Available On: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Where To Buy: Steam
Don’t let the chunky, old-school graphics fool you. 2Dark is not a game of chiptunes and nostalgia; this is a dark tale full of endangered children, bloody kills, and unforgiving stealth gameplay. It rewards patience and planning and, when it works, it works really well. The game is marred by several issues that keep it from reaching the lofty peaks it aspires to, but it is a game packed with harrowing moments and great design choices.
2Dark puts players in control of a former detective named Smith. On a camping trip years ago, Smith’s wife was murdered and his children went missing. Now, Smith is working to solve a series of child abductions in the not-at-all ironically named town of Gloomywood. These abductions will take you through a slew of creepy locations, like an abandoned carnival, an office building for a creepy doll company, and the like.
Gameplay is stealth based; players need to observe enemies, hide in darkness, and mask sound to get past obstacles. After locating the children in each level, the process is reversed. The kids can be bribed with candy, but they are understandably terrified of the situation and prone to make a bit more noise than you would like. Your combat options are extremely limited: usually, a blunt object and a gun with a few bullets are your only chance of survival if you are discovered. 2Dark wants you to avoid combat unless it is absolutely necessary, and that’s a very good thing.
The combat in 2Dark is abysmal. It is incredibly difficult to master timing, distance, and damage with the clunky controls and strange view on offer, and enemies can sometimes fall into “bullet sponge” territory that generally makes combat much more trouble than it is worth. It does undermine the game’s attempt at dark, gritty realism at times when you shoot an enemy six times and they still don’t slow down.
Speaking of tone, 2Dark seems unsure of how to balance things in that regard. On one hand, we are dealing with some extremely heavy territory: a child abduction ring, full of perverts, serial killers, and other bizarre villains, is one of the darkest places a video game can go. In some strange moments, the game veers from this ultra-serious tone into levels of comic book supervillains. The first level, in which you investigate a dilapidated, abandoned circus, features an insane circus clown who dresses children up as animals and makes them jump through rings of fire. This cackling, mustache-twirling level of villainy clashes with the gritty tone that the game tries to set, making for an odd style that doesn’t always work.
What does work in 2Dark is the pacing and level design. There are some heart-pounding moments as you hide in the shadows, searching for a weakness in enemy patterns and planning your next move. Ultimately, 2Dark is a puzzle game where failure to solve the puzzle results in bloody murder. Scanning an environment for clues and traps in the brief moment the butler left the room. Sprinting through the dark, hoping to remember just how objects in the room are laid out so you can stay ahead of the maniac following behind you. These are the moments where this game works, and they provide some serious thrills.
Even the escorting aspect of the game is done well. Candy is a valuable resource in keeping the children quiet and following your instructions, but you only have so much to go around. More children following you means there are more opportunities for one to slip up, but taking fewer at a time means you have to return, again, through the traps. There is a well done risk-reward element to 2Dark – one that usually punishes you for getting a bit too greedy.
Punishing is a good way to describe things in general. There is no auto-save; you have to find time to light a cigarette in order to save your progress in the middle of a level. That means time standing still and possibly attracting the attention of nearby enemies. There are instakill traps everywhere, and security systems like cameras and alarms will give you no choice but to pull up your last save. A kid will start crying as you try to sneak past a dozing guard. This is not a game for the easily frustrated.
Overall, 2Dark is frustrating, with clunky controls and graphics that look better in stills than in action. Combat is terrible, the tone is unbalanced, and the inventory system needs work. And yet, it does manage to capture that pure gaming zen that some games are never quite able to. The moment where things click, a plan goes off without a hitch (or with a hitch or three that you are able to successfully navigate), and everything feels right. For that reason, I would recommend 2Dark for people who are looking for a puzzle game that demands thinking. People who want their survival horror to be based on actual fear and panic rather than jump scares. People who want to save the children from being mauled by lions.
- Gameplay: Combat is clunky, but the stealth mechanics work well and offer some extremely tense moments.
- Graphics: Retro art style certainly isn’t pretty, and can make it difficult to identify traps. Levels are creepy and well designed.
- Sound: Good voice acting sets the noir style. Good use of sound in levels as well.
- Presentation: Gritty and high stakes scenes. Controls are a bit simplistic, and the inventory has a tendency to take up too much screen real estate.
- Good stealth gameplay
- Interesting style and ideas
- Genuinely creepy and intense
- Clunky controls
- Frustrating elements
- Strange tonal shifts