by Quinn Levandoski
previewed on PC
Scary vampires still exist?
Are you afraid of the dark? You shouldn’t be, at least not in Realmforge Studios’ upcoming game DARK, in which players assume the role of a newly-turned vampire named Eric Bane capable of unleashing a wide array of supernatural tricks and abilities to wreak havoc on his foes. Before the initial knee-jerk reaction that certain literature has bred in many of us over the last few years kicks in, take a moment to remember that vampires used to be pretty terrifying creatures. Before they sparkled and cried, they were undead machines of terror that wanted nothing more than to turn regular people into human juice boxes. It’s the emotions of dread and horror that Stoker and King infused their vampire stories with that DARK is attempting to tap into.
The story of DARK revolves around Bane trying to figure out just how the heck he ended up as a blood-sucking fiend. As the game opens, Bane finds himself waking up in a techno-electronic dance club called The Sanctuary. This probably wouldn’t be nearly as bad if it weren’t for the fact that he’s now a vampire for the first time, and has absolutely no idea how he ended up there. By following leads provided by other vampires in the night club, Bane fights though huge corporate conspiracies and cover ups to discover just who is turning innocent people into the undead, and why. So far we have largely only seen human enemies, but Realmforge has promised that creative and intimidating paranormal foes will also play a role. With so many games today featuring generic militaristic human enemies, it would have been nice to see these stranger antagonists featured more as a way to differentiate DARK. To be honest, the fact that they haven’t been shown much doesn’t do much for my faith that they will be particularly exciting or memorable. I would love to be proven wrong.
Balance your needs
Not a great deal of information has been released about the game’s story, but we do know a good deal about how the game is going to play. As a stealth/RPG hybrid, Bane must place staying hidden until he is able to make a kill at the top of his priorities. In a world where more and more stealth games merely present actual sneaking and covering tracks as one option out of a few, it’s nice to see a title where there is no plan B. In most situations, if Bane is seen when he doesn’t mean to be he’ll be killed, plain and simple. Furthermore, besides the game of the opposition, certain types of light must also be avoided at penalty of our vampire becoming extra-crispy, which should make gameplay all the more tense. Just because sneaking is key, however, doesn’t mean that violence is out of the picture. Quite opposite, in fact, Bane must kill to keep his health/power meter high. Bodies must be hidden, though, lest other baddies be notified of the player’s presence.
With such a high penalty for being seen it might seem as though the blood-craving protagonist is at quite a disadvantage. Luckily for both him and us, being a vampire comes with a handy selection of other-worldly perks which can be unlocked and upgraded throughout Bane’s quest for truth. Though they haven’t all been revealed, there seems to be a nice array of skills to aid in both combat and stealth. Some of the skills that have been showcased the most thus far include the ability to sense through walls, teleport between shadows, and move with increased speed. All of these abilities use up some of your resource bar, which, curiously enough, is also your health. At first I was a bit perplexed why using abilities would take away from your health, but after thinking about it it’s actually a bit ingenious. In theory, it should promote a nice balance between maintaining stealth and moving forward. Be too action-oriented and you’ll kill yourself, but avoid confrontation too much (which is where you get blood to re-fill your meter) and you’ll never be able to use any abilities. Indubitably this system could easily make gameplay awkward and unpleasant if it isn’t balanced correctly, but at this point I’m willing to lend Realmforge the benefit of the doubt.
Uninteresting audio and visuals
The last aspect of the game worth pointing out is the audio and visuals. DARK uses a comic-booky cell shade, which to be honest just doesn’t work for me. The game seems torn between presenting its near-future neo-noir world as a desolate Sin City-like bleakness, or as something more vibrant like seen in Sleeping Dogs. On top of that, the graphics just aren’t very strong from a raw technical standpoint. The environments don’t seem particularly exciting, characters seem stiff and unemotional, and a lot of the gray and black seems to blend together. I realize that bright sunshine and open fields isn’t ideal for a gritty vampire stealth game, but so far very little variance has been shown. The audio seems similarly poor at this point, but in a way it actually came off as kind charming in a B-movie kind of way (I swear I heard the Wilhelm Scream). Of course, as I said before, there hasn’t been a great deal of footage released for DARK, so hopefully this turns out to be more a poor choice of demo material and not completely representative of the finished product.
Can DARK bring back 'real' vampires?
There have been some awesome vampire games that have come out over the years, and I would love for them to reclaim a little more of the undead game market, but I’m just not sure DARK is the game to do it. While it clearly draws inspiration in its design from some of gaming's biggest and best stealth games, too much of it just seems like something we’ve done before. Again, I hope I’m wrong. I hope there are a ton of awesome and original enemies, I hope the environments and visuals can change enough throughout the game to keep things fresh, and most of all I hope the story can present something other than a reason to move from one mission to the next. Until I see evidence, however, DARK will be fighting an uphill battle to get itself out of the shadows.