2DARK is, in a way, a spiritual successor to the original Alone in the Dark games from the early nineties. It comes to us by way of French studio Gloomywood and is available for Steam, Xbox One and PS4. Here’s our review of the Xbox One and PC versions.
One of the great things about working in this industry is that, every now and then, you get to meet some of the people who were responsible for creating the games and hardware you enjoyed so much in your early to mid-teens. You know, that period where it seems like it’s easy to find almost limitless time for videogames. For me, it’s been about 25 years since that period and Frédérick Raynal’s Alone in the Dark and Little Big Adventure games still bring back fond memories.
A few months ago, I got to meet the man and we discussed both the old classics and his (then) upcoming game 2DARK – the development of which was a return to indie-esque development for Raynal, focusing on a game with a relatively small team again. Presented as a horror game, it quickly became clear that 2DARK was going to rely on the psychological aspects of the genre rather than the visual ‘in your face’ scares that games like Dead Space present – lending itself more to stealth than to action.
The setup for 2DARK is a somber one. Protagonist Smith loses his wife and children when she is beheaded and the little ones are abducted. We then catch up with him again a few years later – a broken and lost man trying to find his way by solving a range of child kidnappings. Of course, he hopes some of those children will be his – and it’s an emotional backdrop to a horror/stealth game.
In a variety of locations, you’ll have to locate the captured children and then escort them back to safety. Easier said than done of course, as enemies patrol the area and you’ll rarely be able to take them down in a fight unless you have a gun on hand. Hiding in the shadows is important, but created additional problems when you find the children. They’ll be scared, and might be unwilling to follow you – or they lose track of you, putting them back in harm’s way. There’s also a chance they’ll freak out – an almost certain way of giving away your position and escape route.
You can equip two items at once – often a weapon and a flashlight or sorts. Smith often has to rely on items he finds along the way, creating tense situations when you run low on flashlight batteries or ammo. There is a save option as well, but it’s been integrated with the theme of suspense. You can save at any time, but saving your game means that Smith will take a short smoke break… and seeing as how smoking is bad for you, it can cause Smith to cough and alert nearby hostiles. It’s a creative dynamic that makes you think twice about when and how often to save.
On paper, 2DARK probably sounds very different from how it looks. Visually, it most closely resembles the Corpse Party games that were niche hits on the PSP and Vita. 2DARK has a similar top-down/isometric viewing angle, but has voxel-built characters that appear almost pixel-like but work very well in terms of casting light and shadows. The downside is that the characters look almost cartoon-like and far too cute for this grim a story. The game doesn’t hold back – after the introduction, children can get murdered if you make mistakes, often in gruesome ways.
This makes 2DARK an inconsistent package where the dark tone of the subject matter and emotional/psychological aspects of the game are offset with visuals that don’t quite seem to match up. This is a shame, because as a top down stealth survival horror game, 2DARK gets a couple of the fundamentals just right. The creepy atmosphere, the save system… it’s excellent stuff, it’s just a shame that it falls slightly apart in its delivery. However, it’s a different kind of experience and it should be commended for that.