This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Dark.
I'm pleased to report that I have done at least one review for every letter of the alphabet! Thank Christ for XCOM! But if there's one letter that's over-represented, it's "D," and that's because roughly 100% percent of game titles start with the word "dark", as in Souls, Void, -siders, -ness and -est of Days. So the subject of today's review gets refreshingly to the nub of the matter. Perhaps this represents a final culmination of the entertainment industry's long-held notion that the epitome of cool is sitting around being miserable with the lights turned off. Pity the actual game is Cajun-cooked walrus dribble, but never mind. They could always patch things up with a sequel, which would logically be named "dead", as in, Island, Rising, Space and -pool.
Considering Ride to Hell, what is this, Absolute Garbage Awareness Month? Do they even care what gets a full-on boxed console release anymore? Well, since it's the end of the generation, I guess not. "All right son, we've had fun on this boat over the years, but now it's time to sink it to the ocean floor and let all the bottom feeders live on it." "But Daddy, couldn't we just put a better engine on the boat and not have to destroy all our cherished memories?" "I think someone needs to go back in the naughty box!"
Dark opens up with the protagonist waking up with no memory except that his name is Eric Bane. Oh God, that's a demoralizing start, isn't it, realizing you sound like the pseudonym under which a struggling author writes erotic Twilight knock-offs? Anyway, Dangerous McSpookyname bumbles into a nightclub that luckily happens to be run by nice vampires, nice in the sense that they wantonly drink blood from living humans but, "we're really thirsty, guys!"
Traditionally, this is the point where the "oh no, it's all right, we're good vampires who like humans and survive off donated blood packs and badly made McRibs" routine comes in to play, so the vampires don't seem unsympathetic, but Dark kinda skips that step 'cause it's too busy digging plot holes. Eric is informed that he is now a vampire because a vampire drank all his blood, but either they immediately forget about that particular rule or Eric creates about fifty more vampires during the course of every single combat section. Hey I've got an idea, how about we play one of them? I want to re-roll my character, one that didn't get snake-eyes for charisma!
Dark is a big fan of "tell, don't show". Maybe they can't show us 'cause it's too dark, we wouldn't see it. By the time he leaves the nightclub at the start of the game, Eric has met four new characters, learned about vampires, about vampire powers and about a powerful senior vampire he has to go kill in order to become a real vampire as opposed to the namby-pants poseur he is now. All of which is delivered through tedious dialogue trees that, as tends to be the case with these things, bear about as much resemblance to actual human conversation as a butthole full of cum does to a chocolate éclair.
Here's a fun game: next time you're at a party, talk to a stranger like you're a video game character going through a dialogue tree.
"Yes, I've just bought a new entertainment system for my living room."
"TELL ME MORE ABOUT YOUR NEW ENTERTAINMENT SYSTEM!"
"It's...really nice, it's got Bang & Olufsen speakers-"
"TELL ME MORE ABOUT SPEAKERS!"
"Um...they're the things that audible sound comes out of."
"TELL ME MORE ABOUT AUDIBLE SOUND!"
"Um...it's an...oscillation of pressure transmitted through a medium and composed of frequencies within the range of hearing?"
"I'M DONE WITH TALKING ABOUT YOUR NEW ENTERTAINMENT SYSTEM! TELL ME MORE ABOUT YOUR LIVING ROOM!"
During one conversation, Eric goes, "TELL ME MORE ABOUT VAMPIRE SOCIETY", and the dude goes, "There isn't one really. See, we're not ripping off Vampire: The Masquerade". But in his very next line, he says, "I wouldn't expect a half-blood to understand". Oh, okay, no society but there is classism. Do you want to go back and maybe write a second draft?
Every vampire story has different rules of course. In the Dark universe for example, the super secret weakness of vampires is bullets. And cunningly, the security guards of the world all carry guns, having figured out that your Achilles heel is any kind of physical damage whatsoever. So Dark is strictly a stealth game. Such is the aversion to bullets that Eric cannot carry a gun himself. So do the maths here, sonny: Melee only attacks, plus large number of enemies with guns, plus large open environments with limited cover, equals, "It's a shame you have such an aversion to bullets, Eric mate, because a lot of them are going to be trying to make friends with you!" And your one attack can be blocked by aware enemies, so if you get spotted sneaking up on a dude, the action becomes a rather humiliating game of Patty-cake. I wanted Eric to go back to the club after the first mission and say, "Are you sure I'm a vampire and not just a Goth with a personal trainer?"
At first, gameplay is a frustrating trial and error grind, because as I said, enemies are everywhere, there aren't any decent vantage points to plan ahead and the best way to figure out if a specific spot is being watched is to bumble into it and see how much of your skull remains inside your face. Counter to good sense, the difficulty curves downwards as you proceed and acquire vampire superpowers. Oh, I think I see the misunderstanding. When you said "vampires", Dark, what you meant was "X-Men".
You can turn invisible and teleport and do that Darth Vader choke thing to finally have a long-range attack, but this superpower dessert trolley is completely unbalanced and sends pastries flying everywhere. Why does the power that merely distracts guards require exactly the same energy as the one that kills them instantly from any distance? Bit of an imbalance there! Oh, but the Darth Vader choke kill thing makes a loud noise that alerts other guards, but oh-oh, that liability is removed if you upgrade the power once. Meanwhile, upgrade the distract power once and you can distract people one metre further away. Oh, well, sign me up for the fucking Justice League! Hey, wait a minute. Killing someone from long distance while making a loud noise? Isn't that exactly the same superpower as a man with a gun?
As I may have implied, it's fairly obvious that Dark aspires to ape Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines 'cause all the superpower have the same wanky names: Obfuscation and Celerity where "Invisibility" and "Moving all quick-like" would have done. But Bloodlines attempted to immerse you in a living, breathing society, while Dark just has a voice in your ear telling you, "No really, there is a world outside all this shit gameplay. I'm looking at it right now, and it's fucking sweet!"
I will say this though: if it's trying to be Bloodlines, Dark has got shitty boss fights down pat. Or should I say, boss fight. Just one, at the end. And no doubt you have a question: How can this game have a boss fight, when your offensive capability is limited to contextual one-hit kills? That would be a very good question! So what happens is that you run around avoiding a big monster like it's a schoolyard bully with a dog shit on the end of a stick, and then a button appears, which you press, and then you win. A fitting conclusion for five hours of contextual stealth-kill button pressing perhaps, but a touch anticlimactic!
In conclusion, suck my dark dick! I mean, suck my dick, Dark!
- I'll punch your lights out: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- The really weird bit was when Eric Bane put a rubber spider on his face and started talking like Sean Connery
- It's time gaming as a culture invested in a dimmer switch