by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
Cute graphics, disturbing story
2Dark plays a dangerous game creating palpable dissonance between its cute, chibi-proportioned graphics and the dark, disturbing atmosphere and story. It’s a move that I have seen backfire before, but, for the most part, it works here. The cartoony characters make the game stand out from other spooky games, and, like a good comic relief character in a horror movie, make things seems that much more “wrong” when bad things start to happen to them.
Being that 2Dark is the brainchild of the Alone in the Dark creator I expected things to go poorly for the characters in the story, but I’ll admit that I didn’t expect the plot to revolve around such a real horror. Our protagonist Mr. Smith (which I’ll admit probably should have been something a bit more memorable) isn’t just trying to find bad guys for the heck of it, he’s trying to hunt down the members of a child abduction ring that kidnapped his two children and murdered his wife a number of years ago. Smith spends the game finding other kids and rescuing them from torment and imprisonment. That’s some deep stuff, and it could easily come off as too over the top, or even offensive. It doesn’t, though, and I appreciated a more “real” horror than I’m used to seeing in games.
Not for everyone
While I found the game’s imagery to be some engaging horror, it’s important for potential players to understand what they are getting themselves into. It is not for everyone, and some people will absolutely find it too much. There isn’t just blood and hurt bad guys in this game. There’s dead kids. There’s a lot of dead kids. I think it works, but if that’s not something that you are going to be ok with, which I’d totally understand, this isn’t going to be a good experience for you.
I may have been ok with the game’s dark subject matter, but I was uncomfortable with the quality of the translation from the developer’s native French to English. It really does seem like a lot of the dialogue was run through a cheap translation website that results in awkward and inaccurate phrasing. It can be kind of comical in some games, but in one that takes its subject matter so seriously, it’s at minimum a distraction here.
The dark atmosphere and sense of palpable unease may be great, but I was disappointed that the actual gameplay, while fine, never really got past “okay.”. Though it’s billed as an isometric action-stealth game, the scale leans heavily towards the latter. That’s not a sleight - I love a good stealth game, and there are plenty of great examples of how to do it well in 2D. 2Dark isn’t among the best of them, but it’s also not at the bottom.
While taking the offensive is certainly an option at times, 2Dark employs to age old trope of resource restriction to keep things tense, and it largely works. Trying to sneak around enemies traversal patterns (which becomes even harder as you’re escorting children to safety) is normally the best bet, and, while it never really blew my socks off, the system works as intended. The only change I’d really like to make is the inclusion of some environmental hazards, such as loose flooring that seem out of place. I suppose I’m not entirely against these lethal squares in theory, but implementing them requires some developer finesse to blend them into map design while still giving players a fair shake at spotting them. Too often they blended almost entirely into the levels artwork, resulting in what I felt to be a cheap setback. I do wish, too, that the inventory was a bit easier to navigate. I’m not entirely sure if it’s intentionally messy to make the player feel the panic of digging through pockets in the face of danger, but it sometimes made me feel like I lost to the UI instead of the actual game, and that’s not a particularly good feeling.
Caught in sort of limbo
2Dark is a game that clearly knows how to build an atmosphere, but seems a bit confused when it comes to using it to actually frame an engaging, compelling game. The whole experience seems to be caught in a sort of limbo between being a stealth, top-down action, or point-and-click experience, and fails to do be any of them exceedingly well. A bit of re-focus to clean up the gameplay and narrative a little would go a long way, though it will be perfect for that niche market looking for a Taken-inspired plot of cartoonish gory stealth adventure.
Graphics create nice contrast with the game’s horror, adequate gameplay that largely does what it tries to do.
Poor text translation, cheap environmental traps, cumbersome inventory UI.