by Tom Mackey
reviewed on PC
Atmospheric but problematic Roguelike
As something of a horror game junkie and I grew up with an appreciation for horror games that didn't just try to throw jump scare after jump scare at me. Games that took their time to create atmosphere and tension left me with more memorable experiences. Luckily, the roguelike I Can’t Escape: Darkness falls into the latter category. For this it can be commended, but to its disservice this experience was often too difficult and uncomfortable to tempt me into playing it for very long.
What I absolutely loved straight off the bat in I Can’t Escape: Darkness was the wonderful visual style the game has adopted. This feels very much like the corridor crawling first person games of old, but with a modern filter slapped across it. Though I didn't experience too much diversity in the environment outside of the same old dungeon, which did grate after a while, it wasn't completely bereft of soul. It invoked a certain amount of nostalgia to wander around dungeons that I’d seen many times before. Though some might see this as a negative, I enjoyed being reminded of the hours I’d spent in similar environments throughout my youth.
Too slow for its own good
The premise of the game is pretty straightforward. You begin standing atop some kind of ruin or ancient temple and have no choice but to step forward and fall into the catacombs within. Then - with only a spattering of loose story - you have no choice but to begin working your way down through different levels of the ruins. As you work your way deeper and deeper, things get darker and more creepy. Things do get genuinely tense and unnerving as well. Despite the game’s retro visuals, it succeeds in making you more than a little reluctant to venture further into the depths. The sound effects and music in the game do a good job of reinforcing that tension. If the game succeeds at anything, it certainly succeeds at making you feel like you’re stuck in a deep, deep hole, full of unpleasant things.
Unfortunately, it’s the slow grating pace that begins to stand in the way of that initial promise. There’s no doubt the game slows you down in order to build tension and the fact you can only move one step at a time is even reflected in the way the game is scored. What also slows things down is the interesting choice of control scheme. You move as standard with the WASD keys, but also use the mouse for directing your torch and interacting with the environment. There is a reasonably steep learning curve here as it’s not initially very intuitive.
It’s not possible to blitz through a level, and death will come often to you from various bizarre creatures and environmental hazards. Then it’s back into the dungeon with a slightly different randomly generated level to explore. There are secrets, keys and plenty of rooms and corners to explore within these randomly generated levels. The enthusiast will probably find they are able to spend plenty of time wandering about uncovering everything. But I did not find myself given any real incentive to move further down through the levels of the catacomb. There is technically combat and weapons to discover as you play, but the options are scarce and in my experience it was generally ineffective enough for me to end up avoiding it all together. Thanks to this, the game begins to feel more like a chore each time you enter it. Simply a test for tension junkies who want to see how far they can get when immersing themselves in a particularly unpleasant and tense scenario.
Doesn’t reach its potential
It’s a shame in the end that I Can’t Escape: Darkness’s gameplay couldn't quite match the way it harks back to the classic first person PC games of a couple of decades ago. I really admire the creation of a tense and genuinely unpleasant environment to wander tentatively around. It’s just unfortunate that there is no incentive beyond that to remain there. Had the game been only slightly more welcoming in a few areas this could have been a really great experience, rather than just a reminder of the games I used to love.
Really tense atmosphere, nice visuals
Awkward controls, lack of incentive, difficulty level