Into the Dark Review
Gruugghhhhh.... Not the dulcet tones of Nazi zombies erupting from the grave or the thrum of genetically-engineered mutants stalking the halls of World War II bunkers - this is the sound of crushing disappointment. The zombies awkwardly pop from thin air. The mutants loiter dumbly in poorly lit and textured corridors. The reviewer, bemused, reviews... what went wrong? It’s not clear at first... it’s like looking Into the Dark.
Let’s go back a little - Into the Dark is ostensibly an FPS RPG survival horror from Homegrown Games. Protagonist Pete O’Brannon, the eponymous grizzled private investigator, gambler and former soldier, must investigate the past of a recently-deceased doctor for a big faceless insurance company. Your search leads you through Cold War paranoia, the Nazi occult, Hentai-friendly bordellos... it’s safe to say Into the Dark is (unashamedly) B-movie schlock and adult-themed off the bat. Unfortunately there are massive flaws with the implementation that make it fail on all levels, arguably because it tries to tackle too much. Attempting to be an FPS, RPG and survival horror is no mean feat.
As an RPG Into the Dark falls short. For instance, a key mechanic is a journal in which Pete makes notes about the level he’s in. As a PI he’ll pick up on clues or items which could come in handy for puzzles, but as a former soldier he’ll make notes about tackling things more directly, shooting first and forgetting about questions altogether. Players can follow the path they like and the game will respond in kind – acting the soldier beefs up enemies whereas following the PI path opens up new areas through solving puzzles.
In an early PI example you seek out elements to make an elementary bomb to clear an obstacle blocking your path. One component, sugar, cropped up in an area I had already searched twice - so to find clues or key items you basically wander around until the item materialises. The obstacle in question was only a fragile looking plank which called the whole purpose of the bomb into question. In reality there is little or no effect from following either path. You may get a minor benefit from taking the cerebral route, such as encountering fewer enemies, but puzzles are poorly thought out fetch-quests where items materialise in rooms you have already searched. It’s merely a game of chance and repetition.
Unlockable skills such as necromancy or wiring make an appearance but they too are of little or no consequence. Necromancy (for example) is learned, used immediately, and then never crops up again. Puzzles which grant skills (such as wiring) are pitiful – when they actually work – and can be circumvented in any case. Rather shockingly the game will reward you with the skill even if you’ve bypassed it, because it reasons you must have completed the puzzle successfully by progressing to a certain area. To top it off there’s no way of tracking or planning your skills so the RPG element is wholly absent.
These faults would be excusable if Into the Dark had its FPS core right but there are big problems here too, mainly with enemy AI. It’s not particularly intelligent and won’t respond to being sniped at from afar; you can be right next to enemies and they’ll ignore you churlishly. At the other extreme you’ll be seen and shot through walls and the real nail in the coffin comes towards the end with invisible enemies which only appear when they’ve shot you once or twice. Oh joy! Cue the tedious quick save/reload dance of the weary gamers’ fingers. In these instances stealth becomes useless, which undermines both the RPG and survival horror elements of the game.
As for the survival horror… in fairness Into the Dark drags itself from the precipice here. The creepy ambience is well done and the narrative at turns manages to be both unsettling and hilarious. There are a few good scares on most levels and you have to applaud the departure from the Call of Duty clones which play it safe. This is not to say that everything’s peachy though – voice-overs automatically suspend gameplay which can be very jarring and they’re often inaudible over the din of the background music. The same “he’s behind you!” trick is played over and over again, made all the worse by the fact that enemies simply materialise when you trigger a key event such as collecting a mission item. Once you see this it totally ruins the immersion. The health system aims at realism (no automatic regen) but mars that other thing – fun – by covering the screen with blood when you’re hurt. Every minor skirmish results in blood drenched visuals which, while faithful to the B-movie roots, render simple tasks impossible (let alone combat). Now throw in a miasma of other issues. Terrible, terrible clipping which projects you out of the level if, for instance, you kneel by an object. The sorely needed but absent inventory system. The fact that the game automatically returns to desktop when you die, as if it wants you to stop playing.
As the child of a parent with a somewhat lax attitude to leaving scary films in the VHS for impressionable six year olds to watch, this reviewer loves horror and really wanted to like Into the Dark. It ticks all the right boxes but, tragically, the implementation fails despite some good concepts. On that basis it’s best avoided.