Vampires have been given a bit of a wide berth recently by anyone who doesn’t have an interest in the likes of Twilight or The Vampire Diaries. The fictional bloodsucking species has been romanticized since their inception but never quite so much as in the last decade or so. With malicious, calculating men giving way to teenage girl danger fantasies, DARK attempts to refresh the current image of vampires and bring them closer to the cold, menacing villains of old. The manual even has a page dedicated to backhandedly criticizing recent vampire stories and outlining the developer’s intent to make them ‘cool’ again. For this reason, I really, really wanted to like DARK.
It sounds excellent in theory – you play a young male vampire, less obsessed with chasing human girls and sparkling and way more interested in stealthily killing large swathes of the population. Again, it sounds excellent; in theory. In practice, the game has a wide array of glaring flaws and design oversights that leave much to be desired. The numerous vampire powers you can utilize are haphazard at best, full of delays and drawbacks that never really make much sense. For instance, you’re issued a sort of ‘shadow step’ from the off – an ability which, when targeted, will launch you towards your destination in a second, trailing purple smoke behind you. The drawback to this ability is that it generates noise – noise which can get you killed. The game itself, however, leaves no indication of just how far-reaching this noise is so you’re left barely using the ability as most situations that call for it could end up with your untimely death.
This leads into the promised ‘RPG elements’. Inverted commas because, well, they’re fairly non-existent. You have a variety of powers, some you begin with and some you must purchase in exchange for points and some can be upgraded – said leap can be upgraded to generate less sound but without a clear, relative indication of how much this reduction is or how much noise the ability made in the first place, you’re left wondering just how effective a practice this is. The other powers are similarly vague and nothing works quite like you hoped it would, leaving you confused and disoriented. It’s a blessing in disguise that the game’s AI is laughably bad at times, otherwise these abilities would probably end up getting you killed more than coming in useful. Also, what kind of RPG has no way for you to visualize your current and total health? This game makes no effort to do so, opting for a red glow on the edges of the screen that doesn’t seem to get much more intense the more damage is taken, so you’re left wondering how long it is until you kick the bucket.
Camera control is also a miserable affair – the action is not tracked by the game, you have to manually rotate the stick every time you want to look somewhere else, which, when you’re leaping about all over the place can quickly become a major control issue. Even the camera placement in cut scenes feels very ‘off’ – that’s really the only way I can think to describe it. It’s as though the game has cinematic aspirations but those aspirations rest some way short of cinema and closer to PlayStation 2 cut-scenes. To add to this, the animation is laughable, sometimes feeling as bad as a PSOne game and the facial animations fare no better – added to the robotic, monotonous voice acting that brings back fond memories of the original Resident Evil, the faces don’t move at all, save for the mouths and even those are poorly lip-synced. The characters appear lifeless and lacking emotion.
Which is exactly what you’ll be while playing DARK – emotionless. No effort is made to characterize your avatar, apparently called Eric Bane (yes, I know), who remains completely stoic throughout the whole affair. I’m turning into a vampire? Unimpressed. I can leap about thirty feet in a second? Unimpressed. I have to kill people and feed on them? Unimpressed?
I have to play DARK? Unimpressed.
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