A variety of frustrating problems turn the lights out on DARK.
Third person stealth action -- no shortage of games in that genre, but you'd be hard-pressed to find one where the player controls a vampire. Enter DARK and protagonist Eric Bane, a pretty average dude that is stumbling around a thumpin night club. He's not sure what's going on, but it isn't long before he discovers he's amongst vampires, and he's quickly becoming one himself. In fact, he's already got some of their abilities, but Bane's time as a vampire is fading, and he'll become a mindless ghoul unless he figures out who bit him to make him a vamp. He must also drink the blood of his maker to set things right. With the help of some fellow vampires, Bane goes on several missions in a modern day setting, taking on security forces, military, as well as other vampires and supernatural creatures.
So, there a lot of 'warning signs' with DARK that clue you in (if the simple name in all caps didn't already raise a flag) that this isn't exactly a AAA title. And that's perfectly fine, there are plenty of indie and small budget games out there that do very well for themselves. Most of these are distributed digitally only, but a game's perceived quality takes on a higher level once the price breaks $20 or certainly $40 and it's shipped to stores in a boxed copy. So is the case with DARK, but where DARK doesn't come through is in the execution and thus quality of the game. Despite some good ideas and a few glimpses of fun, DARK is otherwise a very disappointing and letdown affair, and one that quickly becomes a chore to play.
As an optimistic gamer, I'm able to overlook and/or forgive a lot of things -- bad voice acting, a forgettable story, cringe-worthy cliches, linear and dead-end level design -- DARK has all of these, but still asks much more of you. I found it surprisingly hard to get immersed or invested (maybe the Oculus Rift version will remedy that, I'm interested to play this again with the OR). Part of this immersion problem was my complete indifference with the characters, Bane included. His generic appearance, voice, and mannerisms didn't capture my attention at all. Rose, the voice in your ear who provides computer wizardry, is also about as cliched as they come. Level design is only as "complicated" as it needs to be, and I still can't get over how you can't jump, climb, or shimmy across the environment which would have not only made the entire game more believable and immersive, but also far more sensical. As is, Eric Bane can Shadow Leap from one spot to another, although the targeting system for this isn't smooth. Shadow Leaping also makes a lot of noise for some reason, which of course will likely alert any nearby guards. Similarly clunky is the cover system, in which you press Left Trigger to attach yourself to a cover spot. Some spots that I presumed were cover-compatible were not, and having the "Cover" icon pop up all the time is another sign of lack of polish.
The AI and how the game derives some of its difficulty is frustrating. Guards come in two basic varieties: highly alert and braindead. You can approach enemies in one of three ways: sneak past them (or distract them using one of a few vampire powers you can unlock), kill them, or kill them by feeding on them. You'll want to use the 'auspex' inherent power constantly, which slows the game world down and turns the entire screen into this bright purple haze with enemies highlighted red. DARK really wants you to be stealthy, and some of the levels, even very early on, are stacked with guards. The number of guards, combined with Eric's odd lack of agility aforementioned and invisible walls, make for a frustrating and repetitive experience. Checkpoints are hit and miss, sometimes they're right where you want them to be, other times they'll bring your gameplay session to a sudden halt when you realize how far back you're sent. The most annoying thing about triggering guards, assuming you're not right in the middle of a several of them that will shoot you to pieces, is how long it takes for them to give up searching for you. A "Hostile" meter pops up whenever they're hunting for you and waiting around behind a crate or whatever seems to take too long. I never timed it, but somewhere around two minutes sounds about right; it's a grating two minutes when you're not really enjoying yourself in the first place.
DARK is one of those games that has most of its difficulty in the first several hours and then as you enter the latter portions of the game you have earned enough Power Points to purchase enough Vampiric Powers to get you through. Not to mention by then you'll have learned the AI's tendencies, which include starring in one direction or doing a basic patrol. It's important to drag bodies away from spots where other guards might find them, but the body-dragging gameplay is also clunky. The game switches you to a first person view and it's hard to tell where the body will actually be dropped at while you're walking. For me it would take a few attempts of dragging, dropping, noticing the body wasn't quite in the shadows where I wanted, and dragging again a time or two. What would have been interesting is if Eric could hit an enemy without killing him, drag him to a 'safe place,' and then feed on it. Instead, Eric does these awkward one hit kills that are loud and usually unnecessarily overt. Meanwhile, when feeding, you have to stand patiently still waiting for the feed meter to fill up. As you drain, cheesy-looking blood drops fly out, often clipping right through you, and you're an easy target for other foes in the area.
The very light RPG elements are welcomed, but aren't done thoroughly enough to outweigh the multitude of shake-your-head issues. Conversations and small side quests add a bit of flavor to the gameplay, but it's not enough, quantity or quality-wise. The ability to purchase and upgrade powers is always a good thing, and DARK features sixteen or so total powers, some passive, some vampiric, and others inherent. Most focus on helping you remain stealthy, either by creating distractions for enemies, moving quicker or quieter, and causing less noise when moving or attacking.
The cel-shaded look is fine, reminded me of something like Crackdown or The Darkness II. The technical quality is sufficient, although there is some clipping. The art direction isn't very good, to where really nothing about DARK's visuals jumped out at me as impressive. The sounds are either bad or ok, with voice-acting leading the way on the negative side.
To the summary...