Review: DARK tries to sneak past its shortcomings with little success
You've just been turned into a monster -- one that feeds on the blood of others. You're running out of time before you're eventually turned into a ghoul, unless, of course, you drink the blood of the one that made you this way.
DARK certainly sets itself up for an interesting plot. Playing as Eric Bane, a newly turned vampire with little to no memories of his past, you'll be thrust into a vampiric sneakfest as you try to dispatch a myriad of armed guards in various locations, all in hopes of eventually becoming a full-fledged vampire. It's not DARK's premise that ends up being its untimely downfall; rather, it's a combination of imprecise controls and some oddly behaving AI.
It's rather ironic that DARK doesn't play that well, since its basic design almost downright mimics last year's Dishonored, albeit in third-person. However, where Dishonored allowed you to pick and choose your approach -- whether you wanted to be more aggressive or move around in the shadows and strike in silence -- DARK only allows for the latter. That's mostly due to the fact that Eric is a pushover in direct combat. Even after a few measly hits, he's a goner, meaning that staying concealed and striking when the time is right is absolutely crucial to your success.
At Eric's disposal is a plethora of some pretty sweet upgradable powers. One of the earliest -- and possibly most crucial -- skills you'll rely on is his Shadow Leap. Much like Corvo's Blink skill, this will allow you to port past guards unseen and even perform a stealth kill. The problem with Shadow Leap is that it's not at all accurate. Most of the time, I'd spend way too much time trying teleport into the exact right spot. Furthermore if you're not in the right spot when trying to take down an enemy, they'll spot you and you might as well reload. Performing leaps with Corvo was not only intuitive and easy, but it felt completely natural.
Aside from Shadow Leap, you'll have powers like Distract, Shadow Grip, Shadow Kill, Subdue and Obscure. Each of these skills can be further enhanced for higher potency. While it's natural for a game to get somewhat easier when your character has the necessary skills to overcome certain obstacles, DARK goes into full-on Easy Mode when most of his skills are acquired, to the point where guards are merely Eric's playthings. It can be fun for sure, but it almost takes the fun out of sneaking around.
Some of the bigger faults stem from the control scheme. It's not the worst, but the way it works -- especially when hugging corners -- will no doubt cause you to reveal yourself to your enemies. The left trigger lets you hug any wall or corner. However, it also makes Eric close a small gap between him and the nearest wall. While this can be useful when wanting to avoid being seen, sometimes pressing the button won't hug you to the wall you intended. This obviously leads to getting spotted, which in DARK can mean restarting the level.
Which brings me to yet another very unfortunate feature -- lack of helpful checkpoints -- which I discovered right away in the first mission. The first part of the level consisted of me getting around various guards to gain access to a museum. My first run through that level got me to the entrance of the building until I got ambushed by a few guards. To my surprise, I had to completely restart that level and kill off those five guards I so meticulously killed off in silence the first time around.
What's worse, every single tutorial sequence restarted itself as well. This bad checkpoint system carries on throughout the entire game, which is infuriating. You also can't save as many times as you want. Per checkpoint, you get a certain amount of saves, which means you need to conserve them until you're past a part that was giving you trouble. It makes playing careful and safe more of a priority, but it is somewhat odd that you're bound by those restrictions.
The last frustration is the AI. It can best be described as erratic, with odd difficulty spikes. Sometimes you'll literally walk by a guard without him noticing anything, while other times you can be behind a corner, and, for some strange reason, they'll notice... something, I don't even know what it is, but before you can correctly aim your Shadow Leap, you're spotted, and it's back to the drawing board. What's worse is that these odd AI behavioral patterns aren't found in specific enemies, they're random! The guard that I easily snuck by before I died later in that level can have super senses on the next attempt.
It's tough to imagine that, despite these issues, there are scattered tidbits of genuine fun, but it's true. Dispatching enemies with supernatural vampiric powers is as satisfying as it sounds. The game's cel-shaded, stylistic look also plays to the game's strengths. It doesn't look nearly as refined as, say, Borderlands 2, but it works.
The same can't be said for the voice acting. It doesn't help that the writing isn't all that great, but some of these actors could have really used some extra lessons in voice acting.
If DARK were perhaps a little more refined, had tighter controls, were better written, and had some more enthusiastic voice actors, it might have been a much better game. The ideas that DARK presents are actually interesting and the powers Eric can use kick ass. It's unfortunate that they can't save the overall experience from simply being mediocre.