Dark - Review
Say vampire RPG and a lot of role-playing fans eye's will mist over, reminiscing about Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines. Not only was Bloodlines a wonderfully original RPG, it was a testament to the commitment of gamers to make the best game they could possibly play. Upon its release it was plagued with bugs, as publishers Activision shortened the development time and rushed the game out to die on shop shelves. Fortunately, after several years of modding, the vast majority of the game's glitches have been ironed out and what remains is a relatively stable and incredibly fun game.
The same cannot be said, however, for Realmforge Studios, Dark. Lifting the most basic elements from Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines (you're a vampire, you level up) it then forces you into an incredibly dull set of linear levels where stealth is not only encouraged but enforced on the player if you want to have any hope of surviving.
Playing as newborn vampire Eric Bane, who dresses like Alex Mercer from Prototype but manages to have even less of a personality, each chapter usually tasks you with sneaking from one end of an area to the other where they'll be a boss which you'll be required to kill. You see, Bane's a new vampire and that means he needs an elder vampire's blood in order to not become a ghoul, a kind of vampire/zombie hybrid.
It could have made for a half decent plot as Bane rushes to halt his transformation into a monster but thanks to a dull script, and terribly paced gameplay, that never pans out. Rather than feeling empowered as a vampire you'll regularly find yourself outnumbered and forced to cower in a corner, picking off guards whenever their robotic patrol routes places them in some way that one of them is left vulnerable. Being spotted will pretty much require a restart as you can take very few shots, couple that with some awful check-pointing and you have a game that quickly creates frustration with its stop/start gameplay.
Also, referring to Dark as an RPG is incredibly misleading, it's like calling a multi-player shooter a hardcore RPG because it has a level-up system. Instead, Realmforge have plugged in an experience system with all of the ability names ripped straight from Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines: Celerity, Obfuscation, Presence, they're all there. Unfortunately, Eric Bane's powers are so weak that most of them are of little help at all, and in no way impact the way you play the game. In Dishonoured or Deus Ex: Human Revolution, for example, certain abilities would affect the way that you could tackle the game's challenges, with some making you be able to focus more on stealth, or behave more aggressively. Since Dark makes stealth the only way possible, some of the things you can spend your points on (i.e. increased hit points) are essentially useless.
Not that any of the other RPG elements fare any better. A conversation wheel occasionally offers you the opportunity to choose how you respond to people when back at the club (another idea filched straight from Bloodlines), which acts as an interim hub between chapters. In reality, this means selecting the odd additional speech option to trigger a side quest, which involves nothing more than picking up a glowing item in the middle of a level. It's like the game was made by robots that were tasked with making an RPG and they just plugged in every role-playing concept without any thought whatsoever as to how it would work.
The final nail in the coffin is the art design. It's clear that the developers were working on a relatively low budget so the choice to go for a textureless cell-shaded look was a smart decision. However, the areas you visit are so featureless and just plain boring. From what you're told throughout the game the plot is set sometime in the future but that just ends up being an excuse to feature bland corporate buildings as the most common environment. What's more, the future setting is a way for the developers to get away with plenty of bizarre technological anachronisms, a weird security box that shoots out a "bubble" of UV light being the worst culprit.
I rarely read up on other reviews prior to writing about a game but the hearsay I've picked up is that several gaming news outlets have been hailing Dark as one of the worst games of this generation. Clearly they haven't been keeping up. Although I didn't particularly enjoy a lot of my time with Dark, it's never unplayable, and provided you have the patience to put up with its stupid design decisions you may be able to get some enjoyment out of it. Still, with numerous other games offering a much better stealth RPG experience, you'll probably find your time best spent elsewhere.
Dark was released in the UK on July 5th for Xbox 360 and PC.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version.
© 2013 LudoLogic