Shot in the Dark Review
Reviewed on PC
Shot in the Dark is set in a moody spin on the wild west, where a town is being plagued by the undead, and it's down to your lone gunslinger to clean things up.
This is a retro tribute, but it's going further back than most, this goes beyond the days of the NES and takes us to the days of the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64. Basic graphics, limited colours, one short sound loop, and challenging gaming mechanics.
Playing the game is pretty straight forward. A and D are left and right, W is jump, S or the right mouse button will draw your pistol so you can aim with your cursor, left mouse button fires, while R will reload your pistol while you are still aiming. And Q takes you back to your checkpoint after you die, a button you will make good friends with over time.
On your journey across each level, you will encounter skeletal bandits who can draw a gun on you and slowly move their own target cursor at you, some demons can hide in the shadows and will only be noticeable by their red eyes, there are also comparatively benign ghosts who obstruct your path but won't attack you. Don't let any of these ghouls touch you, though, because one hit and you're dead.
As you progress, the challenges get bigger and more imaginatively staged. You will find yourself running from a cursor through a lethal obstacle course so you can reach the end to take out the sniper, you will find creatures only visible by their reflections in the water, it continues to become more visually creative and appropriately challenging.
It's a simple set up, but Shot in the Dark is not an easy game. Timing is everything, so you need to be careful with your shots, it will take a moment to cock the hammer back again, and reloading is done one bullet at a time. If you see a red cursor coming towards you, or the glowing red eyes of a monster bobbing towards you, a quick reaction can make the difference between life and death.
The hit detection feels retro, too, I was sure I didn't even touch some of those ghosts and my little gunslinger collapse into a bloody puddle. This would be an issue in a more modern-feeling title, but here it is part of the throwback charm. The Spectrum/Commodore era games were brutally hard, Dark Souls fans don't know what tough is, honestly. Shot In The Dark is not nearly as tough as its influences, for starters it had a checkpoint system. However, it understands this play style's challenges and captured that classic feeling while still making something that feels original and accessible to new players.
The graphics and music are a big part of Shot in the Dark's appeal; the game plays really well, but what keeps me coming back is the aesthetic. Those simple throwback sprites, the evocative use of black, white, and red, every stage is gorgeous to look at; and the score is a simple, haunting dirge that plays on a constant loop which I absolutely loved. The music manages to create such a detailed mood, working in tandem with the simple graphics to convey everything you need to know about this spooky wild west world. It's a great example of design economy, everything is simple, but it all works together to become so much greater than the sum of its parts.