‘Dark’ sucks as vigorously as any vampire

Jon Mercer
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A screenshot from the new videogame, “Dark.” — Submitted image

Dark

Xbox 360, PC

According to the cover art for Kalypso Media’s “Dark,” once upon a time the title was the recipient of a Best in Show title at E3 2012. This is not reflected in the final product, which would be a frontrunner for my least favourite title of 2013, were it not for the cow pie that was “Ride to Hell” a few weeks ago.

It’s sad, because from a distance, “Dark” has a cool look and an interesting premise, but once it gets rolling, it sucks as vigorously as any vampire.

Eric Bane is a man with a problem; it seems that during a night out on the town, he was bitten by a vampire. Without his sire present to complete his transformation, Eric has begun to regress into a mindless ghoul.

His metamorphosis is plagued with disturbing visions of angels and demons, and his only sanguine salvation from a fate worse than death lies with the trendy bloodsuckers of Sanctuary, a ritzy nightclub that specializes in the immortal damned. It is here that Eric begins his quest to seek out an equally powerful vampire to ease his transition into the world of darkness.

 

Tricky business

Stealth games are a tricky beast to pull off; for every “Splinter Cell Conviction” or even “Mark of the Ninja,” there exists a “Tenchu-Z”, or a “Dark,” clumsy titles that are dragged down by a myriad of issues.

“Dark” is hobbled at a fundamental level. The controls are clunky, unresponsive and extremely limited. Eric can shamble about and duck behind conveniently placed cover with a quick “Shadow Leap” teleportation ability, but he tends to get snagged on corners.

Players can use vampiric senses to pick out targets and slow down time, yet enemies get lost in crowds, or often the ability just plain doesn’t work. Even when it does work, the game’s combat is unrewarding at best and unplayable at worst.

The formula never deviates from “sneak kill guard — hide for a minute — sneak kill guard.” There’s a cool extra mechanic in which Bane gains bonus XP for slaying his foes without alerting anyone; build up a thousand XP and one of his abilities can get a boost. Of course, this means hiding bodies, which is rendered extremely difficult due to a boneheaded decision by the developer to have the camera switch to first person while dragging fallen corpses.

Players will find it pretty much impossible to stand toe to toe with the game’s badniks in a straight-up fight because of his sluggish attacks and worthless powers, so stealth killing is the only real way to progress. With each passing, sloppy kill, the game begins to blend together into a murky soup.

The level designs are not nearly clever enough to support this kind of gameplay, turning the entire ordeal into an especially crappy take on “Bomberman” with lazy, uninspired maps. When locales include a creepy museum and a European castle, this is unacceptable.

You’ll note that in my opening paragraph, I wrote that “Dark” possessed a cool look. I’d like to reiterate that this is strictly from a distance.

I’m a sucker for a well implemented spot of cel-shading, especially on modern machines with beefy graphical capabilities.

“Dark” looks special a few feet removed, but under a close eye, the game is bland and blurry. It’s fun to look at, but the dearth of detail and quality art design is palpable. The voice acting fares even worse, making an already cheesy story drip with salty failure. Laughable dialogue is grunted out by voices so gravelly they might as well all be Batman, and the music suffers from short tracks and glaring audio loops.

“Dark” had a pretty sweet concept for a game … in 2002. With all four “Twilight” movies having been released on home video, and “True Blood” long past its prime, the whole vampire schtick just aches and creaks. I suppose I should be grateful it wasn’t zombies again.

Worse still, “Dark” isn’t even half-baked; it’s closer to a quarter done. The mechanics are unpolished, the execution is pitiful, and the game is flat-out boring and ugly.

Gamers hungry for a bite of stealth action would be advised to steer closer to 2008’s “Metal Gear Solid 4,” “Splinter Cell Conviction” or either of the “Batman Arkham” games, or last fall’s “Hitman Absolution,” or any of a dozen titles better than developer RealmForge’s vampiric stumble.

This night is Dark and full of inadequacy.

 

Platform: Xbox 360, PC (360 version reviewed)

Developer: RealmForge

Publisher: Kalypso Media Digital

Release Date: July 9, 2013

Rated: M for Mature.

 

Walking through the wastes of the digital frontier, Jon Mercer fights a lonely war against the nefarious agents of boredom and mediocrity. If you seek his help, or wish to join his cause, send a communiqué via thejonmercer@gmail.com.

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