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D.A.R.K. is a new dual stick shooter in a sci-fi horror wrapper, made by Gamelab and published by Chillingo. The game offers some good visuals and atmosphere, but repetitive and even boring shooting mechanics, with a side of RPG elements.
The game puts you in the boots of a D.A.R.K. soldier sent to investigate the condition of a ship that has gone… well, dark. Upon arriving you soon discover that the fecal matter has hit the fan like no other, with an alien infestation, zombies, and haywire security systems that all want you dead. Your goal is simply to get the heck out of dodge and reach the escape pods.
The controls are basic dual stick movement and shooting with a dodge roll button thrown into the mix. The actual controls feel a little bit sluggish, though the game gives you some aim assist to make up for it. I would describe the game play as a simplified version of games like Alien Breed and Alien Swarm. Unfortunately, this title is not nearly as polished or deep as those. The game consists of two basic sections; rooms with spawning waves of enemies, and shorter puzzle/corridor sections. The rooms with waves of enemies occur way too frequently, sometimes three or four in a row, and the combat gets old really quickly. There just isn’t enough challenge or variety to it, unless maybe you play on hard mode, but then it can be a little bit too hard. The bosses are all pretty boring and lack creativity. Rather than creative attacks or unique scenarios, the boss’s main weapons are spawning even MORE waves of enemies.
The horror aspects come into play in the other type of section, with the corridors and puzzle rooms. These rooms often create some actual moments of tension and even a few scares as things pop into the screen, but they are way too few in number. There are a few rooms which are damaged and leaking air into space, and the only way to get through these rooms is to pick up oxygen tanks as you proceed through, but there are so many oxygen tanks that there is no tension of dying whatsoever. Without a consistent horror aspect, this is just a bland dual stick shooter.
The RPG elements in the game are very simple. As you kill things and use specific guns, you will level your character and said gun. Leveling your character gives you upgrade points to spend on better speed, health, regeneration, and power. Leveling a gun increases its damage and possibly ammo capacity. There are self-serve stores spread throughout the ship that let you buy ammo and armor, and they are in almost every single room of the game, it’s actually kind of ridiculous. You’ll probably only use your machine gun with unlimited ammo for most of the game to conserve money, but go ahead and spend it. You will need to play through the game multiple times to unlock everything anyway. After beating the game, you can start a “new game +” in a higher difficulty, and if you want to unlock everything, I’d recommend playing through all three difficulties this way starting with easy. It takes less than an hour to beat the whole thing. The ending is just a cliffhanger which tells you to stick around for episode two, which is coming in a free update. It also promises to explain exactly what is going on in the next episode, which is nice, because this story makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Also, the grammar is horrible, though I think it may be a translation from another language.
The graphics are pretty well done, and though the character models look fine from the top down view, when the camera zooms in close they look just as monstrous as all the aliens you’ve been shooting. The colorful neon lights against the steel grey corridors of the ship give this game a unique aesthetic. The horror atmosphere and ambient noise could really be better though. There are no sounds that come from your character. No clang of metal boots on metal floors, no sounds of breathing or gasping; only a victory yell which sounds more like a stabbed-in-the-arm yell. All in all, this is a game that tries to take several elements from Dead Space and jam them into a dual stick shooter. Because of this, neither aspects are done particularly well. I’m sorry this review is going so long, but I was just very disappointed in this title. Also, I’m fairly sure they never tell us exactly what D.A.R.K. is actually an acronym for, though I could be wrong. The game costs $2.99, though it is currently on sale for only a dollar, which is a worthy price. Check it out.