2Dark is a survival horror game, steeped in controversial themes. We play as the vigilante Detective Smith, as he seeks retribution against kidnappers and child rapists in the wake of his own personal loss. You must sneak through the lairs of these nefarious child-snatching criminals - dishing out vengeance on these fiends - then free and lead the children to safety in a Pied Piper manner. We are introduced to Smith in his darkest hour as his wife is brutally murdered and his children ripped away from under his nose. It’s a lot to take in but that is the opening act to his story.
The developers at Gloomywood are correct, this game can be too dark at times. The abuse of children is a common plot device used to justify the dark and morally ambiguous actions of a character. Rarely do games go to the extremes that 2Dark embraces though. This is one of the few games that is unafraid to torture and kill children, and even allows YOU to kill off the children.
2Dark is the brainchild of Frédérick Raynal, the creator of the 90’s survival horror game, Alone in the Dark. The similarities between the two games are quite apparent – copious inventory, horror, frustrating fights and painful instant deaths. Thankfully, 2Dark opts for a top-down camera, which is a vast improvement on its predecessors. The camera view allows you to assess your surroundings and choose the best route to your destination. It complements the levels, which are structured for puzzle solving and encourage stealth. The key is to avoid confrontation as much as possible, and whilst you can try to ignore the stealth aspects in this game, it is certainly safer to stay in the dark.
Sight and sound are the two core stealth mechanics. Players must keep out of the line of sight of their enemies, but they must also stay quiet in their presence; else be caught, or worse killed. The use of light in the game is a very important visual feature. The 3D voxel visual style works in sync with the game’s volumetric lighting to effectively capture a retro-looking game environment. The darkness gives the game a moody atmosphere, whilst doubling as a functional hiding area for the character. Whilst you’re in the dark you’re concealed from (most) enemies, though occasionally while you may think you’re hidden the enemies do still seem to be able to spot Smith - even if you cannot see him.
Alongside the excellent visuals, the audio effects feel lacklustre. The soundtrack and effects themselves are chilling and help to reinforce the sinister narrative. It is a shame then, that in a single level identical sound bites are repeated numerous times, breaking immersion. The emotional effect of the children’s cries is diminished as they become increasingly exasperating.
Whilst the visuals and controls encourage slow and considered progression, there are elements of the game that fight against this. Lethal traps are spread across the levels, which result in instant death. They are deceitfully cloaked in the darkness of the levels and they fracture the flow of the gameplay. Unlike most modern games, there are no checkpoints or auto-saves in this game. All saves are done manually through the meta use of cigarettes to rest. You will quickly train yourself into saving frequently and the load times aren’t too bothersome.
The core mechanics feel like they could have been tuned better, but this is a brutal game that provides a decent horror experience. The only question is whether the fearful experience is either due to the shock factor of its grim subject matter, or from frantically trying to manoeuvre through darkness whilst panicking over the controls and messing with the inventory. Unfortunately, if you’re looking for a tight control system and well-structured control setup, this might not be the horror game for you.
Stealth is not the only way to progress through the game. Players can collect a number of ranged and melee weapons to use against enemies. Unfortunately, when you have no choice but to defend yourself, combat is an awkward experience that can become a fatal version of hide and seek. Level layouts seem to work in sync with enemies that move along set patrol routes, but if they are made aware of the character, they will sometimes deviate from those paths and become stuck or move erratically. This can make gameplay unpredictable and exciting, but it can break any subsequent attempt at stealth. The issues with both combat and stealth are compounded by the janky enemy behaviour, which often leaves you wondering if something is a bug or simply poor design.
2Dark’s call back to old 90s horror games is nostalgic, though it comes with all the issues of the games from that era. There are certain expectations from modern games for mechanics and controls to feel intuitive and goals to be well communicated. The interface quickly becomes unmanageable as the inventory balloons and invades the main game space. Having full access to your inventory and combining weapons on the go sounds like a clever concept. That is until you’re in the throes of gameplay and the thing you need is indistinguishable from the junk you have collected. The overall game experience suffers due to this, but if you’re fond of 90s horror games like Alone in the Dark and the original Resident Evil, then you’re likely in for a treat with 2Dark.