I’m always sceptical going into ‘Survival Horror’ games because more often than not the emphasis seems to be less on survival and more on either running and hiding, or shooting everything that moves. And while both are options in 2Dark, neither is particularly viable. The game rewards a collected and calculated approach. The horror in the game comes from its themes and their dealing with the dark and abhorrent sides of human nature. Consequently, the survival in question isn’t yours, but that of the children you’re tasked with rescuing.
You play as Mr Smith, an ex-detective, who travels to the creatively (sarcasm) named town of Gloomydale. You’ll investigate a number of chilling locations, each with a specific, and generally unnerving, villain. At each location, you’ll have to evade notice – as combat is pretty much non-functional – and navigate puzzles to rescue a number of enslaved, endangered or exploited children.
The major problem tackling such sensitive issues is that they are, in fact, sensitive. And for the most part, 2Dark comes across as heavy-handed. Children being whipped in a circus, or being tranquilised by a fat pink lady is not an effective exploration of this touchy topic. Rather than being a functioning and integral part of the story, the idea of child abuse/abduction seems to be an excuse for the existence of this game. Of course, the theme creates some truly horrifying situations. But horrifying doesn’t necessarily equal good. And it’s important to make the distinction between raising pulses and raising tempers.
There are also some questionable mechanics when interacting with children. You can, for instance, simply grab and carry upset children who refuse to follow you. And the weapon aim is so glitchy that you’ll, at least once, accidentally shoot a child. This situation begs the question, why are children even targetable? It’s not so much a deal breaker, but it’s definitely jarring. And 2Dark should have made sure to handle such a sensitive issue with more finesse.
Luckily enough, the aforementioned aiming mechanics are one of the only flaws in 2Dark’s gameplay. Stealth is handled masterfully, with the game using its unique approach to lighting to create some truly thrilling close encounters. Hiding in the darkness will keep Smith out of the enemy’s notice. However, the changing light makes staying in the darkness a challenge. You’ll regularly have to employ the game’s sneak mechanic to navigate congested areas. If not, you’ll have to resort to combat.
The combat system is simple and hand-to-hand combat is totally inefficient. Sneak attacks, on the other hand, do more damage and remove the issues associated with the accuracy and aiming. Of course, this is a creative move by the developers at Gloomywood to punish players for diverging from the stealth path. And it’s a move that I appreciate. Exploration and diligence open up rewarding gameplay paths, allowing players to discover some of 2Dark’s hidden gems. Sometimes job advertisements will grant you access to forbidden areas, or research will allow you to interact with characters in different ways. This mechanic is intelligent and in-depth and leaves me wishing that the developers had employed the same subtlety and diligence in dealing with the game’s thematic content.
Where 2Dark comes into it’s own is in the visual department. I’ve never been a fan of games that take the graphical ‘easy way out’. And I’ve never tried to hide that. Still, I’m not expecting every game to be Final Fantasy XV. But I’m also not expecting Super Nintendo era graphics. And 2Dark strikes a clever chord somewhere between these two extremes. This macabre murder-mystery features the pixelated graphics that I’ve come to know and hate, but it develops those graphics to create a unique and interesting aesthetic. The game places a heavy emphasis on lighting; each object reflects light and casts its own shadow. And this happens in real time. Essentially what this creates is a polarised world: simple graphics juxtaposed with dynamic lighting. It’s different, but dazzling.
So 2Dark is really a story with two sides; it’s either excelling from its attention to detail, or failing because of its heavy-handedness. I’d love to say that this is a nuanced story that explores the depths and complexities of its subject matter. But really it’s a calloused story surrounded by nuanced and sophisticated gameplay. All in all, 2Dark is a rewarding experience, so long as your leave your sensitivities behind.