DARK
Reviewed by Didi Cardoso
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2013-08-08 Xbox 360 Action M (Mature) Kalypso Media / Realmforge Studios

I've had my eye on DARK since the first announcement. What can I say, I like my sneaking and I love vampire stories. But due to a series of unfortunate health events, I completely forgot about its release. To my surprise, a little package containing a copy of the game arrived, and I couldn't be happier to get my sneak on.

DARK follows the story of Eric Bane, a recently turned vampire with a case of video game cliche... I mean, amnesia! While looking for answers, he discovers that he isn't a full-fledged vampire just yet, and that if he doesn't drink his creator's blood or feeds on another ancient vampire, he will eventually turn into a ghoul. And who wants to be a ghoul, right? Eric's mission (or rather, series of missions) is based on his efforts to find blood that will allow him to survive. Throughout the story, Eric's pain becomes progressively worse, and mysterious visions of an angel encourage him to proceed on his quest.

In terms of gameplay, DARK is what you would expect from a stealth game: sneak, kill enemies silently, drag their corpses into dark and hidden spots so no one else can spot them. Being a vampire has its perks, of course, and one that you start with and will be using all the time is Vampire Vision. This lets you see where human enemies are even trough walls.

As you complete missions, find collectibles and kill enemies, you earn experience. Leveling up grants you some points that can be allocated within the skill tree, into the active or passive abilities of your choice. This is pretty interesting, since you can customize the gameplay to your liking: create a distraction, "teleport" (Shadow Leap), move faster while sneaking, move silently while running, feed without noise. Since you can't really take a lot of hits and enemies will be carrying weapons and are quite trigger-happy, you can only rely on yourself and your skills to survive.

My favorite skill to use is definitely Shadow Grip, which lets you kill someone from a distance. A bit like using the force, you choke whatever target. At a higher level, the corpse even disappears into ashes - silent, deadly, and with useful body clean up!

Using your special skills is as simple as assigning them to the D-pad for quick access, but you must be sure you have enough Vitae to use them, so you have to feed. You can also increase your Vitae through the skill tree.

Other than the single-player campaign, DARK also offers a series of challenges. The challenges unlock as you complete chapters, and are played in the same stages, only with different enemy positioning and pathing. You are given a certain number of points to distribute among the different skills in order to help you get through the stage. The way you distribute them is up to you, and it may take a few tries to get the right combination that suits the particular setting of the challenge. I really wasn't doing well on these due to the way I chose to play the main story and the skill set I got used to, so I was forced to explore other options and use new skills that I wasn't comfortable with. But that's what the challenges are all about, experimenting and optimizing your skills.

One of my issues with the game is the lack of options to change resolution. As it is, I can't see parts of the HUD as they are partly off the TV screen in my game. There were also some graphical issues, the most hilarious being the floating ceiling corpse (see video clips below).

I sneaked, killed and fed on a guard, and his corpse was just hovering there diagonally, in mid-air. I figured I could drag it somewhere else and it would be ok. WRONG! The more I dragged, the closer to the ceiling it got, until it was completely stuck up there. I could drag it and it would temporarily disappear, but then there it was again. And here I thought corpses glued on the ceiling would be inconspicuous... but no, I might as well have placed a big neon sign there saying "DEAD BODY HERE!". The entire museum security staff rushed to that spot. Although I laughed my ass off while trying to get rid of this particular corpse, the entire ordeal almost got me killed and caused me a whole lot of trouble because all the guards across the entire stage could see it.

Collision issues were also problematic while dragging corpses around corners. I was spotted so many times because an arm, a leg or occasionally a head would get stuck in a funny position and not turn the corner with me. There were also some pretty awkward camera angles that made things more frustrating and complicated than they should be.

That aside, some may complain that the gameplay is repetitive, but that is somewhat expected of stealth games, since we learn from our mistakes every time we die. This is a game of patience. You move carefully, slowly, you observe everything around you, watch the path taken by patrolling enemies, and time your next move. And if you get killed, you have to restart the chapter, as there are no other checkpoints in between.

Overall, I am pleased with DARK. I can even forgive the entire floating corpse ordeal and corpses stuck in corners because I really liked the premise of the story, and the gameplay is definitely fun and interesting.

But I find that it's not easy to empathize with Eric. I wanted him to succeed on his quest but he sounded like he wasn't really trying. I think this possibly has to do with the character's voice acting. Eric is voiced by the same actor who plays Geralt, and the lack of emotion typical from the Witcher is obvious here. Eric needed more tragedy in his voice. After all, he doesn't remember what happened and time is running short before he turns into a monster forever, so the sense of urgency should be there.

DARK isn't a bad game on its own, and it does hold up as a stealth game. While I was extremely engaged by the gameplay mechanics, I found myself not caring much for the main character. And all because even if I was doing all I could to save him, he just seemed... apathetic.