Much like the name suggests, 2Dark is a game that’s made up of many grim and wretched scenes. The opening alone sees former Police Detective Smith on a camping trip with his family, only for disaster to strike when his wife is murdered and their children kidnapped, never to be heard from again. This leads him through years of anger and alcohol abuse, though he’s still sure his children are alive and out there somewhere. The only way to find out is to investigate a string of child kidnappings in the hope that he’ll eventually come across them.
The entire set up for 2Dark feels incredibly unique and as I made my way through the opening I was genuinely excited to see how events would unfold. Unfortunately it felt as though the game never took the dark subject matter all that seriously, instead relying upon the same tropes that have plagued horror movies and video games over the years. It’s not that the story isn’t entertaining, especially since I’m a horror fan who can appreciate the clichés; it’s just that there was so much potential for 2Dark to offer its own distinct take on the horror genre, yet it falters by simply relying on things gamers have seen time and time again as well as by never taking itself that seriously. I suppose the writing was on the wall when I saw the game was set in ‘Gloomytown’, though…
The almost parodic approach isn’t consistent with the rest of the game though, with 2Dark throwing plenty of grisly sights the player’s way. It’s gruesome and tense, whilst it also isn’t afraid to exploit the taboo subject of the death of children in video games – it’s not afraid to be pretty graphic about it either. This isn’t a problem and was actually something I could appreciate from an artistic standpoint at least, though the game did feel like it lost its way with an identify crisis as to whether it wanted to be more of a dark thriller or the equivalent of borderline cheesy slasher flick.
Visually 2Dark adopts a unique look, especially for a horror title. It almost looks a little cutesy with its retro top-down style, with characters having an almost chibi-like look to them. It’s certainly not the sort of aesthetic you’d expect to see in a horror game that tackles so many dark themes. Despite this, it seemed to work; I’ve already mentioned that the game doesn’t always take the horror theme that seriously and the visual style almost suits that in a way – it’s never scary, but often gruesome. Still, the fact that I’ve described a game that features the brutal murders of children as ‘cutesy’ is a little hard to swallow…
2Dark sees you exploring a series of creepy environments as you try to rescue children that have been kidnapped, and by ‘creepy environments’ I mean the stereotypical likes of an Amusement Park full of psychopath clowns and a haunting Orphanage that looks like it’s dedicated entirely to the neglect of innocent children. These environments are well designed from a gameplay standpoint though and they each offer enough diversity that you’ll constantly feel like you’re exploring somewhere new in the game. They were just a little too predictable, with 2Dark rarely straying away from the typical landmarks found in a horror scenario. For a game that isn’t afraid to feature disturbing themes that most developers steer way clear of, 2Dark certainly likes to play it safe in other ways.
Whilst these environments are pretty creepy in design, the fact that level layouts were open to see from the top-down camera perspective often eliminated the worry of not knowing what might be ahead of you. Most horror games take a third or first person perspective and it works well since you can never see that far ahead of you or around corners, but 2Dark’s open view of your surroundings means that the typically ever-present fear of the unknown is alleviated. To the developer’s credit they’ve actually utilised the freedom to see ahead of you in the gameplay though by allowing you to keep track of your enemies when trying to avoid them, but it does come at the expense of the overall sense of tension.
Your main goal throughout each level is to find all of the abducted children and lead them to safety. You’ll do this by carefully sneaking around, solving puzzles, and evading or taking down the countless murderous psychopaths found loitering around each level. Everything is broke up nicely, with the stealth elements basic but effective and the puzzles of the game quite clever. You can actually be quite conniving in regards to taking down enemies, with the game adopting a series of intricate ways to approach each level. There’s never just one way to get through an area, though some methods are certainly more effective than others. Clever use of the items found in your surroundings is a must too, as is resource management as a whole.
The problem with resource management is that using items can be a real pain. Your inventory is constantly on show on the side of the screen in an ugly cluttered manner, whilst actually sorting through items just feels awkward and clunky. I’d imagine it’d be easier on a PC with a keyboard and mouse, but when trying to sort your inventory with a controller it just constantly felt like fuss. Add to that the fact that the game doesn’t pause whilst you sort through it and you’ll find a real sense of urgency that actually deters from the gameplay. I understand these kinds of things typically add to the tension in a horror game, but when the actual mechanics are so poorly integrated it just makes the game feel like it’s trying to be difficult for the sake of it.
2Dark also features combat mechanics, but it’s typically a lot easier to just try evading enemies unless you’re packing a firearm. There are melee weapons, but they’re so ineffective that they’re barely worth using – enemies can take a LOT more damage than Smith, so shooting them is typically the only real means to take them down. Ammo is incredibly scarce though, so you’ve really got to pick and choose when you resort to violence. There’s nothing worse than being in a situation where it’s the only option, only to find you have no ammo. Believe me, I found out the hard way…
So this would suggest the best way to play the game is by sneaking through levels and avoiding enemies, but even that isn’t all that easy. Levels are tight and confined, and once an enemy has you in their sights nine times out of ten you might as well accept you’re going to die (unless you find stairs – enemies don’t like stairs). There are also a plethora of unfair traps littered around, so death really is around each and every corner. Don’t get me wrong, I like a challenge in video games, but I found 2Dark has too many underhand tactics that’ll simply frustrate the player more than test them.
It might seem like I’m giving 2Dark a bit of a hard time, but I don’t hate the game by any means – there are some things about the game I quite liked. The save system is not one of them though, with it being something I hope I never have to experience again in a video game. We’ve seen plenty of video games utilise unique ways to save your game – titles like ‘Resident Evil’ require the use of an ink ribbon and typewriter, whilst ‘No More Heroes’ has you use a toilet. 2Dark also has its own unique approach that sees Smith smoking a cigarette in order to save the game. However, doing so leaves him completely vulnerable to enemies for a short period of time. It almost eliminates the whole point of saving; I’m a sucker for playing it safe when I can anticipate a difficult moment coming up, but there was so much risk involved in saving that I’d often decide to not bother and end up dying. There are no checkpoints on offer in the game either, so one mistake and you’re starting that level from scratch. It’s very frustrating.
2Dark had so much potential to be a fantastic horror experience with its incredibly unique premise, but it simply ended up falling short in almost all facets of design. It’s not that it’s an awful game, but rather that it gets as much wrong as it does right.
Horror fans will probably enjoy 2Dark and truth be told there were some elements of the game I really liked, but as a whole I couldn’t help but to feel underwhelmed – not because it‘s a bad game, but rather because it could have been so much more.
Publisher: Bigben Interactive
Release Date: 10/03/2017
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC