2Dark struck me as a unique game for what premise it’s built around and how it went about presenting that to the player. It’s an odd dichotomy, although, one that wasn’t enough to hook me or overcome the often unsatisfying gameplay. The game was created by Frédérick Raynal, who also created Alone In the Dark. I remember Alone In the Dark and the several sequels that have come of it, but, I’ve actually never gotten around to playing any of them. Still, as a pioneer in the genre, it’s cool that 2Dark has that association, which that alone should attract some interest to the game.
Whether or not that interest will stick is up to the individual of course. For me, the grisly opening cutscene, was, well, not distasteful, but just got the experience off on the wrong foot for me. What we see is a family of four on a camping trip, and all seems to be going swimmingly when suddenly the father and protagonist of the game, Detective Smith, hears his wife and children yelling from the forest. They were out gathering firewood while Smith completed the tent build and to his horror he finds his wife murdered and his children kidnapped in the back of a van speeding away from him. The contrast of this horror against the retro style artwork didn’t sit particularly well with me, not that I would prefer to see it in the latest iDTech engine mind you, it’s just that the premise was unsettling and I wasn’t sure I appreciated the juxtaposition of child kidnapping and death to ‘cutesy’ voxel graphics.
Anyway, the game takes place seven years later with the hardboiled Detective Smith on the hunt for child kidnappers in a poorly named city called Gloomytown. Whether tongue in cheek or not, to name the main setting of the game that added to the defusing of horror and dread that this game was trying to promote (I think). The voxel, retro-style look of the character’s heads and eyes being oversized for their body continually made it tough to take the game seriously as well, despite its grim subject matter. I don’t really get the decision to go with this type of art direction, perhaps it was partly budget (cheaper to do this then license a more graphically capable engine and have to do the rendering and artwork for it I suppose), and also partly to offset the premise, but it didn’t strike me as appropriate. The near complete lack of voiceovers (text bubbles over character heads instead) made the experience feel far less chilling and unnerving than what I believe the developers were going for.
To be sure, 2Dark requires stealth and patience more than a quick trigger finger. Going on the offensive does work in spurts, but ammo is limited and enemies can often kill in a single hit, as can environmental traps and dangers. Stealth kills are the way to go if possible to conserve resources and topple the bad guys far more effectively. Being stealthy and otherwise quiet is vital to getting into the derelict levels, finding the missing children, and escorting them to safety. You can take multiple children with you at a time, or individually, and it is possible to save them all, which I appreciated. It’s the tedium and a lack of any sense of investment in the story or characters that makes it difficult to stay interested though when faced with another save-game reload. It’s great you can save your game anytime, but to do so you have to go into your inventory, which is always present on screen, and combine the cigarette with the lighter, a practice that takes a few seconds and, eh, adds a little suspense I guess, but given that there are no checkpoints and death can come very quickly in this game, you might find yourself smoking more than a few packs a level if you know what I mean.
I commend 2Dark for tackling a tough premise, but it’s one I could have just as well left alone, too. The gameplay combined with the presentation just click with me, and it made this one a chore to play. If you’re into stealth and horror, especially top-down, retro-themed ones, there could be definitely be something here for you as some of 2Dark’s mechanics are sound. Otherwise, it’s probably safe to wait for a deep sale or a pass on this one.