Published on April 28th, 2013 | by Swaine Dillinger0
Dark – Hands On
Stealth games as we know them are dead. Wait, scratch that. They aren’t dead, they’ve just morphed into something more action-packed. The likes of Solid Snake and Sam Fisher are no longer as patient as they used to be, blasting away at patrolling guards rather than taking the traditional route of ducking behind a corner and waiting for the poor saps to move on.
Games like Dishonored say they’re stealth games, but really when you’re packing a veritable arsenal in your coat pocket, the temptation to go loud and forget any pretense of stealth is frankly too easy. To its credit, Dark doesn’t offer players such indulgences. Instead, this third-person experience stays true to the founding principles of the stealth genre, with players cast as a vulnerable vampire named Eric Bane who boasts no long-range weapons whatsoever. His main weapon is his supernatural strength and ability to feed, with the gloomy character able to teleport short distances and knockout guards with a quick one-two combo.
This deliberately disarming design choice forces players to resort to skulking around environments and stalking their prey much like the challenge Velvet Assassin and Hitman boasted back in the day. However, layered on top of this is an intriguing occult theme with vampires fighting against a paramilitary faction known as M-17 who are trying to harness the vampire form to create unstoppable super soldiers.
As premises go, Dark’s is certainly original, faithfully upturning the traditional power struggle of humans fleeing from the insatiable thirst of the night clan. Predictably enough, central to this power struggle is Bane, who begins the game lying unconscious in the men’s room of a dingy nightclub. Haunted by visions of an angel cast in white light, the gravelly devil voiced by Doug Cockle (Geralt from The Witcher) has no memory of who he is or how he managed to be comatose on the white tiled floor.
The amnesia-riddled protagonist bit has been done to death in pretty much every medium that matters, but Dark isn’t exactly a game to be taken too seriously. This is emphasized in the multi-branched dialogue system, with Bane able to quiz key characters on the nature of his early vampire form, the perils of transmutable diseases and anything else to pad out this new universe. The quality of the voice-acting is all over the place, with some lines delivered way too seriously while others just fall flat, but the uneven nature of Dark is almost part of its charm.
In the campaign, the Sanctuary nightclub acts as a hub which players constantly return to between missions. Aside from the occasional side-quest within the nightclub, Dark seems fairly linear, with Bane committed to tracking down the individual who initiated his body into the vampire ranks before he turns into a mindless Bat-like drone. Realmforge are certainly taking some liberties with the traditional vampire premise, but thankfully the studio’s efforts are as far away from Twilight’s depressingly emotional take on Transylvania’s most famous export, so at the very least that’s something to be grateful for.
Once we took on a mission, Dark’s RPG-esque ambitions faded into the background as we infiltrated a museum to hunt down the whereabouts of a fellow vampire named Blooming. Here the stealth tropes kicked in good and proper with Bane able to cling to cover, knock out guards and feast on their fleshy form to fuel special powers like his ‘Dead Eyes’ which can detect guards through walls and ‘Shadow Leap’ short distances in a flash of black smoke. These two powers are just a taste of the game’s vast skill tree. The better you do in missions, by staying out of sight and taking guards down quickly, the more points you earn which can then be fed directly into unlocking new powers. Guard patterns were easy to spot and their view and hearing range seemed fair yet sensitive, however Bane’s form even on normal difficulty seemed very weak, as he was only able to withstand a second or so of gunfire.
Dark certainly satisfied a lot of the yearnings we have for the increasingly marginalized stealth genre. Occasionally frustrating, but ultimately satisfying, this release does boast a couple of modern improvements such as a generous checkpoint-save system so you don’t lose minutes of progress, hidden items that are actually worth searching out in the guise of PDAs with sensitive emails plastered onto the screen, and challenge rooms to complete outside of the main campaign.
Realmforge aren’t trying to reinvent the stealth genre with Dark. This sneak-‘em-up is, in many ways, as traditional as it gets, but there’s more than enough gamers out there who feel sidelined by the modern obsession with guns and explosions to warrant its existence. Here’s hoping Dark can fulfill a niche which all too often disappoints.