I know it’s a bit of a cliché thing to say whenever something looks surreal and charmingly dark in design, but DARQ: Complete Edition looks like something that you’d expect to see from Tim Burton. I know, I know, it’s the ‘easy’ route to take when describing the game, but you’ve only got to look at a few screenshots to see those Corpse Bride or Frankenweenie-style vibes.
The same can be said for the overall tone of the entire experience, with DARQ: Complete Edition offering a puzzle-solving escapade that utilises peculiar (and oftentimes outright frightening) imagery across its multiple levels. Fortunately, it’s not a case of style over substance, with the adventure proving to be one that’s as clever as it is creepy.
DARQ: Complete Edition puts players in the role of Lloyd, a slightly odd-looking fellow who wouldn’t be out of place in the Addams Family, as he ventures into the mind-bending nightmares that plague his sleep. As you delve further into these bad dreams, you encounter even more strange and disturbing sights than before, with the ultimate goal being to bring them to an end. There’s not much more to the plot other than that, with the story not really offering any depth at all… you just traverse the nightmares until you reach the end. It’s a bit of a shame because there’s clearly potential there for the macabre sights you encounter to have some deeper meaning, though it’s left underdeveloped. I don’t know, maybe it’s something that can be left to player interpretation?
It’ll take a fair bit of work to escape from Lloyd’s nightmares, with their topsy-turvy design testing both your logic and observation skills. See, Lloyd isn’t very nimble when it comes to the platforming aspects of the game, but he is able to defy the laws of physics by flipping the world around him and walking on walls, ceilings, and whatnot to get around. It means that unconventional pathways can be created thanks to objects that would typically be out of reach.
It isn’t just Lloyd that doesn’t follow the typical rules of physics though, with levels able to be manipulated in a manner that is certainly outside of the norm. You’ll often find objects throughout each area that can be interacted with to change up the environment a little, whether that’s by completely flipping rooms into view or simply launching Lloyd into the foreground or background of levels. It adds a dreamlike twist to traversal in the game (as if being able to walk up and down walls wasn’t enough) that feels befitting of the unnerving tone.
A lot of the game’s puzzles utilise the manipulation of physics to see you progress, but there are some that just require a bit of clever-thinking – you know, things like flipping the right levers, moving boxes to release a key, or stacking blocks to form a specific shape, just to name a few. There will be instances where you’ll have to use items that you find in the environment to solve puzzles too, though the peculiar nature of the objects you find and the way that the game expects you to use them could make for some slightly obtuse moments.
Fortunately, the puzzles are well-designed for the most part, with each offering a nice balance of difficulty and ingenuity to keep players tested without causing any frustrations. Don’t get me wrong, you can expect to face a few overly perplexing moments here and there (and areas like the maze can add some extra pressure by introducing a time limit that will undoubtedly cause plenty of mistakes), but there’s mostly a high standard to the puzzle design to ensure they feel satisfying to solve.
It’s not all puzzle-solving and walking on walls in DARQ: Complete Edition though, with plenty of peculiar nasties wandering around to give you a fright. They reminded me of the creatures you encounter in Little Nightmares in some ways, with their designs never outright horrifying but subtly creepy in a more bizarre sort of manner. They’ll send Lloyd to his demise if he isn’t careful too, though combat isn’t an option here; instead, you’ll have to try hiding or sneaking past them to evade their grasp.
Monsters like this can often cause a few frustrations in puzzle games, but I found that their presence in DARQ: Complete Edition felt befitting of the experience. They never completely halted my progress or proved to be too much of a hindrance when solving puzzles, but instead offered a creepy new obstacle to try and bypass.
This is the ‘Complete Edition’ of the game, meaning that it comes with two previously released DLC levels to offer an additional challenge to players. These can be accessed straight away too, so returning gamers can dive right in if they’ve already experienced Lloyd’s main adventure before. In honesty, it’s nice to have the extra levels – the main game itself isn’t all that long (I beat it in around three hours), so the additions extended that playtime.
It’s also worth noting that DARQ: Complete Edition marks the next-gen debut of the game, and there’s no doubting that it certainly looks the part. The stylishly monochromatic world looks fantastic throughout (in that eerie sort of way), whilst some clever lighting ensures that the finer details of Lloyd’s nightmares are always clear to see. There’s a good variety of environments to travel across too, which is always appreciated in a game that utilises a limited colour palette.
DARQ: Complete Edition’s topsy-turvy adventure through nightmares is full to the brim with clever puzzles and eerie yet wonderful sights. It gets the perfect balance of difficulty and ingenuity with its puzzle design and exploration, with nothing ever proving to be too easy but also never feeling too difficult either.
Add to that a fantastic monochromatic presentation and some sinister encounters with grisly monsters, and you’ll quickly find that the game will certainly tick plenty of boxes for horror fans. It is a bit of a shame that it doesn’t last longer whilst I would have loved to have seen a more involving narrative, but these issues don’t stop DARQ: Complete Edition from offering a delightful yet frightening puzzling romp.
Developer: Unfold Games
Platform(s): PlayStation 5 (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
Click here to visit the official website.