Gaming for Grown Ups
20th August 2013 09:00:00
Posted by Ryan Poxon


Microsoft Xbox 360 Review

Developer Realmforge attempts to make vampires cool again with Dark, available for Xbox 360 and PC.
Stealth-focused games are a difficult genre to get right. The delicate balance of interesting environmental design, player abilities and enemy behaviour all must work exceptionally well or at least offer viable alternative playstyles. Dark is unfortunately a title that fails to excel at any individual aspect of the genre, let alone rounding it all together into one satisfying experience.

You take on the role of Eric Bane, introduced as you tediously stumble him around a nightclub trying to figure out what’s wrong with him. After quizzing various characters he discovers that he is on his way to becoming a vampire, having been attacked by one prior to him coming around at the start of the game. In order to become a fully fledged vampire Eric must ingest the blood of the vampire who converted him, failing to do so will reduce him to a brainless ghoul. As this vampire has apparently gone missing since attacking Eric, the gang at the nightclub instead send him off to find an elder vampire whose blood will have the same effect.

The visual style does occasionally deliver some interesting environments, but soon enough everywhere begins to look the same.

The beginning of the game is a chore to play through as Eric has to slowly stagger around, follow NPCs as they talk inanely followed by stopping and talking to other characters, complete with Mass Effect-style dialogue trees that mainly amount to just asking inconsequential questions. Once you have then gathered the necessary information the nightclub then acts as a central hub that you will return to between each mission that can be initiated by talking to whichever relevant character. Talking to the other NPCs doesn’t really offer anything of value to the player beyond gossip about other characters and the world in general, which would be much more interesting if the population was in the least bit engaging.

Each mission will place Eric in a location where one of these elder vampires is thought to be hiding out. From the entry point the player must stealthily make their way past enemies by using a simple but temperamental wall-hugging cover system. It’s possible to take out potential threats by simply walking up behind them and either tapping the X button to knock them out or hold it down to suck out their blood. There’s no elegance in how Eric controls as he moves around with no grace and fails to perform actions in a prompt manner. The delay between the button press and actual action being carried out can be quite frustrating but as the enemy AI isn’t likely to clock onto your flailing around just behind him it’s not very likely that the control issues will severely impact your progress.

As you acquire XP from killing enemies it’s possible to unlock and upgrade various different vampiric abilities to aid in staying hidden or even taking out potential threats undetected. Such abilities include a short range teleport, a headache-inducing x-ray vision and a longer range psychic takedown. While initially these abilities do offer some variety to the core barebones stealth gameplay it soon becomes apparent that they aren’t really required to beat the game, although they do make things ridiculously easy. Although their use depletes Eric’s Vitae gauge he can simply suck the blood out of enemies in order to replenish his stock, meaning they can be used quite frequently despite the limited amount of power the full gauge offers.

The dialogue trees are particularly awkward thanks to the poor script and rushed voice acting.

The enemy AI is astoundingly stupid with some opponents simply standing stationary looking at the wall directly in front of them while others will simply stroll right past the player without noticing them. On the rare chance a combatant faces you in close range combat they can’t really do anything. While the instant takedown won’t work on them in a frontal attack the player can simply spam the button which will initiate a hilariously awkward little wrestle between Eric and his opponent until the camera and player position is wrestled into the correct position. At a distance enemies can be a little more problematic as to begin with Eric has no method of dealing any damage from a distance, but they are still easily shaken off even in plain sight.

Despite the game starting off relatively difficult thanks to the clunky controls it soon becomes much easier thanks to the powers acquired and even easier to break the difficulty completely thanks to the absent-minded enemies standing in the player’s way. Beyond the core stealth mechanics there isn’t much else in the way of gameplay scenarios that the player will participate in until the very end where they will face off with an absolute joke of a final boss. Thanks to the lack of combat abilities inherent in the control scheme this one final obstacle has to be one of the most insultingly easy finales to a game of recent memory.

What little challenge there is in the core stealth gameplay soon evaporates as you develop Eric's vampiric powers.

Featuring some quite drab, smudgy cel-shading, Dark doesn’t impress with its visuals. Looking like a mash-up of Borderlands and Deus Ex, the environments initially do have a nice quasi-cyberpunk atmosphere but progressing through the game will soon bring fatigue with the lack of real variety in environments that Eric ventures into. Characters are stiffly animated, standing on the spot awkwardly while conversing in cutscenes with almost no facial movement. Music and sound effects are similarly quite restrained with generic weak effects punctuating the action. Voice acting is also quite poor as Eric’s dreary narrations and irritating and obvious dialogue simply prompts players to skip ahead to the actual gameplay.
Dark is a game that feels like an initial sketch rather than a finished piece of work. There are some good ideas to be had for a decent stealth-em-up but none of them have been fully fleshed out, with the game feeling like it hasn’t had either the money or the time to properly complete. Lacking any polish, challenge or interesting story the game doesn’t offer anything that hasn’t already been done many times before and far better.
Details and Specifications
Review Platform: Microsoft Xbox 360

Publisher: Kalypso Media

Developer: Realmforge

UK Release Date: 2013-06-28