on a technical level. It’s just a pity that it’s let down in the design and execution department.
And it is better than Vampire Rain. Although that said, throwing yourself into a pit of lions is comparably better than Vampire Rain…
- Looks good.
- Technically alright.
- Interesting powers.
- Too much cliché.
- Sloppy design.
- Stupid AI.
- Vampire in Brooklyn is NOT the right place to begin narrative comparisons.
- Eric Bane? Seriously, that’s the best name you could come up with?
OVERALL CONCLUSION – Better than… oh no, I’m not doing this… (4 out of 10 – below average)
Dark is the sort of game that wouldn’t have hurt a couple of years ago, but at this stage we expect and demand better. That said, it’s not a game that is easy to dislike; there’s plenty of promise and potential buried deep underneath all the short-cuts and the poor design choices. But it’s impossible to ignore its multitude of faults, and the end result is one of disappointment than anything else. A noble failure, then; but still a failure.