The movie maverick Tim Burton’s biography of work across animation and film has a lot to answer for. For years game developers have looked that way for their inspiration; games like Little Nightmares have used his tone and imaginative cross of blending horror and fairytales with amazing results. DARQ has a similar tone and feel to it, telling a scary tale of a man or boy breaching the world of the nightmare. But there are many questions that it asks throughout – is the lead character awake or asleep, for instance? It is however a surrealist horror, and DARQ might ensure you won’t ever want to go to sleep again.
DARQ: Complete Edition not only includes the base game but also comes complete with two bits of DLC – The Tower and The Crypt. The main game delivers an elusive story and only by delving into it will you be able to pick up hints and thoughts about its meaning. You play the character of Lloyd, a man who is afraid to go to sleep in case he drifts off into a nightmare world that could kill him. You start the game in a dingy apartment where everything looks like it should be in a reality TV program about condemned buildings. When you lie down on the dirty bed, you literally have an out of body experience and you find yourself in the world of the nightmare.
The story has no text or cutscenes to speak of, with the world expressed through visuals alone. It’s an incredibly dark world full of horrific monsters, surrealist items that have no respect for size or physics, and a complete homage to the macabre. I love the tone and the creativity of the game design, pretty much with every aspect from the monster design to the interiors you move through.
The clever part about DARQ though is found in the gameplay mechanics: your basic job and purpose of each level – and there are 7 chapters in all – is to get out of the nightmare and awake back again in your apartment. You can move across the world from one room to another as normal, there are switches you can interact with that might open a doorway or activate a drawbridge to cross, and you’ll be left to find items like gear wheels in order to make progression. It’s all a bit weird, with one level in particular seeing you needing to move four amputated arms around. DARQ is ultimately a puzzle game, but there is a big addition that makes it very different from the rest of the games of this genre.
You see, the game plays with gravity and perspective in its gameplay mechanics. So, for example, you can walk up to a wall, and then Lloyd will be able to walk up that wall as the whole room turns in that direction by 45 degrees. Later on, you might find levers on the ground that will change the perspective and gravity at the mere touch of a button. This adds a whole new element to solving puzzles whereby you have to think in multiple dimensions. For example, there is one section where you have to light a long fuse for some dynamite to explode, but you have to chase the fuse across all manner of different dimensions to physically hold the gaps in the fuse together. I’ve just described one of the most action-packed pieces of the game, however most sections are quite cerebral and you have time to explore and work out the puzzles without the pressure of something killing you or the need to watch the clock.
There are monsters in DARQ as well; horribly deformed creatures that slowly wander the levels. Here stealth is key, whereby you have to slowly creep behind them, hiding in nooks and crannies, waiting for them to pass. If they spot you, you’re pretty much dead. There are two specific sections here which will stay in my nightmares – lampshaded humanoid creatures stalking you with light, and a wheelchair-bound monster slowly approaching from the darkness while you desperately try to solve a maze puzzle. They bring chills even as I write this.
DARQ: Complete Edition is a very good puzzler, however it can feel pretty tricky from the very beginning. When you get to grips with the actual changes in dimensions and perspectives then you start to become more comfortable with how the puzzles are designed, and even though the stealth elements stand out, they are possibly the most annoying bits of the game. After a while, I dreaded these and just wanted to get back to solving the puzzles.
Visually the game looks great with its muted sepia tones and surrealist nightmare visuals. It does a brilliant job of placing normal structures – like a hospital or train – and then twisting the picture into some dystopian nightmare. Character design is excellent too, with the main character of Lloyd coming across as amazingly dark and disturbed. In terms of the soundtrack, it deserves to be played with headphones on, during a late night evening session. It provides amazing effects, groans, and music throughout.
If you’re in the market for a new horror title, and just so happen to love a puzzle or two, I’d highly recommend you spend some time with DARQ: Complete Edition on Xbox. The main game with added DLC brings together a decent chunk of gameplay for the price, and whilst it’s not a huge game the Complete Edition seems to deliver exactly what is required. I’m not a huge fan of the stealth sections and the puzzles are certainly the focus, but if you are after something to keep you awake at night then DARQ: Complete Edition is the perfect tonic.