Former fantasy-developer, Realmforge Studio has decided to go outside their comfort zone, creating a modern brooding story filled with blood soaked gameplay. Featuring tense and thought-provoking combat, traditional stealth mechanics are far from dead. Add in a dash of vampire powers and you have a rare adventure just waiting to be played, but are supernatural abilities enough to give Dark its own identity?
You play as Eric Bane, an amnesiac who was recently turned into a vampire. Starting off in a nightclub, which is always a good setting, Eric finds out that the world he once knew is actually packed full of night crawlers and their abilities are nothing short of spectacular. Unfortunately, this is where the story somewhat falls apart as you’re presented with dry and lifeless characters, and a storyline that’s void of a compelling narrative. The conversation wheel that’s stripped straight out of Mass Effect does try and help flesh out some of the characters and goals, but not enough to truly care about what’s going on around the world.
Dark is very true to its stealth mechanics, throwing in some RPG elements to be a bit more diverse. There are no guns or any other forms of projectiles; all you have are your mighty vampire powers to help you get past unsuspecting guards and ghouls. The game isn’t too difficult thanks to the one-hit kill ability (that works on most enemies), but it’s all about proceeding with caution because Eric can’t withstand too much gunfire. Unfortunately, I found that if Eric is spotted, you can get to the next objective point without even engaging in combat and the enemies will just forget about you. On a side note, Eric has the ability to drag bodies, but it feels clunky due to the unexplained switch between the third person to first person perspectives.
Additionally, Dark is complemented by RPG elements that are tied to how well you perform in combat. Being undetected and how opponents are disposed of will grant Eric additional experience which will unlock skill points to be spent on upgrading existing abilities or buying new ones. This is the game’s strong point as many of these skills are actually quite fun to use depending on the scenario. These range from takedowns from a far to turning invisible for a couple of seconds, all replenished by sucking the blood of unsuspecting humans. They allow for a lot more creativity with takedowns, and in certain situations, makes you feel like a total badass. I do wish these were tiered abilities, though, as having everything laid out in front of you from the beginning diminishes the potential of finding hidden powers.
There are some presentation values that could be considered strong, but there’s a surprising lack of polish in the rest of the game. For one, camera angles jump all over the place when talking to NPCs and some of the dialogue can be a bit twitchy. Lip syncing is also just a mouth moving at a random rate and feels archaic at this point. It certainly doesn’t help that the voice acting is sub-par, offering cringe-worthy executions, and the dialogue amounts to nothing more than a throwaway script. You will feel no attachment to the characters and even less to the story. Thankfully, the artistic direction is strong as the world is vibrant and full of color, but is weighed down by generic character models and technically unimpressive visuals.
For a game about sneaking past an enemy’s vision, it’s disappointing that the artificial intelligence isn’t too bright. I’ve stood in front of guards no more than fifteen feet away who didn’t even give me a second look. Same can be said for killing one of his buddies. The detection meter does fill up faster when closing in on someone, but enemies won’t budge from their regular routine unless you’ve been completely compromised. Maybe this would have benefited from a shadow mechanic, but unfortunately there is no such feature to be found here. It’s also something to note that the enemies are all the same, regardless of their titles. Calling them vampire hunters doesn’t give them any upper hand over regular armed soldiers as they’ll react the same and generally do the damage at a standard rate. The unintelligent A.I. makes sneaking up on enemies easier, but ultimately creates unpredictable and unbalanced combat scenarios.
If you’re in need of a good traditional stealth game that happens to include vampires and supernatural abilities, then you’ll be in a conflicted reality. There is some good here, but thanks to the lackluster presentation values, questionable voice acting and brainless artificial intelligence, Dark turns into an experience you may want to quietly sneak past. The RPG elements and distinct visual style do present some life, but don’t go in expecting this to be a mechanically sound game.
Version Reviewed: PC