The stealth genre of gaming seems to translate well across all kinds of premises, from the military spin of Metal Gear Solid to the dystopian take of Dishonored. There is something appealing about dispatching a crew of bad guys without anyone noticing; it’s truly the stuff that day dreams are made of. The video game platform is particularly good at taking this silent assassin archetype and telling the story in a compelling and interesting way. Now, imagine if you were to take the mystery and intrigue of vampire-lore and build a stealth game around it. Superficially, it seems like a great concept; however, once you get your hands on the physical embodiment of this vampire/stealth mash-up in the form of Dark, things go terribly wrong.
You star as protagonist and newly-turned vampire Eric Bane. In the world of Dark, a vampire must drink the blood of his creator within a certain amount of time or risk becoming a mindless ghoul. After Eric is turned into a vampire, he sets out to do just that. Unfortunately, that is all the story you’ll find in the game. That brings us to our first point; the story is painfully shallow. The story is pointless in the grand scheme of things and seems like a complete afterthought. It throws the balance of the game off, and it becomes completely about how many bad guys Eric can dispatch. Unlike other games, there is no feeling of higher purpose with this murderous rampage. What would Uncharted be without Drake’s epic quest or Super Mario Brothers without having to save the princess? It would just be a character getting from point A to point B, leaving the overall experience dull and unfulfilling. It isn’t to say that there wasn’t potential for more here, especially when you consider that people love vampire stories. The reality is that this potential goes mainly untapped.
Luckily for the gamer, there are some high points to the game. For instance, the character development tree is the strongest part of the game. There is a deep, extensive system of unlockable abilities ready for you to explore. Since many of these powers are very potent, you’ll see an instant payoff for your investment. While this is great for those that prefer instant gratification, anyone looking for some challenge will be sorely disappointed. You’ll find yourself a force to be reckoned with very early in the game. Before long, you’ll be practically invisible, moving at superhuman speeds, and controlling the minds of your enemies. Every power costs the same to use, so once you start earning the more advanced powers, the game gets easy quickly. However, not all of the powers work as they should. The one power that is particularly broken is the “shadow leaping” ability. It is designed to move you from point to point quickly and quietly. However, the power is difficult to control and determining where you can teleport is particularly challenging. It would be fine if you didn’t need to use it, but it becomes an essential part to getting past the later stages. It becomes a beast that not all gamers will find worth conquering.
Eric doesn’t have any weapons in this game, so he relies very heavily on his vampire abilities. If you are discovered in your quest, you won’t be able to directly retaliate. You will have to run to the shadows and start over again. The game stays true to the stealth concept, which is commendable, but that unwavering loyalty comes at the expense of the gameplay. Dark is extremely one-dimensional, and if you aren’t prepared to play every mission stealthily, get ready for frustration and untimely defeat. If you play by the rules, you’ll be in for a four to five hour experience. If you manage to not set off alarms or trigger guards, you will see about eight to ten hours of gameplay. It is a fairly short game, so this introduces value questions into the equation. Luckily, the game is right at the $50 price point so it seems like it is priced accordingly.
The thin story and poor abilities could be forgiven under the right circumstances, but technical issues can not be overlooked so easily. Unfortunately, Dark has a number of technical problems that almost break the game. The controls themselves are unforgiving, and Eric will slide around the environment quite often, especially after coming out of a shadow leap. Getting into and out of cover also causes a number of problems. Sometimes you’ll snap into cover and other times you won’t. It all depends on how lucky you are feeling. Perhaps the worst offense in the game is the AI: it is just terrible. Some guards may notice things they shouldn’t or ignore things going on right in front of their face. You’ll never know what will happen, even if you know what should happen. In a genre that requires perfect timing and precision, this game fails to capture either.
In the end, Dark falls short of many of the other games in the genre. We appreciate the attempt to stay close to the stealth mechanics that made the genre famous, but there are too many major game elements that fail to impress. One-dimensional gameplay, poor story, poor controls, and an awful AI system leave this experience flat and uninspired. Even for the budget price of $50, we can’t recommend this game to anyone, even the biggest stealth fans. If you want a good stealth game experience, look outside of the Dark.
This review is based on a review copy of the Xbox 360 version of Dark developed and published by Kalypso
- Character Development
- Broken AI
- Short, Uninspired Story