We’re pretty used to video games tackling storylines that try stepping over the line. You know, that close to the bone, almost inappropriate line which can either touch audiences or downright offend them. One line that hasn’t been crossed is child abduction, a harrowing experience for any parent and any parent’s worst nightmare. 2Dark ventures into this touchy subject cautiously, handling the premise without ever offending. But whilst 2Dark has a serious tone, the game itself feels less so.
Former detective Mr. Smith goes on a camping trip with his wife and two children, which subsequently goes horribly wrong when his wife is murdered and his kids are abducted. This motivates him to embark on a mission to rescue them, only to find his children are two of many. It’s a grim tale, which is to be expected from Frédérick Raynal, the same guy who directed horror classic Alone in the Dark. The narrative is told by newspaper clippings, posters and dossiers scattered around each level, which is enough to remind you of the urgency of finding these poor little souls.
The game itself is a strange mix of isometric dungeon-crawling style with an emphasis on stealth. As you walk around the varied locations in the fictional town of Gloomywood, you find items to help you combat the abductors but also move forward. Smith has two hands to carry things. Do you dual wield some pistols you’ve found or rely on your trusty torch? Using the torch makes you vulnerable though, as the light will give you away. It can also help you find children, and when you’ve found one, it’s up to you to lead the child back to safety, otherwise known as the beginning of the level. Smith can shout “come on” to entice the kids to follow him and tell them to “shh” if they are making too much noise. It’s when you encounter bad guys that 2Dark feels ‘2bad’. Melee weapons like crowbars or wooden planks can be used, but Smith has no flashy combos in his repertoire; no, he just swipes forward in an unexciting way. The best way to fight bad guys is by using your firearm, but bullets are sparse. That’s how 2Dark encourages stealth, by making you want to avoid combat because it’s so bad.
Dying is just as grim and brutal, as you, or any kid that’s in your care, can die a horrible death in many ways. However, Resident Evil this is not, the puzzling aspect may be here, but 2Dark never impressed on any of its ambitious but flawed mechanics. Moving feels stiff, and the combat is clunky. Escorting kids never feels fun, instead it feels incredibly tense as you hope they go wherever you go. Children could be hiding anywhere but thankfully can be easily found by their cries for help.
2Dark uses a stylised voxel design that, while it looked great back in the nineties, it looks awful now as characters look like low-resolution blotches of pixels that feel like lazy design choices. Maybe that is its intention. A feeble design choice that goes against it. The creepy way you can throw candy to lure kids or gain their trust, it’s just as ugly as the main theme, and Smith’s loud footsteps make tip-toeing out of harm’s way more frustrating than it should be. 2Dark is as dark as its name implies. All levels are dimly lit and frequently pitch black with only torch beams to light up the poorly designed environments. It’s easy to get lost in 2Dark as there are no maps to guide you, meaning getting back to the start is just as challenging as reaching the children. You can accumulate them to make your job easier by rescuing a handful in one go, but this comes with its own set of challenges, like keeping them alive. If one kid dies, it’s game over.
2Dark is relatively shallow. Although it tries hard to make you care about the welfare of the kids that you’re saving, the gameplay makes it tough and the visuals even more so. If 2Dark was a PS Plus freebie, I’d say go for it, it’s an interesting indie title that’s at least worth looking into. For hard-earned cash, however, it’s incredibly hard to sell to you.
Publishers: Bigben Interactive
Platform: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: 17th March 2017