Weird and wonderful
Steam, in the latter part of 2013, has been a hotbed of space exploration and building games. Here’s Darkout, looking to bring something new to the genre though it is easy to see the influence of Terraria and others like it. With its futuristic technology and weird and wonderful enemies, the potential for something great was there but its merits are let down by overall poor execution.
A story of blocks
The first thing you’ll notice is how gorgeous Darkout looks. The way the digging and building works is still done in blocks, but at first glance you wouldn’t be able to notice. Not everything has to have a square edge to it, which makes a nice change from its peers. It does make digging a little tricky however, as your basic tool can knock out three blocks at once and it can be hard to get it to select the exact three you want. You can change the tool’s precision so that it targets one block at a time but if you consider that simply digging in a straight line already takes a lot longer than you’d want to using the three blocks tool, slowing it down is less than desirable. Since your character is four blocks tall, chopping away three blocks barely equals your own size.
Darkout makes an attempt to tell a bit more of a story than other games of its type. Data logs with background information can be found around the place but it is pretty easy to miss them and their contents are often forgettable at best. Your ship has crash landed on this planet, and you proceed to scrap the wreck before exploring your surroundings. Unlike most exploration games, this means you actually start with a fair amount of equipment. The problem is the tutorial isn’t very good, and it takes a while before you understand what to do with it all. It is easy to simply miss instructions, and when I dropped my gun and couldn’t figure out how to pick it back up before it disappeared, frustration set in.
You earn research points for exploring new areas and defeating enemies. Easy foes come in the form of bioluminescent floating jellyfish creatures, next you progress to dangerous animals and parasites. Combat is no more nuanced than swinging or firing your weapon, but the hitboxes of both yourself and enemies feel inaccurate. It turned out that the indigenous creatures are weak when subjected to bright lights, something that wasn’t explained to me. The research points aren’t explained either, but eventually you will unlock new things to build. This is the main draw of the game, as you can start to get some pretty interesting things later in the game. Jetpacks and other cool machinery will come to those who put enough time in.
The early game is just too tedious and familiar though. You build your first shelter out of wood, you put the equivalent of your crafting table down, you make a bed, and some doors, and some torches. Stop me if you’ve heard this all before.
Simply exploring is probably the most fun you’ll have in the first few hours. You’ll find other signs of life by exploring laterally, new and exciting ore by going downwards, and you can even go up to the sky and beyond. The whole game is really dark though, and light sources don’t seem to help much beyond a very close proximity. Not only that, the game is once again very picky about where it allows you to put them. Go too far in one direction and you’ll eventually come up against stronger enemies, some of which seem to have the power to kill you instantly. Thankfully there doesn’t seem to be much of a penalty for dying other than spending the time to run back to wherever you got to. It comes to a point though where things become too repetitive.
Building up or tearing it down?
Darkout is clunky, the interface is obscure and it just doesn’t feel like something you want to keep playing. Developer Allgraf describes the current state of the game as ‘Stage 1’ and promises to add new biomes (terrain types - ed) and story in future updates that are to follow later. That is all well and good, but it makes it feel like an Early Access game. The sad truth is that Allgraf deems Darkout to be a full game as it is right now. Worse still, new places to explore and more story won’t solve any of the core issues that Darkout has at the moment. A more robust tutorial is needed, and the actual mechanics of digging, attacking and building need to be tightened up. The potential is there, but Darkout just hasn’t reached it yet.
Interesting items to be found and crafted deeper into the game
Poor tutorial and clunky controls