Review: 2Dark plays like a flawed prototype of a more polished game

Good ideas are held down by a mixed execution.

Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, Xbox One
Developer: Gloomywood
Publisher: Bigben Interactive 
MSRP: $24.99
2Dark is a horror game with a rather intriguing premise. You take on the role of Mr. Smith, a former detective who sees his wife murdered and his children kidnapped during a camping trip in the woods. Smith vows not only to save his kids but every other kidnapped child in what has become a serial issue within the town of Gloomywood from the clutches of various deranged psychopaths.
The bulk of the game is spent going from level to level to rescue a designated number of children as well as collect evidence on the previously mentioned psychopaths. Each level is “controlled” in a sense by one of these psychopaths and navigating each area contains some hidden tricks to help ease your path to victory. That said, expect nothing to come easy as failure and death will hit you in droves.
2Dark, in many ways, could not be a more fitting title, as the game deals with very disturbing themes. The game isn’t afraid to show children being murdered, albeit through an art style that reflects their naive nature. It’s certainly a bold direction to take a game in that pretty much every major AAA game wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole.
Without further ado, here’s what you need to know about 2Dark. 
Review: 2Dark plays like a flawed prototype of a more polished game
2Dark’s ideas are sound, but execution can downright miss the mark.
The idea behind how 2Dark’s gameplay loop unfolds is fundamentally sound. Each level features its own unique psychopath, and methods of dispatching them are plentiful if you even decide you want to kill them. Standing between you and your goal are a plethora of traps and enemy patrols that you have to figure out how to work around. Direct combat is often suicide, and even coming out on top can easily deplete your inventory reserves. Therefore, the best way to get to the psychopaths and rescue the children revolves around leveraging the game’s stealth mechanics, which are about as simple as it gets.
Standing in the game’s many dark areas render Mr. Smith virtually undetectable, and the game gives players Candy to throw as lures and distractions. That’s about as deep as it gets, but 2Dark can be an absolute chore to play despite this simplicity. 
From the moment you enter the first level, 2Dark refuses to pull any punches. Rats will attack you without warning, and you have no way to kill them until you find a melee weapon, usually a crowbar. So taking damage before you even have a context for your situation is not abnormal for 2Dark, leaving a poor first impression on the part of the player. Running away doesn’t always work as some of 2Dark’s environments use the shadows to hide instadeath traps.
So in a way, the game wants you to simultaneously traverse its relatively claustrophobic environments with caution while skillfully evading incoming attacks. It’s a recipe that just doesn’t work.
Review: 2Dark plays like a flawed prototype of a more polished game
Momentum in 2Dark is a constant battle of start and stop.
There are times when 2Dark can effortlessly draw you in. Weighing your options in how to handle a particular psychopath before they figure out where you are, or kill the children they are tormenting is legitimately engrossing. Do you sneak around the dark corners of the room, tossing candy at the kids to get them to come to you? Do you unlock the lion’s cage and let them attack the psychopath while you make your getaway?
These are the questions I loved asking myself that actually made me forget everything else I was doing. But ultimately that sense of immersion was halted if I clicked the wrong item in the game’s incredibly messy inventory system, or realized that unlocking the lion’s cage, not only resulted in the death of the psycho but the kids I was trying to save before they inevitably gobbled me up too. 
Finding these little tricks in 2Dark is the best part of the game, it’s just a shame that things can so effortlessly blow up in your face as quickly as finding a creative solution to a common problem.
Review: 2Dark plays like a flawed prototype of a more polished game
For a game that calls itself a “horror” title, there’s very little here that’s actually scary.
2Dark’s Horror genre designation is a very flexible one. While yes, the game’s theme of children being tortured and murdered is frightening to think about, how 2Dark goes about presenting itself never actually feels scary. You won’t jump, or be afraid to walk down a dark hallway, and the enemies in the game are nothing more than human. 
Yes, environments are dark (no pun intended), but they don’t elicit fear as much as they do frustration and confusion. It’s one thing not to be able to see what lurks in the shadows; it’s another not to be able to tell if what you’re stuck on is a wall, table, or door. 
Review: 2Dark plays like a flawed prototype of a more polished game
In the effort to make itself a challenging game, 2Dark ends up injecting more frustration into its game loop than it intends to. Figuring out how to get passed each obstacle can be a real thrill, but accidentally stepping on an instakill trap, you can’t see coming while wiping away 15-20 minutes worth of progress doesn’t elicit satisfaction once conquered. It’s more like a sense of relief that it’s over. 
2Dark is also more expensive than most indie titles, coming in at $25. Average game time will run you about ten hours, which can be supplemented by replaying missions in Challenge Mode, so as far as length goes, there is some value. The problem with 2Dark is that despite its good ideas, its execution misses the mark on more than one occasion, in many ways making you feel like it’s somewhat unfinished.
If you’re looking for something new, 2Dark will give you just that, but not without a few bumps in the road.